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A fighter without a fight: John Leo Dato spent weeks preparing for a bout that's now in jeopardy

A fighter without a fight: John Leo Dato spent weeks preparing for a bout that's now in jeopardy


John Leo Dato has been a busy man for most of 2020.

The local fighter, 26, had sunk his time and energy, which he always seems to have an abundance of, into opening his own boxing gym in Santa Maria. 

When the gym got up and running, Dato then turned his focus to his next scheduled bout, which was to be his first of the year.

Now, the Pioneer Valley High School graduate is a fighter without a fight. Dato was scheduled to box Friday, April 3 at WFC 124, a large amateur and professional card to be hosted at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez.

That event has been postponed, like all events at the Chumash Casino, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The coronavirus has already begun to greatly impact the area boxing scene. An all-amateur fight card scheduled for March 21 at the Edwards Community Center in Santa Maria has been postponed until further notice. The Chumash Casino bout has reportedly been rescheduled for June 19, though that could also change.

"I was still training for the fight that was coming up and busy with this gym," Dato said. "I went to L.A. to pick up a (boxing) ring, then would come back here to train. I was really busy training for a match and it was really stressful. Nothing in life is easy, you've got to work hard for it..."

Now Dato will likely have to wait for it.

Nearly all athletic events have either been postponed or canceled, not only in Santa Maria and California, but across the nation and world. 

The postponement puts a major pause into a rising boxing career for the Santa Maria fighter. Dato is unbeaten at 14-0-1 as a pro.

In 2019, Dato fought at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on the undercard of his idol Manny Pacquiao's main event. Dato scored a knockout over Juan Antonio Lopez then. He fought twice more that year, winning via a unanimous decision at the Chumash Casino in October before getting another knockout in a bout held in Tijuana, Mexico, in December. 

Dato's gym, located on Boone Street in central Santa Maria, is where he will continue to train and work with young fighters in hopes of competing once the coronavirus pandemic is contained. Meanwhile, he'll pour more of his ample energy into his new gym. Dato is also a personal trainer at InShape City, a gym in Santa Maria. 

"I want to stay busy, that's what I like to do, I like working to be honest with you," Dato said. "Working brings discipline and I like to be disciplined."

Dato was certainly putting in the necessary work to prepare for the April bought.

"I was coming here at 4 p.m. every day before all the kids get here, about 40 to 50 kids come here now," Dato said of his gym. "I come here, train myself, hit the bag, do some shadow boxing and my coach comes in around 5 or 5:30. We do mitts, get a lot of work in and, boom, we start helping all the kids. And that's what motivates me. The kids push themselves at the gym so I'm going to push myself."

Though Dato will have to wait to get back in the ring, that may not be all bad. The fighter has consistently sharpened his skill-set with co-trainers Raul Anguiano and Tony Ojeda, who have been working together with Dato for eight years. Dato also works on conditioning and strength training with Ty Lee, of Elite Athletix. 

Anguiano says Dato, who played football and wrestled at Pioneer Valley, is a natural at the sport of boxing.

"The first time he came in, it was clear he was an athlete and boxing came easy to him. He just gets it," Anguiano said of Dato. "I told him I was going to help him out and we would do our best to take him where he needs to go. I see his skill from the first day. Right away, he was a fast learner. He started fighting amateurs with 80 fights because he wanted to turn pro. Right then we noticed he could make it."

Dato had 12 amateur fights before turning pro.

"John trains every day, Monday through Sunday," Ojeda said. "He's quick to fix something in the ring. Last time when we went to Vegas he trained differently, because we were fighting a lefty. He can do things like that. Now he's 14-0, so he's going to face harder fighters and he's focused on that."

Dato said he was hoping to fight at Staples Center later this year, though that bout could also be in jeopardy with all the postponements and cancellations.


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