Like most boxing fans, Tomas Mendoza wanted to get a little closer to the action than in front of his television.
He got a lot closer than he ever imagined.
Mendoza, a 51-year-old from Chicago who owns a construction business, no longer watches from the outside. On fight night, he becomes “The Flag Guy.”
When fighters enter the ring, they usually are accompanied by members of their entourage, one of whose responsibility is to bring the flag of that fighter’s country into the ring, wave it and fire up the crowd. Mendoza has been doing that since 1995, and when Oscar De La Hoya enters the ring tonight at the MGM Grand Garden for his 147-pound fight with Manny Pacquiao, Mendoza will be with him.
But instead of carrying two flags for De La Hoya, who is from East Los Angeles and is Mexican-American, Mendoza will bring a special two-sided flag that he designed. On one side are the stars and stripes of the United States. On the other, the tri-colors of Mexico.
“I had a lady in Chicago make it for me,” he said. “You can’t wave two flags at once. It’s too difficult.”
It’ll be the same flag Mendoza waved when De La Hoya defeated Steve Forbes on May 3 at Carson, Calif. Maybe it’s a good luck charm for the “Golden Boy.”
Mendoza said he has approximately 30 flags in his collection and brings them with him on the road.
“All I ever wanted to do was be close to the fighters, he said. “I never expected it to be like this.”
His first big fight was in 1995 at the Aladdin when Danny Romero met Willy Salazar. Mendoza, who was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 1975, did it as a favor to Salazar, a fellow Mexican.
A year later when De La Hoya faced Julio Cesar Chavez at the Thomas & Mack Center, Mendoza was waving the flag for De La Hoya and a side-career was born.
“I enjoy seeing the people get excited when I wave the flag,” Mendoza said. “It gives me a good feeling inside. I know the fighters like it.”
Mendoza pays his way to the fights but gets help from the promoters in terms of hotel rooms and per diem.
Still, it’s a labor of love for him, and he has no intention of giving up his second job anytime soon.
“I like doing it,” he said. “I’ll keep doing it until I can’t walk to the ring anymore or they stop giving me a credential.”