John Leo Dato made sure his patience paid off.
After waiting all of 2020 to get back in the ring for an actual professional bout, the Santa Maria boxer cruised to victory in a lightweight match held in Rosarito, Mexico, Friday night.
Dato fought six times as a professional in 2019, but had yet to fight so far in 2020. His first bout of the year was originally scheduled to take place in April at the Chumash Casino.
But that entire WEC card was wiped out amid the coronavirus pandemic. So Dato spent the first eight-plus months of the year training and waiting for the opportunity to fight.
He got that chance Friday in Mexico. Dato and his camp traveled South on Wednesday and weighed in on Thursday.
Dato was slated for an eight-round contest in Rosarito, but needed only three rounds to force a quick stoppage.
"I feel really good. I was strong and calm during the fight," Dato said. "It was weird because it was my first time fighting at an outdoor ring next to the beach. It was cool and it was hot."
Dato has yet to lose as a professional. He's now 15-0-1 in his career with 10 knockouts. Though Dato was calm during the fight, he did have those pre-fight nerves.
"I was nervous, but you know that’s how it is, and when you step inside the ring the nervousness goes away and it’s just you and your opponent," Dato said. "I dropped my guy in the second round and the ref stopped the fight in the third because I was hitting him too much and he wasn't punching.
"It feels good to be 15-0. All the hard work paid off, God is good and I just want to thank all my sponsors in Santa Maria. I love all the guys that supported me during these tough times. God is good and without him nothing is possible."
Dato, who was born in Bangar, La Union in the Philippines, went 6-0 last year and fought five times in 2018, winning all five times. But this year has been a difficult one for up-and-coming fighters looking for competition.
Without spectators to support live boxing events in non-metro areas, a lot of shows have dried up. Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, for instance, hosts several live boxing or mixed martial arts events a year, but is still not hosting any live events in its Samala Showroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dato, who played football and wrestled at Pioneer Valley High, fought at the MGM Grand Arena last year on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman main event in Las Vegas.
"I’m going to go back to training Monday," Dato said. "I've got to stay busy and hopefully I can get two or three more fights before the year ends."
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