Interviews with Fidel Maldonado Jr. and Errol Spence: Time to Cowboy up in Texas.
By: Sergio Luis Martinez
On February 10, 2014, the Cowboy Dance Hall in San Antonio, Texas will be the site of an eleven fight boxing card scheduled to be televised on Fox Sports 1. The event is co-promoted by the Lone Star State’s own boxing outfit, Leija*Battah Promotions. The upstart promotional company has been dedicated and involved in bringing top tier boxing back to Texas by successfully offering legitimate fights to one of boxing’s most educated and demanding fan bases in the country.
The upcoming show will feature two young guns in Fidel “The Atrisco Kid” Maldonado Jr. (17-2-0 with 14 KOs) and former 2012 United States Olympian Errol Spence, both looking to move forward with stay busy fights that should showcase their vast talent and boxing skills. It is an opportunity for both fighters to grow their fan base and garner television exposure in preparation for bigger things to come.
Former New Mexico amateur standout and budding 140-pound lefty Fidel Maldonado Jr. was looking to shed the “prospect” moniker and move into “contender” status by taking on former 130-pound champion Stevie “2 Pounds” Forbes. Unfortunately for Maldonado Jr., that fight fell through. After some maneuvering, to include a second opponent falling off, “The Atrisco Kid” is now slated to face Puerto Rican light welterweight John Nater (13-4-0 with 10 KOs).
Last minute deviations often lead to a calamity and cause anyone to easily lose focus, but Maldonado Jr. claims to be completely unfazed by the changes. Speaking to Boxing Insider from Dallas, Texas, he said, “It really don’t matter ‘cause we’ve trained hard. [John Nater] is a tall, lanky fighter, from what I’ve seen, anyway. There’s a guy in our gym, Brian Mendoza, who is a lot like Nater, and I spar with him anyway so we’re ready. After Forbes dropped out, I was supposed to fight this other guy, Hector Velasquez, who had over 70 fights but then I ended up with John Nater. He’s a prospect out of Puerto Rico but I’m ready, so we’ll see how I do.” Maldonado Jr. added, “In the end, this is just another fight for me. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been on TV, so I feel comfortable and I really don’t mind the cameras. All I got to do is listen to my corner and do my job.”
After a rough 2012, in which the New Mexico native dropped back-to-back losses to include a second round technical knockout in his fourteenth fight, Maldonado Jr. regained traction with solid wins in 2013, winning the last three fights via stoppage. Despite his current run, the fighter is well-aware that because of those two losses, dropping another fight at this stage in his career would be a major setback.
“After the first loss,” Maldonado Jr. detailed, “I was upset: not because I lost, but how I lost. I felt that the fight was stopped prematurely but it was probably for my safety. The [Michael] Perez fight should’ve gone my way but it was close, so I’m not going to cry about it. I know that I can’t drop another fight as I don’t want to become an opponent so I’ve got to do something about it.” He continued, “I was one of the top amateurs in the country, so I know how to fight. I just got to go out every time and do what I know how to do. I’ve really learned that I’ve just got to stay calm and just do my thing because whatever is going to happen is going to happen, anyway. ” Maldonado Jr. closed with, “I have a fan-friendly style as I always come to fight and I come to win. It’s always exciting. I just want to thank God for everything and I want to thank everyone who has supported me. For the hater and those who doubt, they’re still paying to watch me anyway so they’re still supporting me.”
Also on the card is Texas’s own former 2012 U.S. Olympian Errol Spence (12-0-0 with 10 KOs). The undefeated southpaw welterweight puncher is scheduled to face durable Kenyan journeyman, Peter Oluoch (12-6-2 with 6 KOs). The contest is set for eight rounds.
Speaking from his home base, Spence told Boxing Insider, “I don’t know too much about [Peter Oluoch] and I think I’ve only seen like two rounds of him fight. He seems to be a durable opponent so I’m hoping to get some good rounds in. I know it’s important to get in rounds and get me some experience but I’m not going to carry my opponents. If I feel that I can knock him out then I’m going to do just that. The fight should be exciting and I’m looking to put on a show.”
Oluoch is a typical opponent that many blue-chip prospects see at this phase in their careers; this type of fight is setup to expose the fighter to the general public and grow their fan base. Also, guys like the Kenyan journeyman are meant to put up just enough of a fight to help develop young up-and-comers and get them ready for bigger challenges. Still, there is a danger in overlooking any opponent but the former Olympian did not seem the least bit concerned about his upcoming fight.
“I really should be fighting better competition at this stage of my career,” Spence said. “A lot of these guys like [Oluoch] are fill-ins after other opponents drop out. I really feel that I should be stepping up and facing better competition and a higher quality of opponent in my next fight. This was supposed to be a step-up fight but things happened.”
Spence’s promoters, Golden Boy, do not have the best track record in properly developing fighters to be ready for the big stage. Too often, the promotional giant has either rushed their young pugs or been too soft opposition-wise, leading to disastrous results. Despite this, Spence feels that he is with the right company.
“I like being with Golden Boy and working with Golden Boy and I think that they are a great promotional company. I think that they’ll guide me in the right path. I don’t think that they’re going to wait that long to step me up; I think it should be in my next fight. I really don’t know who would be a step-up fight for me but I know that my next fight should be against a better quality of opposition. I’ve also got my manager and he’s been doing this for years so I just let him guide my career too and do what he do.”
Spence added, “I love that I’m fighting in my home state of Texas and I’m really looking forward to giving the fans in attendance and those watching on television a great fight. I really want everyone to get to know me. I’m a boxer-puncher and I’m never in a boring fight. I’m going to give everyone a great show.”
Unless Nater and/or Oluoch pull off an upset, the night should belong to both Maldonado Jr. and Spence. From a developmental standpoint, neither fighter is matched to gain anything other than another “w” on their record; however this is boxing and one punch can change everything. The prospect of that alone makes this card worth watching.