By Austin Killeen (click on picture to enlarge)
In July of 2016 Fidel Maldonado, Jr. struggled to score a third round TKO over Gerardo Cuevas at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Maldonado’s fans were in a state of shock, when “The Atrisco Kid” was dropped by a right to the head towards the end of round two. Rising on unsteady legs, Maldonado survived until the bell rang. Nobody questions the power of Maldonado’s punches, which dropped Cuevas in the next round causing the referee to halt the contest. This set off a wave of criticism; why didn’t Maldonado, Sr. protect his son and throw in the towel in the second round, Maldonado, Jr. has a glass jaw, and the career of Maldonado, Jr. is officially over. This resulted in Maldonado taking a hiatus for nine months, while critics continued to rain negative comments on their seemingly fallen hero.
On April 1, of this year Maldonado came out of hiding, facing Mohamed Rodriguez at the Lujan Building in Albuquerque. The hometown boxer was just that, a boxer throwing few power shots. The new and improved Maldonado was not well received by his critics. They felt he struggled in winning an eight round decision, with some actually feeling he should have lost the verdict. Father and son ignored the negative remarks and continued to train in their South Valley gym, while waiting for the phone to ring with their next offer.
When the phone finally did ring it was for a match with the dangerous Pablo Cesar Cano. The fight would be broadcast live on ESPN and take place at the Tostitos Championship plaza located in Frisco, Texas just outside of Dallas. Cano was a puncher who had faced superior competition and won. It came as a surprise to no one, when the Mexican import was installed as the favorite. Although Cano had the superior credentials, Maldonado’s dance card had some impressive opponents listed.
The following are a list of Fidel’s significant adversaries and their records at the time the matches took place. Eric Cruz (12-7-3, 12 KO’s), Fernando Carcamo (9-3-0, 6 KO’s), Michael Perez (16-1-1, 10 KO’s), Jorge Romero (24-4-0, 21 KO’s), Abraham Alvarez (17-3-1, 7 KO’s), Luis Ramos Jr. (23-1-0, 10 KO’s), John Nater (13-4-0, 10 KO’s), Nelson Lara (15-5-4, 8 KO’s), Amir Imam (15-0-0, 13 KO’s), Art Hovhannisyan (17-2-2, 9 KO’s). Maldonado had been in deep waters before and in his opponent’s back yard. This wasn’t a mismatch as some critics had suggested.
As the fighters were entering the ring, Joe Tessitore who was a ringside commentator along with Atlas, made an interesting observation regarding Pablo Cesar Cano. Tessitore pointed out that Cano hadn’t fought a southpaw in seven years. Early in the first round Atlas and Tessitore established clearly that they both felt Cano was the better fighter. By the end of the round their comments had take a 180 degree turn due to Fidel’s footwork and accurate left hand. One thing I’ve always liked about both announcers, they’re not married to their prefight opinions. Maldonado continued to control the flow of the bout in rounds two and three and much of round four.
With seconds remaining in the fourth round, Cano exploded a left right combination off Maldonado’s chin sending him to the canvas. Upon rising Maldonado was cut under the left eye and started walking to his corner, but the round was not over. But before Cano could follow up his advantage the bell rang. The old Maldonado would have answered the fifth round throwing bombs, but this was the new and improved version. The Albuquerque boxer was scoring with left hands to the head and body off his right jab. For the remainder of the fight Cano was looking for the KO, while Maldonado played the role of the matador. After ten hard fought rounds the underdog proved to be a very live opponent, winning a ten round split decision. Both Atlas and Tessitore were surprised by the split verdict, feeling Maldonado was in complete control most of the contest.
A lot has happened in Maldonado’s career in the past 16 months, and for the most part it appears to be for the better. On Friday at Fantasy Springs Casino, in Indio, California we’ll see how much better. In the other corner will be Ismael Barroso (19-1-2, 18 KO’s) from El Tigre, Venezuela. To say that Barroso has a lot of power, would make you king of stating the obvious. Like Maldonado, Barroso is a southpaw, so don’t try to adjust your TV screen when the fight starts. You might want to enhance your listening pleasure, by inviting a Spanish speaking friend over on Friday, as the bout will not be broadcast in English.
As for the fight itself, father and son have been preparing for Friday night for the past eight weeks. As with his bout against Cano, Maldonado is the underdog. But you would be a fool to think he doesn’t have a chance. For the second camp in a row I’ve spent many hours at their training gym, and his father leaves little to chance in preparing his son for battle. In prepping for Cano, Senior told me the fight plan they devised that would lead to victory. Watching the Cano bout, I saw it play out before my very eyes. Once again Fidel’s father has told me how his son will succeed, and this time I’m a lot less skeptical.
In sizing up the fight both boxers have exceptional power, but Maldonado’s power hasn’t been on display lately in spite of his success. However Maldonado has shown over his career the ability to take his punch into the late rounds, something Barroso has not done so far in his career. When it comes to chins, you’d have to give the edge to Barroso. Both fighters have winning records, with many of their wins coming on the road. Unlike Cano’s background, the level of difficulty seems to be pretty close. I might be accused of drinking too much of the funny Kool-Aid, but I see Maldonado winning by a third round knockout.
Voices from the corner: The New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame Banquet takes place at the Embassy Suites Hotel on October 28, 2017. Tickets are $40 each or $320 a table. Special guests will be Fidel Maldonado senior and junior.
2017 Inductees are: Michael Adams Announcer
Sergio Chavez Boxer/Trainer/Cut Man
Charles Anaya Boxer
Chris Linson Boxer
Luis Chavez Trainer
Earl Large Boxer