PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — Sam Oropeza grew up tough. The youngest of six, four boys and two girls raised by their widowed mother, Oropeza had his first fight in the woodchips before entering grade school, and the rest of the time fighting three older brothers who could sometimes be relentless on their baby bro in Briarcliffe, Delaware County, a working class community of connected row homes.
Oropeza had a successful mixed martial arts career, going 13-3 and on the brink of a UFC contract before losing to LeVon Maynard in October 2015. The setback forced him to rethink his future with his hands.
So last night, while balancing 18-hour workdays, with a suit-and-tie professional job in the day and wearing work boots doing a warehouse gig on overnights, Oropeza stepped into the boxing ring for the first time making his pro debut.
It didn’t last long.
Oropeza barely worked up a swear before stopping Joe Parkinson, also making his pro debut, in 35 seconds of a scheduled four-round cruiserweight fight at the SugarHouse Casino, as part of a King’s Promotion card before a packed crowd.
It was a shuddering, devastating left hook that flattened Parkinson, who laid there motionless for five minutes and scared the hell out of everyone in attendance as an oxygen mask was pulled over his mouth and a stretcher was rushed to the ring. Parkinson did get to his feet, and was taken to a local hospital as a precautionary measure.
The knockout win also left Oropeza pondering a new career.
That punch came from Oropeza’s roots. He jokes how all of his brothers used to pound on him, Benny the worst, he says laughing.
“There is a lot of muscle memory involved in fighting, and I really find enjoyment just shadow boxing, and it’s something that I do for leisure,” said Oropeza, a 31-year-old father of two who lives in Clifton Heights, Delaware County. “I didn’t train hard enough for this fight. I trained where I was, with what I had. I did what could do, when I could do it.
“I wouldn’t even call it training camp with what I did. Honestly, I always wanted to try boxing though. My whole goal was to be a boxer. I wanted to be a fighter ever since I was a little kid. With some kids, certain things appeal to them. I always wanted to be a fighter. Losing my father at 10 was something that had a lot to do with that. My mother Kathy went through hell raising six kids by herself. You won’t find anyone tougher than her.”
Oropeza admits he did get a little scared seeing Parkinson down. The last time he was that fearful after hitting someone was his 9-second knockout of Dave Concepcion at Adrenaline-New Breed in February 2010. Oropeza knocked him out with a kick to the head.
“When you’re fighting, your adrenaline is pumping and you act like King Kong, and I’m not that type of person, and this was very emotional for me; it was my first fight without my manager, Jimmy Binns Jr. (who died in January),” Oropeza said. “When I saw (Parkinson) convulsing, I was scared. I find no enjoyment in hurting people. I always tell people I’m a reluctant fighter.
“I remember George Foreman saying one time that he wanted to hit people hard enough to where they can count to 10. And that’s it. I don’t ever want to hit someone where there could be serious problems. I have a lot of respect for Joe Parkinson. He took the fight on short notice and I want people to know I respect him.”
Moving forward, Oropeza wants to pursue boxing and see where it goes, so one day he can send his children to private school.
“I’m doing everything I can to become good as a salesman in commercial real estate, and I work for a great company, and at night time, I put my work boots on and service equipment,” Oropeza said. “I sparred for this. I shadow boxed in my basement. I’m 31 years old and my hour class is running. I know that. Let’s see where all of this goes.”