By Austin Killeen – (click on photo to enlarge)
Ask any fight fan what the big fight is this weekend and their answer will surely be Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev II. But that answer wouldn’t pass mustard in the “Duke City.” Everybody in Albuquerque knows there is only one answer to that question; Fidel Maldonado Jr. vs Pablo Cesar Cano. Other than former Junior Middleweight Champion Austin Trout, Maldonado is the best fighter in “The Land of Enchantment.” The “Atrisco Kid” has built an impressive record (23-3-1, 19 KO’s) against tough competition, with most of his wins taking place on the road. But his rival this weekend Pablo Cesar Cano (30-5-1, 21 KO’s) has complied an even more impressive record, against tougher opposition. Needless to say Cano is favored to win their ESPN televised main event. That may be the prevailing opinion of the experts but the memo was never delivered to Maldonado’s office. If you don’t know the location of Maldonado’s office, it’s inside any ring he happens to be occupying at the moment. On Saturday that will be Tostitos Championship plaza located in Frisco, Texas just outside of Dallas.
I’ve watched several of Cano’s fights and he is a solid pro with above average talent acquired against top competition. In his fight against Paul Malignaggi he appeared to be the victim of a home town decision in Brooklyn, NY. Pressuring the champ the entire fight he dropped the champ with a clean right hand in the eleventh round only to lose a split decision. When the verdict was announced the crowd voiced their displeasure feeling Malignaggi was the recipient of a gift. Cano is a pressure boxer/puncher who possesses a nice left jab, overhand right and a dangerous uppercut. Although he can bang he is patient not inclined to take dangerous chances. I certainly rate his punch above average and he knows how to cut off the ring. His Achilles heel appears to be a propensity to bleed around both eyes. Beating Cano requires that his opponents be disciplined; otherwise they could be inspecting overhead ring lights from a reclining position.
Maldonado has been trained by his father since his first amateur fight A father/son relationship in boxing is a lightning rod for debate. Is the father too involved emotionally with his son to make wise decisions during a heated battle. You can find examples to support your position regardless of your point of view. For the most part senior and junior have proven to be a good mix, with the son in position to make some noise this year in the junior welterweight division. The one knock on Fidel junior is his propensity to take unnecessary chances when the fight does not require it. He clearly has a punch and he carries his power into the late rounds as seen by his record. He has certainly earned the right to have this opportunity, now the question is can he deliver.
My take on the fight, both boxers’ carry big guns into the ring and can punch with either hand. In his fights Cano has shown the ability to execute a fight plan waiting for the proper time to unload the big punch. The same cannot be said for Maldonado who has shown the tendency to try and blow his opponent out of the ring in the very first round. In his last fight against Mohamed Rodriguez, Maldonado was more relaxed, taking his time and showing some excellent defensive skills. I believe Maldonado has quicker foot speed and will need it if he hopes to score with his right jab. This could prove to be a problem for Cano who is orthodox and might find his solid left jab ineffective. Cano has had many fights as a welterweight and should be the stronger boxer coming down in weight. Both men have good punching power, but I favor Maldonado in that department. On the other side of the coin, people question Maldonado’s chin and Cano is more than capable of taking it for a test drive. Having known both father and son for several years, I’ll be pulling for a Maldonado victory. But in reality this is a tough fight for Maldonado and he’ll have to be at his best if he hopes to find the winners circle on Saturday night.
I took the liberty of asking Maldonado’s support group what they believe the “Atrisco Kid” has to do if he hopes to win. As you would expect, they were all onboard with what they hope will be the victory train.
Hector “The Hurricane” Munoz was the chief sparring partner for Fidel, sparring more than thirty rounds with him for this fight. Munoz is a veteran of over fifty pro bouts in a career that started in 2002. His moniker “The Hurricane” tells you all you have to know about his style. His assessment of what Maldonado has to do was right to the point. “Fidel has to keep moving he can’t stand in front of Cano and win. He has to be disciplined and not get into a slugging match. If Maldonado is patient there will be opportunities for him to use his power, the opportunities will be there. Cano has had problems in the past with eye cuts; this could be a factor in the fight. I like Fidel’s chances on Saturday.”
