By Barbara Pinnella
Photos courtesy of John Delperdang
Young boxer John “Bang Bang” Delperdang has not had it easy, to say the least. Without anyone to guide him when he was young, he slipped into a life of crime and drugs beginning when he was about 11 years of age, and he is not afraid or embarrassed to talk about it.
“My real father had a lot of issues with crystal meth, and problems with my mom,” the 24-year-old told us. “My uncle Julio was always there for me, but I was on the streets a lot, and in a lot of trouble. For the most part, all of my influences were my friends on the streets. I looked up to all the tough, street kids.
“I was everywhere, in placement camp, juvenile hall, county, prison, the whole thing. I went to Delano for reception, then I went to Soledad, and finally Salinas Valley State Prison. I did one year and one month there, but continued to mess up as soon as I got out. I got charged with commercial burglary, which was a felony. But I went to court on the day Proposition 47 took over, so it became a misdemeanor. I got 40 hours of community service.”
Which, I must add, he did not do. He didn’t care if he went back to prison or not; he didn’t really care about anything. But this is not a hard luck story; it is one of overcoming the odds and turning bad choices into good ones.
Enter Bernie Valenzuela, who not only owns Crossroads Boxing, but is a boxing manager, and a real estate broker. Most importantly for John, he is a mentor and so much more. He gives Bernie the credit for turning his life around.
“Bernie took me into his life on November 12, 2014. I came into Crossroads Boxing when it was over on Euclid. I was smoked out at the time, but I asked him if I could fight. He took me into his office and said he would let me box if I didn’t cause any problems. I ended up boxing with Anthony Young, one of our other fighters, and almost knocked him out.
“Bernie told me that he would give me a job, a place to stay, and let me come to the gym for free, if I promised I would stop doing drugs. That’s when I changed my life. Later on that month I also made the change to accept Jesus Christ into my heart. He told me that God blessed him with another son. We go to church faithfully every Sunday, and sometimes on Wednesday. Other than that, I am here all day. This is what I do – I’m a fighter.”
John smiled as he told us that his happiest days come when someone walks into the gym asking if there is a 135 or 140 pound fighter that can fight. He is always ready to fight, and is always waiting for that opportunity.
With a record of 7-1 with all of his wins coming by way of knockout, Delperdang is traveling to Mexico for a fight this Saturday, and his opponent is a friend of his.
“I am fighting Oscar “Toti” Mejia. He’s 8-0-1, 3 KOs. He’s a boxer who moves a lot and throws a lot of combinations, but has no power. And he has no chin. Not good – no power, no chin,” he laughed. “But I am looking forward to this fight. I have been working hard to throw combos. I’ve never had that in my head where I wanted to be a combo puncher, but now I want to learn to do that.”
Like most fighters, John had to cut some weight before the weigh-in, but he said it is easy for him to do that. He used to eat a spoonful of peanut butter, but he happily showed us just how much he could eat and still easily make weight.
“Look,” he said. “I have three chicken breasts and two cups of vegetables in each meal, and there are three meals here. And an apple for a snack. That is for today, and tonight I can have a protein shake. And I’ve never gotten weak when cutting weight. I never have any fear, I know in my heart that God is going to protect me. You have to have the heart of a lion to fight; you can’t have the heart of a cockroach!”
So it is the double B’s, Bernie and boxing, that have changed John’s life for the better. His entire outlook is different now. He no longer wants to be the guy that everyone is afraid of. In fact, just the opposite is true. He wants to be a mentor, and someone that kids who are in the same position he once was, can look up to and come talk with.
“I talk to a lot of the young fighters here, and tell them not to make the same mistakes I did, as far as going to jail and prison. I tell them to stay focused, do the dishes, help their mom, things like that. I just want to be a good role model. I know that a lot of children, especially where I grew up in Ontario, are at risk. I just don’t want them to spend their life messing up.
“Then you start mixing drugs in there it changes your mentality. You start thinking that you’re this other person, that you’re Frankenstein. So you just continue to make more mistakes and more mistakes. And I don’t even tell them not to mess up, I just say, ‘You make the decision that you want to make. But if you want to have a good life, stay in school, work hard every day and God will put you on the right path.’
“But if they want to mess up, they are going to hurt their family and themselves; they are just going to go spiraling down the hole until they hit prison. I’ve never been a bad man, just made stupid decisions. And there are a lot of children who commit a crime when they are let’s say, 14, and when they turn 18 they go to County and catch that long bus ride upstate. I don’t want any of these kids to go there.”
John realizes that in most cases the career of a boxer is short, and he is already thinking about what he would like to do when he is no longer fighting.
“I was in a lot of group homes, and three of the best ones I had ever been in was Masada Group Home, Trinity Yucaipa, or The Little Boys Home. Those three are top notch. They are beautiful, and they treat the kids great. They give them all the money for their clothes, and they take them on outings every weekend. They are super.
“I want to try to open up something like that. If I can have a successful boxing career, I can open up a lot of doors for a lot of children, or even those over 18. I didn’t make the right decisions until I was 22, and I know there are a lot of people out there that no one ever believed in.
“This is what Bernie told me in the beginning, word for word. He told me, ‘John, you are at a crossroads in your life. God is blessing you, and you can do good, but you have to stop this.’ That kind of made me cry, because three days before I came to the gym I was at the gravesite of a friend of mine, and I was talking to him. And I broke down to God and said ‘I just want to fight, I don’t want to live like this.’
“But I was up all night smoking dope, I had nothing to do. I told God I didn’t want to die like that – I didn’t want to be a loser. And three days later I was at the gym with Bernie. He moved me into his house, and that is where I live today. I consider him my dad, and his wife my mom.”
John would like to win world titles, not just for himself, but for Bernie and all the others who have believed in him. He would also like to show others who come to the gym but might have lost their way that there is hope for them.
“Once I get to fight for a world title and knock my opponent out, all these kids in here can say, ‘If John did it and he was messing up before, then I can do it, too.’ If I can help even one kid from the streets, that’s a victory for me.”
The future looks bright for Delperdang. He now has the power and belief to make his own destiny. His enthusiasm in his chosen profession is contagious, and he is an entertaining fighter to watch. Watch for him to move up the ladder on his quest for those title belts.