Luis Villagómez believes he can beat the odds

Luis Villagómez is off to a pretty good start in professional boxing.

The 24-year-old Oaxacan, who won 70 of 100 amateur fights, recently earned his first pro fight with a split-decision win over Riverside boxer Manuel Ortega.

The four-round lightweight bout was one of three undercard bouts at Table Mountain Casino on Aug. 14 when Mía Rosales St. John defeated Christy Martin.

While Villagómez has just two fights as a pro, the 2008 PAL National titleholder said he understands the pro boxer's way of life.

"I'm new to the pros, but I'll pick it up," he said, eagerly awaiting his next fight -- and his next paycheck.

But he's sidelined: The win over Ortega is good, but Villagómez was left with a cut over his left eye. It needed at least six stitches to close the gap.

In first pro debut in May, Villagómez lost a referee's decision to award the fight to San Francisco's Denize Madriz. Villagómez appealed the decision after watching video of the 4-round bout.

"We got that overturned. It wasn't a punch. It was a headbutt," said Villágomez, who is 1-0-0 and one 'no contest.'

Another concerns weighs heavily on Villagómez.

He's earned less than $2,500 since submitting his professional application to the California State Athletic Commission in early May. A money order for about $1,200 accompanied the application to cover administrative fees.

Villagómez understands a professional must adhere to discipline and dedication, all with a bit of luck, if he wants to earn a paycheck.

"I'm ready. I know it's hard, but I know I can do it. I'll pick it up. I'll get healthy again," asserts Villagómez.

Frank Alemán, Villagómez' lead trainer, owns and operates the Alemán Boxing Club in south Fresno. He believes Villagómez can succeed in the sport, but as a seasoned coach and former pro himself, he understands the odds.

"Robert Guerrero and Héctor Lizárraga both are fighters who had it tough early in their career, but they stood in there, and made it to world titles," said Alemán.

Guerrero, the Gilroy fighter known as 'The Ghost,' has won four world titles. Lizárraga, a former law enforcement officer in Fowler and Mendota, earned the World Boxing Council Continental Americas featherweight title in 1989, four years after turning pro.

Guerrero, who is promoted by Óscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and is 30-1-1, won his first title, the North American Boxing Federation title, in 2004 after turning pro in 2001.

"It's slim that a boxer makes it professional, but yes, he (Villagómez) can do it," said Alemán. "He might have to find a job."

Villagómez cannot commit to another bout until a doctor removes the stitches and signs his release. He can continue to work out in the gym, but cannot box.

Now that he's a pro, Villagómez has to find fights, paying fights, but that could be tough.

"Promoters have match makers, the guys who find the boxers for them. They usually get headliners for the main event, but then look for local guys to fill the undercards," adds Alemán.

With boxing nearly dry in the Fresno area (the Table Mountain Casino event was its first boxing event in four years), Alemán knows Villagómez will need to do some traveling.

Tony Castro is a former corner man for Mexican middleweight Yory 'Boy' Campas and others.

"I would say from like 100, maybe one or two percent make it," said Castro, who now trains his 12-year-old son, Tony, Jr., a four-time USA Junior Boxing champion.

"They need to stay like a boxer outside the ring too. It's not like you can shadow-box, and say that's good enough. If you don't prepare and work, you're going down."

Villagómez said he understands all the risks, and is prepared to fight through them.

"Yes, I know it's hard, and it will get harder. I love boxing. It's something I will stick with," he said.