Former Pacquiao foe Velazquez chases last shot against Farenas
MANILA, Philippines - After 21 years and 80 fights as a professional boxer, Hector Velazquez still hasn't had his fill of pugilism. The lifestyle of the 39-year-old from Tijuana, Mexico hasn't changed much since his days as an 18-year-old aspiring fighter, as he toils away day-after-day in the gym, hoping for one last shot at a world championship opportunity.
"It's my life," says Velazquez (56-20-3, 38 knockouts). "I like the ring, I like the fans' cheers. I just keep fighting for a title. I'm just waiting for that championship win."
It's that sense of purpose that led Velazquez to board a 19-hour flight from Mexico to Manila to face junior lightweight contender Michael Farenas (37-4-4, 29 KOs) at Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan, Philippines on Friday, March 21. The event will be promoted by MAG Pacman Promotions, the second event organized by the tandem group comprised of boxing legends Manny Pacquiao and Gerry Penalosa, plus Manila-based businessman Anson Tiu Co.
Velazquez says he knows "absolutely nothing" about Farenas, a 10-year veteran from Sorsogon, Philippines who will have the advantage of fighting on home soil. The fight is scheduled for ten rounds, with the vacant World Boxing Council Asia Council Continental super featherweight title at stake.
Though not a world title, the belt comes with it a guaranteed ranking with the Mexico-based WBC, and is a stepping stone towards a championship opportunity. But fighting in your opponent's home country brings its own set of difficulties.
"The judges in other countries are the main obstacles to winning the fights," explained Velazquez with a smile. It happens in every country. The only way I can stop that is by knocking him out. The referee will have to pick him off the canvas."
In his long career, Velazquez has had just one title shot. It was 2009, and though Velazquez had just dropped a majority decision to Joksan Hernandez in his previous fight, he was tabbed to face WBC lightweight titleholder Edwin Valero in Venezuela.
Velazquez was outgunned by the younger Valero, and inevitably retired on his stool following the sixth round. The fight was the second-to-last for Valero, who less than a year later would murder his wife before hanging himself in a Venezuelan jail cell.
Velazquez's biggest stage wasn't his title shot, but rather his 2005 fight with Manny Pacquiao in Los Angeles. Pacquiao had just been beaten by Erik Morales, and to build up their rematch, both were matched in tuneup fights.
Pacquiao used the fight to try out his improved right hand dexterity, hurting Velazquez with a right hook before dropping him in the sixth with a left cross that ultimately ended the fight. It would prove to be a turning point in the previously one-dimensional Pacquiao's career.
Velazquez got a measure of revenge the following year when he defeated the Pacman's younger brother Bobby Pacquiao by an 11th round disqualification.
Nine years after their clash, Velazquez says that he feels Pacquiao (55-5-3, 38 KOs) has lost a step or two, making him more predictable and easier to beat.
"He was fast, but he's not fast no more," said Velazquez. "He fought at smaller weights and now he's going up. Since Pacquiao moved up in weight he hits harder. Pacquiao is very different now than what I had seen. He was younger before, he could move around and nobody knocked him out."
When asked whether he thought WBO welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley would beat him in their April 12 rematch, Velazquez said "No way. Pacquiao will knock him out this time. I don't like Bradley's style."
He has fought seven current or former world champions, with a 2002 decision win over Guty Espadas Jr. being the lone victory in that series.
Farenas though, isn't in a much different position from Velazquez. A pro since 2004, Farenas has been an "opponent" for much of his career, toiling in obscurity until being taken under the wing of former two-division champion Gerry Penalosa.
Under Penalosa, Farenas' career began to take shape, leading to multiple appearances on Pacquiao undercards in America and back to back title shots in 2012 (a technical draw with WBA super featherweight champ Takashi Uchiyama and a competitive loss to Yuriorkis Gamboa for the interim title).
At 29, Farenas isn't getting any younger himself, and a win on Saturday is essential to staying afloat on the fringes of contention. A loss would almost certainly end his dreams of another title shot.
For Velazquez, the hour hand is much closer to midnight, and, having promised himself that this is his last year as a fighter, he's hoping for one last run at the goal of every professional boxer.
"I have nothing to lose now," said Velazquez. "After this year I'm done with boxing. But I still want that world title belt. If I'm going to end my career, I'm going out with a bang."
Next generation Penalosa
Who is the better Penalosa brother - Dodie Boy Jr. or Dave?
That issue will begin to gain some clarity when Dave Penalosa (7-0, 5 KOs) faces Mexico’s Alem Robles (6-4-2, 2 KOs) in the co-featured fight on Friday's card. Robles gave Dave’s older brother Dodie Boy his most difficult test to date in December, extending him to the seventh-round before losing on a technical decision due to a Penalosa cut caused by a headbutt.
The brothers are the sons of former two-division champion Dodie Boy Penalosa and the nephews of Gerry Penalosa.
The bantamweight Dave Penalosa, 23, is considered by critics to be the tougher of the two brothers, though that perception may be due to the large quantity of tattoos that adorn his body.
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. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.