Sarnoi travels with Team Yonnhy Perez: Exclusive Q&A and Pics!
When fighter Walter Sarnoi is asked, “How did you spend your summer vacation?” the super bantamweight will certainly exceed anyone’s expectations with his answer. Currently in South Africa as a member of Yonnhy Perez’s training camp, Sarnoi (nicknamed “Schoolboy”) has had quite an adventure exploring the southern tip of the continent during his short breaks from the gym. Team Perez has spent the last two weeks gearing up for Yonnhy’s fight tonight against Silence Mabuza.
This elimination bout featuring WBC Continental Americas and NABF bantamweight Perez (18-0, 13 KOs) vs. Mabuza (22-2, 18 KOs) is presented by Branco Milenkovic’s Branco Sports Productions and will air on SABC Sport nationwide today at 10:00 p.m. (local SA time) and 1:00 p.m. (PST, USA). The unbeaten Perez, co-promoted by Gary Shaw Productions and Thompson Boxing Promotions, will face off against hometown fighter “African Spice” Mabuza at the Springs Indoor Arena. The victor of this IBF bantamweight title eliminator will look to challenge the eventual winner of the Vic Darchinyan-Joseph Agbeko matchup on July 11.
On May 13, Sarnoi, stablemate Perez and trainer Danny Zamora globe-trotted from their Santa Fe Springs gym in Southern California all the way to the African country’s most heavily populated city of Johannesburg; Joel Diaz and Thompson Boxing’s Alex Camponovo joined the crew a few days later. His role as assistant trainer and sparring partner for the 30-year-old Colombian has been an invaluable experience for Sarnoi, who will turn 23 in June. The Thai-American prospect and Perez have been training out of the Norwood Executive Boxing Gymnasium, owned by one of South Africa’s top trainers, Nick Durandt.
After working out the time zone difference (South Africa is nine hours ahead of L.A. and in their winter season) I had a chance to catch up with the young boxer. In this exclusive insider’s view, you’ll see Sarnoi’s personal photos including sparring sessions with Yonnhy, listen to his encounters with the country’s amazing animals, and hear all about a protein-rich “Breakfast of Champions!”
Read as he describes his once-in-a-lifetime experiences during the last two and a half weeks in the African land. Sarnoi, who’s fluent in Spanish, Thai, and Mandarin, has already picked up the local language, tasted some traditional delicacies (more on that later!), took time to donate money to poverty-stricken children, and looks forward to being in Perez’s corner for tonight’s contest.
Michele Chong: HI WALTER! HOW’S TRAINING CAMP GOING WITH YONNHY?
Walter Sarnoi: It’s great, I have never experienced the drive and determination of any other fighter like Yonnhy. He has motivated me in almost every aspect of my life. Because he has a family to support, he takes it as if it was the only chance he has to provide a better a life for his kids. Also, while being here I had the chance to buy food and feed the poor kids at the orphanage. I know in Africa there is an issue of hunger and starvation; out of my heart, I wanted to see how it felt to feed the kids who don’t get the opportunity like many people back home. I definitely look at things different now and I’m thankful that I’m in the position I’m in.
MC: ANY FIGHT PREDICTIONS?
WS: Yonnhy is on his way up and is determined to win…he will win! Mabuza is older, and on his last leg. I think he’s past his time now and that it’s Yonnhy’s time to shine!
MC: SO HOW WAS THE 30-HOUR TREK TO GET THERE?
WS: Exhausting, I’m glad we came to South Africa two and a half weeks prior to the fight. It took me more than a week to get adjusted to the time here. We had a layover in Dubai for seven hours; although I did enjoy taking a small tour of Dubai! I definitely want to go back now that I know the country has many things to do there.
MC: DID YOU HAVE TO ADJUST TO THE ALTITUDE AND THE WINTER CLIMATE?
WS: Yes, the altitude made a little difference while we were training the first week. After training, running, and sparring, we have adjusted really well. I mean, I expected Africa to be hot and filled with animals, but it actually got real cold at night and there were no animals in sight!
MC: HOW HAVE YOU GUYS BEEN GETTING ALONG WITH THE LOCALS?
WS: I’m learning one of the twelve languages (official languages) here in South Africa. It’s Zulu–and the locals are surprised when I speak to them in their own language! Many of them insisted I stay for another three months so I can speak their language fluently; I have made new friends and told them I will be back.
