MANILA, Philippines – Despite being just hours away from his biggest fight, Brian Viloria was relaxed – even smiling – as he faced off against Roman Gonzalez at Thursday’s final press conference.
Viloria knows what’s at stake – a fourth run as world champion, a chance to hold his hands up high at Madison Square Garden against THE RING magazine’s newly-crowned pound-for-pound champion, and a chance to solidify himself as one of the most accomplished boxers of his time.
But he also knows that, at age 34, he has little to lose in comparison to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, the unbeaten king of the flyweights, whose knockout power has helped him transcend his small stature and language barrier to international acclaim, has far more chips on the table heading into their 12-round fight in New York City.
This Sunday, October 18 (Saturday U.S. time), Viloria will step into the ring as a solid underdog. And that’s just the way he’d prefer it.
“I have relished that role of being the underdog,” said Viloria (36-4, 22 knockouts). “It just lights a fire under my ass to get me to train extra hard, gets me extra motivated to do well in the fight. Come Saturday night I think everybody is going to see one of the big upsets of the year.
“No pressure, just a lot of motivation on my end. I think all the pressure is on him,” Viloria adds. “He has to perform like the number one pound for pound fighter. That puts a lot of pressure on him. He has a lot to lose, I have the whole world to gain if I do my best and beat him in the ring.”
The fight will be aired in the Philippines on Fox Sports at 9 am as the co-featured bout to the Gennady Golovkin vs David Lemieux middleweight title unification match.
Good times and bad
Viloria, alongside Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr., has been responsible for many big moments in what was the more prosperous period for Philippine boxing at the turn of the century. Born in Waipahu, Hawaii but raised by his grandparents in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines until age 6, Viloria rose quickly after his stint on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team.
He won his first title, the WBC junior flyweight belt, on the undercard of Pacquiao’s bout against Hector Velazquez in 2005, knocking out Eric Ortiz in one round. Viloria later won the IBF junior flyweight title with a knockout of Ulises Solis at Araneta Coliseum in 2009 before moving up to 112 pounds to win the WBO flyweight title, and unified the flyweight belts in 2012 for the first time since 1965.
There was also his upset knockout of pound-for-pound candidate Giovani Segura in 2011, and his grudge match knockout of Omar Nino right afterwards.
Along the way there have been disappointments, like his decision losses to Edgar Sosa and Nino, his twelfth-round TKO loss to Carlos Tamara, or his most recent setback in 2013, a split-decision loss to Juan Estrada in Macau.
“It toughened my skin a whole lot,” Viloria said of his setbacks. “It made me the resilient person who I am today. It made me not blink in the eye of challenges. It hardened me a lot, going through those experiences. It just seems that nothing fazes me.”
Viloria has since won 4 straight matches – including 3 by knockout – against non-descript opposition.
Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KOs), by contrast, has been nearly flawless in the ring since turning pro in 2005. The 28-year-old native of Managua has won titles at straweweight, junior flyweight and flyweight, and has knocked out 14 of his last 15 opponents.
He also holds victories over two men who have beaten Viloria – Sosa and Estrada.
Aside from his power, which seems to accompany every punch variation he throws, Gonzalez is also a technically skilled boxer. Viloria has also shown himself to be versatile, while possessing one punch power in his right cross.
“People forget that I can also box; I’m not just a guy who is one dimensional,” said Viloria.
(READ: Brian Viloria’s five greatest victories)
Gary Gittelsohn, who has managed Viloria since his debut, acknowledged the difficulty of the task at hand, saying: “Brian has a big hill to climb, but he’s mentally and physically ready for the challenge. The countdown has begun.”
Viloria admits that his dedication and focus have waned at times, hurting his career when he was at his highest. Now he has a chance to erase all of the disappointments. It’s up to him what he makes of this opportunity.
“When everyone keeps putting that up about him being number one pound for pound and being the best…at the end of the day he’s still a human being with two hands like me,” said Viloria.
“I kind of like having that doubt in front of me, knowing that I have to prove somebody wrong. In this case, I have to prove the whole world wrong.” – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.
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