The question was a natural:
“So do you even speak any Spanish?”
Chris Pearson had to laugh: “I speak enough.”
And if there was any doubt, he just had to point to the way he stood triumphant in the boxing ring at the Hard Rock Resort and Casino in Las Vegas last Thursday night, a large green belt with an extravagant gold plate on the front that he’d draped over his shoulder the way Pancho Villa used to wear his bandoliers.
The golden hardware was engraved with his new title:
“WBC Latino Middleweight Champion.”
Pearson, the 28-year-old southpaw from Trotwood, had just upset previously unbeaten Brazilian Yamaguchi Falcao, who had won the Latino middleweight crown three years ago, was an Olympic bronze medalist as light heavyweight at the 2012 Games in London, and a won silver medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
Thursday night’s 10-round main event — promoted by Oscar de La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions — was a give-and-take affair for the first half of the fight, but in the latter rounds Pearson’s strength began to show and Falcao tired.
Pearson rocked him with a left uppercut and two straight lefts in the ninth and in 10th caught him again to take a unanimous decision, with judges’ cards reading 97-93, 96-94 and 96-94.
Now 17-2, Pearson registered his third win in a row after going through a rough 14-month span that began with a stunning December 2015 loss to Eric Walker, who had spent 13 years in prison, and then even more surprising defeat when Justin De Loach stopped him in two rounds in February of 2017.
Since then much has changed.
Pearson split with his high-profile manager Al Haymon and cut ties with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his Mayweather Promotions.
“Nobody knows the trials I’ve been through,” Pearson told reporters and after Thursday’s fight.
His dad, Milt — who helped launch and guide his son’s career and remains his most ardent touchstone — said he was referring to both professional and personal relationships.
Pearson and his former girlfriend, the mother of their 6-year-old daughter Miya – have gone their separate ways. She’s engaged to Charlotte Hornet’s player Michael Kidd Gilchrist. Miya, though, joins her dad here each summer and they are in constant contact throughout the year.
Pearson has a new love: Cierre White, a Chaminade Julienne and Miami University grad who is in the U.S. Air Force. She and her mom were ringside Thursday night.
But there were several folks who doubted him after the losses, the 28-year-old Pearson said: “They were talking me down, as if I was done. They jumped off the bandwagon. But I couldn’t let that affect me. They can’t fight for me. It was up to me in the end. I had to do my part.”
He had the talent, a solid upbringing and unwavering familial support back home so there were cornerstones on which to rebuild.
“I don’t know if anyone noticed the other night, but he was introduced in the ring again as ‘Sweet P,’” said Milt, who attended the fight with a group on nearly 40 people with Dayton ties. “That’s how he started out as a fighter – Chris “Sweet P” Pearson. Then when he got out there with Mayweather and all that, it became ‘Young King.’
“Well, all that stuff is over with. All that Hollywood stuff is done. He’s back to his roots. He’s back to being who he really is.”
Pearson started to show that with two confidence building fights in 2018: He knocked out Tsetsi Davis in Kingston, Jamaica in March and then lightly-regarded Lenwood Dozier in Indianapolis in October.
But this fight was against a quality opponent, albeit one he beat as an amateur with a close, disputed split decision just before he turned pro in 2011.
“With all that’s happened, I weathered the storm,” Pearson said. “And now to renew my career against a guy like Falcao, it’s a sweet moment.”
Guided into the sport early on by his dad, Chris put together a 93-8 amateur record that and included a U.S. National Amateur middleweight title and a strong showing in the international amateur boxing competition – the World Series of Boxing – when he fought for the Los Angeles Matadors team.
He turned pro and signed with Haymon, the Harvard-educated manager who was a musical promoter for the likes of Whitney Houston, Mary C. Blige and Janet Jackson and has represented scores of biggest names in boxing, including Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Pearson’s pro fights have primarily been in Las Vegas and in California, though he has fought in Washington, D.C., San Antonio, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Jamaica. He twice fought on the undercards of Mayweather bouts.
But the bloom wore off the rose with Mayweather after the pair of losses, just as it has with many boxers who signed on with the mercurial champion.
“After the losses, as a father, I was little concerned about Chris though not as an athlete,” Milt said. “He knows how to handle that. He’s lost before in other sports.
“What concerned me was that Chris is a father now, too, and how was he going to react? But as soon as I mentioned Miya he lit up and I knew he was fine He knew what was most important,
“Most fighters have some kind of traumatic experience, some kind of trial to go through to get to where they need to be. They have to have a personal story to tell.
“And now he does.”
World title bout in the future?
Although the WBC Latino Championship is a regional title, it does hold some sway in the fight world where the Spanish influence in prominent and growing.
And yet Milt admitted some folks laughed when his son was named the Latino champion.
“But the truth is he does have a big Mexican following since he fought for the Matadors and now trains out there,” Milt said. “And both of his trainers — Manny Robles and Edgar Jasso — are Spanish and really well respected.”
Chris chuckled, “So now I’m like a black Mexican man.”
He said because those in charge didn’t expect him to win, a new belt was not brought to the fight.
If a champion loses, he gets to keep his old belt and the new champ gets one of his own.
“They’re going to send me mine in the mail,” Pearson said.
Milt hopes there’ll be an official ceremony with the city fathers once the belt arrives.
Although he appreciates his new designation, Chris is eyeing a more significant belt in the near future.
After a bout or two he hopes to get chance to fight for a world title ether at junior middleweight (154 pounds) or middleweight (160).
He’s now gotten renewed interest from a few of the top promotional companies, especially Golden Boy Promotions for whom he fought early in his career
Bernard Hopkins, the former middleweight and light heavyweight champ who was just voted the No. 11 all-time, pound-for-pound fighter by BoxRec is now a minority partner with Golden Boy, visited Pearson in the dressing room after the fight.
Whatever happens, Milt hopes to feature Chris and four or five other local fighters on pro card in Dayton soon.
The last time Chris fought here was in the summer of 2011, when, as an amateur, he headlined a card put on by the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field.
“Back then I was a boy with talent,” he said “Now I’m a man with talent and a lot of experience.”
… And a brand new belt.
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