Sports Editor

"Ebo, Ebo, Ebo, Ebo."

The crowd was on its feet, chanting the champion's name.

The champ -- Ebo Elder -- sank to his knees on the side of the boxing ring, tears streaming from his swollen eyes, blood trickling down the side of his face from a cut over his right eye.

If you were ringside, you could hear Elder saying "Thank you, God" over and over and over again.

"It was like watching Rocky -- only this fight was for real," said Orcutt's Brian Sedin after the finale of Thunder in the Valley V Friday night at the Chumash Casino's Samala Showroom in Santa Ynez.

Elder had just survived an intense, non-stop 12-round battle -- possibly the toughest test of his boxing life -- with Courtney Burton to retain his North American Boxing Organization lightweight championship.

Elder (22-1), a left-handed boxer from Atlanta, was the aggressor throughout.

Burton (21-3), from Benton Harbor, Mich., was content to look for his shots, counter-punch off Elder's intense style.

Both landed punch after punch, round after round until Elder was able to put the challenger away.

Elder came out swinging from the opening bell of round one. His right-handed jab was affective against the orthodox style of Burton. But while Burton had some trouble figuring out the champ's left-handed stance, his punches found there way through Elder's defense time after time.

Elder would jab and move. He'd get in a few good shots and back off. But when Burton was able to get in a good shot, he made sure it counted.

By the middle of the third round, blood was flowing from a cut over Elder's right eye.

By the end of the sixth round, Elder was barely ahead on the judge's cards. While he was piling up the points, he was paying the price from Burton's punishing blows.

In the seventh round, the combatants stood toe-to-toe for much of the round, trading punches -- trying to put the other man on his back.

The sellout crowd -- the fifth straight full house for the Showtime ShoBox series at the Chumash Casino -- cheered wildly for both fighters as they pounded away at each other in an exhausting display by two men who desperately wanted to end it right there.

But neither man went down.

Both had to muster the strength -- the heart -- to continue. And they did through rounds eight, nine, ten and eleven.

The crowd knew this was the best battle in the casino's short history of professional boxing.

They roared their appreciation as Elder and Burton touched gloves for the beginning of round 12.

Both fighters knew the outcome of this battle hinged on this 12th and final round. It could go either way.

They both came out swinging. Elder caught Burton with a left hand barely 30-seconds into the round. Burton went down -- the fight's first knockdown -- but was up quickly, ready to continue. After the mandatory eight-count, Elder bore in again on Burton. He hit him hard with a left-right-left combination and Burton was down for the count.

The referee stopped the fight at 2:10 of the final round and Elder sank to his knees and gave thanks.

Neither fighter would speak with the press after the fight. Both were rushed off to the doctors and later the hospital. In addition to having both eyes battered shut, Elder may have suffered a broken jaw.

The co-main event was set to be a 10-round junior welterweight bout between Mike Arnaoutis and Jauquin Gallardo.

Gallardo nailed Arnaoutis with a right hand to the mid-section just seconds into the first round. It looked like Arnaoutis was going to go down, but he caught his breath and survived the round.

Arnaoutis rocked Gallardo with a solid right to the face midway through the second round, sending him crashing to the canvas. Sensing Gallardo was in trouble, Arnaoutis moved in for the kill but he couldn't put Gallardo away -- yet.

The finish came quickly for Gallardo. Arnaoutis landed a solid left to Gallardo's head -- opening a massive cut -- just as the third round got underway. After a brief stoppage to check the cut, the fight resumed, Arnaoutis pounded Gallardo mercilessly and the ref moved in to stop the fight at 2:40 of the third round.

And the fighter that everyone in the live audience came to see -- Santa Maria's Jose Antonio "Tony" Ojeda -- didn't disappoint.

Ojeda squared off against Phoenix's Victor Mendoza in a six round welterweight battle.

The two young men were evenly matched. They traded punches non-stop for the entire six rounds.

In the end, Ojeda got in more good shots and won an unanimous decision from the three ringside judges.

"Tony was only fighting at about 85%," said his manager Willie Flores of the Santa Maria Boxing Club. "The problem with Antonio tonight is that he's been sick. But he has a lot of spirit. He was good tonight and he'll be even better."

Showtime is making the Chumash Casino a regular stop on their ShoBox tour.

Gary Shaw, the promoter and producer of the TV series, promises ShoBox will be back again in January. "Santa Ynez isn't a good venue -- it's a great venue," said Shaw. "I believe we put on competitive fights and the public likes that. We don't set up mismatches. Nobody likes to see a card full of mismatches. We put on a full card of very competitive fights, the public likes it and they keep coming back. And we'll keep coming back here to Santa Ynez. It's great to be here again."

ShoBox has found a home in Santa Ynez and a local star in Tony Ojeda. They will both be back in action in the Samala Showroom in January.

n Times Sports Editor Elliott Stern can be reached at 739-2235 after 3 p.m. or by e-mail at elliottstern@pulitzer.net

Dec. 21, 2004

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