By Austin Killeen December 24, 2016
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In the famous children’s story by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, a grouchy, solitary creature attempts to end Christmas by stealing all the gifts from the homes of the nearby town of Whoville. Despite his efforts, the Whoville residents celebrate the holiday anyway. Having failed to end Christmas, the Grinch returns all the presents to the residents of Whoville. They in turn ask him to be the guest of honor at the Who’s Christmas dinner. No one could blame the Maldonado family, if they think they are living a real life version of the same story. I don’t know if it’s the same Grinch who lives near Whoville, but somebody stole Fidel Maldonado’s shot at undefeated Antonio Orozco for the International Super Lightweight Championship. Allegedly the winner was to face the WBC Super lightweight Champion – Terence Crawford. If Maldonado was victorious in these two fights he could have bought Christmas presents for the entire neighborhood and still have money left over for a down payment on a new house. On the day of the weight-ins “The Atrisco Kid”, after training for eight hard weeks, found out he had no opponent. The next fight on Maldonado’s calendar will be carving up the Christmas Turkey on December 25th. I don’t know if the Grinch will be the guest of honor at the Maldonado’s holiday dinner, but probably not.
Ringside commentators often say that the boxers in the main event made a nice payday for one night’s work. Nothing could be more misleading, as fighters train for months in preparation for a big fight. This involves making weight, as stipulated on the fight contract. This translates to weeks of sacrifice, eating a bare bones diet that a Victoria Secret model would find wanting. Training camps cost money and guess who pays the bill; the fighters out of their purse. Sadly for Maldonado there was no purse, just training expenses. Before leaving California for his trip back to Albuquerque, he was given some travel money; hopefully it will be enough to cover most of his training cost. I first visited the gym on Monday the 19th with a return trip yesterday.
This dream fight/nightmare started two months ago when Fidel signed a contract to face Orozco at the Fantasy Springs Casino, located in the town of Indio. This was a Golden Boy Promotion by former world champ Oscar De La Hoya. Traveling to Las Vegas, Maldonado spent ten days sparring with Jessie Vargas who was in training for his fight with Manny Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight championship. Returning home, he started training at his own gym located in his back yard. It’s a Spartan structure with the basic amenities needed for a professional boxing gym. It measures 30′ by 30′ with amble lighting and space for the comfort of the inhabitants. In two corners of the gym there are wood burning stoves to fight the cold of the Albuquerque winter. Surprisingly the stoves do a nice job keeping the gym warm. Within minutes of lighting the stoves, the inside temperature rises to a comfortable level for boxers and spectators alike. As you can see from the photo on the right, Fidel Senior likes to keep the floor of the gym heated for the comfort of the fighters. Fortunately he was able to put the flames out before the building turned to ashes.
Boxers entering the Maldonado facility located in the South Valley are serious about their training. This statement could also apply to Louie Burke’s gym in Los Cruces, Aaron Perez’s facility in Albuquerque and Pat Holmes’ training site in Santa Fe. There is no sign at these locations saying “Get Serious” it’s just an atmosphere of success. Sadly there are many other gyms where the atmosphere is just the opposite. In addition to Maldonado, Brian Mendoza, Matthew Griego (both undefeated) and David Proa train at Maldonado’s. These boxers all seem to feed off each others success and I assume newcomers would quickly embrace the gyms positive outlook or be gone. It was here that Fidel Jr. trained for the past seven weeks for the fight that never happened. Referring to the four gyms listed above its easy to see why facilities flourish while others manufacture failure. To sum it up in a word, expectations.
In addition to Mendoza, Griego and Proa, Josh “Pitbull” Torres was brought in help Maldonado train for his big fight. Torres has a chin of concrete, having never been dropped in either the amateurs or pros. In addition, if you were to rank boxers on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 5 being the best) regarding natural strength, Torres would definitely be at the high end of the chart. He is above average on both offense and defense and possesses a decent punch. Torres was asked if he would imitate the style of Antonio Orozco to help Fidel maximize his chances of victory. Torres was being asked to step on Maldonado’s feet, push him into the ropes, throw a couple of extra punches when he heard the word break, not worry about low blows, etc. Simply put, make Fidel feel uncomfortable for the next seven weeks. Torres was asked and Torres delivered; a job well done. Flyweight Griego was used for speed and welterweight Mendoza occasionally for his traditional boxing style. At the end of training camp Team Maldonado was ready for their fight against Antonio Orozco. Fidel Sr. couldn’t say enough about how helpful Josh Torres was in getting Fidel Jr. ready for the big trip to California. It’s not easy to imitate the style of another boxer, but that’s what Torres did for seven weeks.
Maldonado Sr. commented on the trip out to west cost the week of the fight. “We thought the fight was still on an hour before the weight-in. That’s when Oscar De La Hoya told us that Orozco fainted that morning and that the fight was off. My son weighed in anyway, hitting the scales at 139 pounds. There was no doubt that Fidel was ready to fight. Oscar stated that he would call us after the holidays and the fight would be rescheduled if Orozco still could make 140 pounds.” To say that father and son were disappointed would be an understatement and they hope the phone will ring the first few days of 2017 regarding a new date for the fight. When it comes to verbal promises, there about as valuable as last month’s leftovers found in the back of the refrigerator.
When I returned to the gym last evening it was to watch Maldonado Jr. help Jose “Shorty” Salinas train for the biggest fight of his career against undefeated Erick De Leon next month. The bout is scheduled to take place at the Sportsman’s Lodge located in Studio City, California on January 27th. Salinas had a breakout year in 2016 and hopes to continue his climb in the rankings next year. Smart managers and their fighters network with other boxers of similar size and ability in preparation for their next bout. Down the road they realize they might have to face the boxer they’re training with now, but you take care of your next fight before worrying about next year’s fight. De Leon is a southpaw as is Maldonado, so it makes sense to spar with Fidel as often as he can. Now it’s Maldonado’s turn to be the helper and he was more than happy to do so. Although they worked hard, they fought under control; neither boxer was trying to score a knockout. When I was leaving the gym last night, Maldonado and Salinas were making arrangements to spar again next Monday night.
Regardless who the Grinch is, nobody is going to steal Christmas from the Maldonado family. Fidel Jr. is a lucky man to be living with the beautiful Dominique, the mother of his three little girls; Aaleah 7, Zaylie 5 and Myla who turns 2 on January 13th. When I asked how long they’ve known each other Fidel replied; “since our early teens when we were both fighting in the amateurs.” Like their mother, Aaleah, Zaylie and Myla are cuties. He has a great relationship with his dad, Fidel Sr. who has been in his corner since he had his first amateur fight at age eight. Father/Son relationships don’t always work in boxing as the result of the drama taking place both in and out of the ring. But in this situation the chemistry seems to be working. With friends like Torres, Mendoza, Griego and Proa who are all chasing the same dream of success in boxing, Fidel Jr. has a great life.
Sorry Grinch, but December 25 will be a great Christmas in the Maldonado household! Who knows, they might even ask you to have a seat at the table.