MC: ANY FAVORITE SOUTH AFRICAN DISHES YOU’VE TRIED?
WS: Yes…actually when they told me that one of their main dishes is Worms and Cow Brains, I said “Are you kidding me? No way!” Well..it wouldn’t hurt to try it at least once, so I tried an authentic African dish, Pap and Mopane Worms. It turned out to be okay, it tasted like salt and vinegar flavored potato chips! Ha ha.
MC: WOW, YOU ARE A BRAVE WARRIOR! SO TELL ME ABOUT THE BABY LION CUBS AND OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR TRIP.
WS: Playing with the baby lion cubs was something I wanted to do when first I got here. After getting the chance to play with the four-month old cubs I couldn’t imagine playing with them if they were one year old! Their teeth were large and their claws were very sharp. But overall it was great. I got to say I played with lions. Going to the local soccer game was another great experience–the energy level is so high, everybody in the crowd was dancing, so I got in the mix!
MC: WALTER, COMPLETE THIS QUESTION: “The VERY best thing about my trip to South Africa is…”
WS: Getting the opportunity to see how other people live from a different perspective. Before I came to South Africa, I was totally paranoid coming here. They told me it was dangerous and that I should just stay in my hotel after training and during the night. But after seeing it for myself, I enjoyed every part of my trip. This place has a lot of culture and history. Now that I’ve been here I definitely want to come back and discover more parts of what Africa has to offer.
MC: I KNOW YOU’RE PLANNING TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL TO GET YOUR MASTERS. ARE YOU TAKING A BREAK FROM BOXING?
WS: I actually start my first semester of school one week after I get back from Africa. I’m going for my MBA at Azusa Pacific University. I’m taking a small break from fighting until August, although I will be training and staying in shape like I always do. I believe that this another journey in my life I can speak about and inspire others to reach for they sky. If you want to be a professional boxer you can do that, and if you want to go to college you can do that also.
MC: THANK YOU, WALTER, FOR TELLING US ALL ABOUT YOUR AFRICAN ADVENTURES. ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
WS: Thank God for all the opportunities He’s placed in front of me. I would also like to add a shout out to my Coach Danny Zamora, Yonnhy Perez, and my lovely mother who supports me (I still call myself a “Momma’s boy” sometimes!). And I thank family and friends back home for their support. The Schoolboy will be back stronger, wiser, and better than ever this summer!
Raised in Monterey Park, California, Sarnoi first learned to box in East L.A., then joined the Alhambra Youth Boxing Club before making Santa Fe Springs his home base for training. As a former Golden Gloves Champion, the Northern Michigan University grad has an extensive amateur career and is no stranger to traveling. While on his quest for victories, the hardworking Sarnoi has had the opportunity to visit several countries, create International goodwill, and build loyal friendships in boxing circles. The Southland fighter remains close friends with another L.A. amateur standout and now pro boxer, 2008 Olympian Shawn Estrada, from back in their early days of training and traveling for international competition.
While Sarnoi has jetted around the world during his amateur years, he is making the most out of his journey in South Africa–meeting and getting to know the locals, roaming with the wildlife, and fearlessly testing out that native cuisine.
Ever the “intrepid reporter,” I was intrigued by those exotic edible worms! After some research, it turns out that Pap is maize (corn) meal porridge and that Mopane Worms (large edible caterpillars) are an excellent source of protein. Once cooked, they are often dried in the sun or roasted and said to taste best when downed with a local beer. Somehow I don’t think they taste like chicken. Hey Walter, I’m game…be sure to bring some worms back for us to try!
Nice guy that he is, Sarnoi probably would cart back some yummy Mopane treats if they cleared customs. He is one of the most charitable, thoughtful, intelligent boxers you will ever meet. The sky’s the limit for this conscientious young man, in or out of the boxing ring.
Keep an eye on him, you will be hearing more about Walter Sarnoi in the future as he continues to make his mark in the world!
PHOTOS COURTESY OF WALTER SARNOI: Schoolboy and Yonnhy training in South Africa; Walter with SA trainer Nick Durandt; Sarnoi says “Worms Does the Body Good!”; The authentic cuisine; Lions cubs and giraffes; Perez vs. Mabuza Weigh-In