There’s a pretty strong possibility you’ve never heard of Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis. And even if you have, there’s an equally strong likelihood that you’ve never seen him fight. But one seasoned observer thinks that Pendarvis, who makes his television debut in Friday’s “ShoBox” main event against undefeated Dierry Jean, can go all the way: Shane Mosley.
“He just keeps telling me to keep working like a champ,” said Pendarvis to ESPN.com during a phone conversation from Big Bear, Calif., where he was in training for the Jean fight. “He speaks to me about my vision and hand speed and power. He truly believes I will be world champion. He told me straight out that he’s passing the torch.”
Pendarvis, a junior welterweight who with a victory over Jean would become the No. 1 contender for the belt held by Lamont Peterson, first met Mosley when helping the future Hall of Famer prepare for his 2008 bout against Zab Judah. An encounter between Judah and his shower door put paid to that matchup, but, recounts Pendarvis, “Although that fight never happened, I was up there with him for almost two months.”
Recently, Pendarvis (17-3-1, 6 KOs) encountered Mosley while both men were out running. The end result of the chance meeting was that Mosley and Pendarvis sparred with each other in camp in Big Bear -- quality work for a young man about to make his first appearance on TV.
“It’s been real good work,” Pendarvis said. “Shane is Shane. He still can fight. He’s still a crafty veteran, he’s still got pop, he’s still fast. He’s going down in the game as one of the best.”
Jean may be portrayed as the favorite in their contest, not least due to his undefeated record, but, notes Showtime’s Steve Farhood, “Dierry Jean is undefeated but untested at the highest level. Pendarvis has three losses but has more impressive wins than Jean does.”
Outside of an early stoppage defeat, Pendarvis' losses, too, have been close and against solid opposition -- by split decision to veteran Terrance Cauthen in 2010 and by majority decision to Maurico Herrera, who went on to beat Ruslan Provodnikov and give Mike Alvarado a tough test.
Pendarvis admits that he feels disrespected by what he sees as a condescending tone coming from Jean and his camp, but if he has to struggle to be taken seriously, well, that’s OK, he says. His whole life has been a struggle.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, Calif. -- South Central,” he said. “There’s a lot of beasts out there, nothing but Bloods, drugs, pimps and all kinds of things to steer a young man away from becoming someone. I used to fight a lot when I was little because I had to. I had no choice growing up. Most of my family is from the streets, so it was all around me.”
As a child, he was plucked from his mother and placed into foster care -- a decision with which he did not agree and that continues to grate on him.
“I had to deal with losing contact with my family, having my mom taken away from me at a young age,” he said. “It was rough. My mom wasn’t a bad lady; she was really a good mom. It’s just that she made some mistakes, and it was unfortunate that some people really hated on my mom and they didn’t want us to be happy. It was my family that hated on my mom. I have to be honest, a lot of my heartache and pain came from those closest to me. They said that they loved me, and they betrayed me. So I went out into the world and just got caught up sometimes.”
Eventually, he channeled his aggression into boxing. Although he was a promising amateur, his professional career took a while to ignite, not least because he did not have much in the way of promotion.
Over the last two years, however, a supportive team has coalesced around him in the form of manager Warren Wilkerson and Herb Hudson, owner of the L.A. staple Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles and Pitbull Energy Drink. Hudson has placed Pendarvis at the center of his new Pitbull Boxing Promotions, which takes its bow with Friday’s contest and is headed by Rachel Charles, former publicist for Goossen Tutor, Star Boxing and Diane Vara.
Pendarvis reunited with his mother, but tragedy, it seems, is rarely far from his life. She is paralyzed following an automobile accident in 2010. And his little brother is gone, shot dead at age 22 in 2009, shortly before Pendarvis somehow had to focus on fighting Herrera.
Win or lose, though, his tone is charmingly and relentlessly philosophical and upbeat.
“We all have struggles within us. We all have to go through things that are part of life,” he said. “Life is not a journey, it’s a not a rat race, it’s not a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It’s a journey until it’s over. So I just want to give a shout-out to the people who really believe and who really understand. To the kids out there who think their dream has been killed or it’s over: It’s not. Just keep on waking up and keep on believing in yourself. Whatever happens, you’ve got to stay strong.”