Josh “Pit Bull” Torres has sparred with Maldonado for years and has as good an idea of what his friend needs to do as anybody. Torres is one of the top pros in the state, and knocking on the door for a big fight in his own right. “Fidel has to stay off the ropes to avoid being a stationary target. He has to avoid the right hand of Cano, because southpaws tend to be more vulnerable to that punch. Finally, he has to stay focused on his game plan and avoid brawling.
Brian Mendoza is a beast who probably hits harder than Cano. Not only has he sparred with Maldonado in preparation for tomorrow’s fight he will be the third corner man on Saturday. “Fidel has to move off after landing his punches. (Mendoza is obsessed with the concept of what he calls ‘lazy feet’, where a fighter just stands there after landing a punch.) He has a skill set to outclass his opponent but only if he uses it. I think Fidel will break Cano down and stop him in the late rounds.
Cristian Cabral is a pure boxer who is bigger than Maldonado and glides across the canvas. As a result he forced Fidel to work on his skills at cutting off the ring. “Fidel needs to box Cano like he did against Mohamed Rodriguez in his last fight. In that bout he caused Rodriguez to miss him often, he has to do the same against Cano. He still has to throw with power, but only when there are openings. Maldonado can win this fight.
Matthew “Diamond Boy” Griego, Albuquerque’s latest undefeated Flyweight sensation, volunteered his appraisal of the bout. “I’ve been watching Fidel train, I know how he fights and I’ve seen Pablo Cesar Cano box. If Fidel boxes, creates angles and makes Cano look for him by constantly turning, it could be easy for him. He can’t get into that brawling game that he likes, because Cano is the bigger man and he has power. I see Maldonado winning by unanimous decision, he just has to stay outside and box.” After listening to “Diamond Boy” talk about the match, Fidel senior better watch out. Griego sounds like he going to be running the gym in six months.
Fidel Maldonado Sr. is the head trainer and runs a very successful gym in Albuquerque. In addition to his son he trains undefeated welterweight Brian Mendoza (15-0-0, 10 KO’s) and Matthew “Diamond Boy” Griego (7-0-0, 6 KO’s). One trait all his fighters seem to have is exceptional fire power. As he will be doing most of the talking in the corner I wanted his view of Saturday’s bout. “We have to use our jab, controlling the pace with it, along with our movement. We’re going to land our jab all night, mark my words. We have to catch his jab and come right over it. You have to pivot to the outside of his jab and you pop your jab from there, which sets up your left hand. That’s a lot more important than anyone thinks with a right hand against a lefty; whoever controls the jab opens up both the right and left hands. What we want to do is get angles on him and make him turn. We want to keep him looking for us. We’ve got to be intelligent and use our head. We’ve got power and skills, we are the total package. If all goes as planned, I think we stop him in the eighth or ninth round.”
Manual Anaya is the second trainer in the corner and has been an integral part of the team for a longtime. “When we knew the fight was on, we sat down as a team and watched all the video we could find on Cano. It was obvious that Fidel has the faster foot speed and we have to exploit this during the bout. For sure were winning, were going to outbox this guy. At camp we worked on the basics, the one-two and the jab. Fidel didn’t need to be taught, just be reminded. Southpaws and orthodox fighters have a hard time landing jabs because the gloves are so close together. Fidel’s foot speed should allow him to create angles, which will allow his right jabs to find their target. Cano will be looking for us all night and when he dose find us, were going to hit his reset button. Were preparing to go into the deep waters, we will be fighting smart. Knockout or decision, were going to win.”
Fidel Maldonado Jr. is one half of the main event; with everyone else telling me how he would perform on Saturday I figured I better ask the man himself. People question his jaw and the unnecessary risks that he takes in the ring. I wanted to know if we would be watching the new and improved version or the old model. “I’m going to win because of my skills, I always had the skills but in the past I always banged. I’m going to listen to my corner because they’d been studying Cano, it’s important that I listen to them. If I don’t listen I’ll go out there and do stupid stuff like I did before. In my last fight I worked more on my boxing moves and was less aggressive. On Saturday night you’ll see both offense and defense. I can’t wait to get in the ring with Cano and show the Texas fans what I’m all about,” Maldonado Jr., continued “People may call this a crossroads fight, but I’m only interested in taking one road — towards a world championship.”
I hope Maldonado wins because I’m having a fight party at my house Saturday night. It will be a very quiet if the house favorite. . . What am I thinking about; of course the “Atrisco Kid” will win. This story has to have a happy ending.