Brian Viloria ready to rise above lack of recognition

WBO flyweight champ Brian Viloria doesn't get the recognition he deserves. (Photo by Sid Ventura)

Three-time, two division world champion Brian Viloria, the reigning WBO flyweight champion isn't bitter about the seeming lack of recognition he richly deserves even among Filipinos.

In a recent conversation with Yahoo Philippines in Los Angeles, Viloria said "I look to rise above all this. It's another challenge and another reason for me to keep fighting hard. Even though it's negative I just use all this to be a positive, to be a motivational experience for me. All this will pay off in the end I truly believe that."

He was candid enough to realize that "regardless of what happens they will be fans but I'm fortunate to understand who's going to be there in my ups and downs and I gravitate to them a lot more than the other people."

When the Philippine Sportswriters Association named Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire, who had hammered world bantamweight champion Fernando "Cochilito" Montiel almost senseless in two rounds, alongside pool's recognized "Money Man" Dennis Orcollo, who won the world 8-ball title, as "Athletes of the Year" and failed to recognize the singular achievements of Viloria, who moved up in weight to win the WBO flyweight title against champion Julio Cesar "Pingo" Miranda and then pulverized Giovanni Segura who was ranked No. 9 in Magazine's pound for pound list, we took issue.

We said then that fighters like Viloria "have to make immense sacrifices, train long and hard, receive punishment with the constant fear that they could, God forbid, die in the ring as many have done in the past."

We noted that Viloria "won twice against the toughest opponents in his division and did so handsomely, beating the odds and the pundits in the process. To deny him the recognition he deserves is, to us at least, a terrible injustice which we sincerely hope was more an oversight rather than a failure to make a sound judgment."

When he lost his IBF light flyweight title to Carlos Tamara by a 12th round TKO while leading on the judges' scorecards it was, in many ways, a crushing loss as Brian wilted with just one minute and 15 seconds remaining in the fight and allowed Tamara to throw a flurry of punches that forced referee Bruce McTavish to call a halt to the fight.

Viloria knew then that his downfall was caused by virtually starving to death to make the weight and after consulting his manager, Gary Gittelsohn and his charming wife, the former Erika Navarro, Brian decided to move up in weight.

He slowly worked his way back into contention and earned a title shot at the hard-hitting Miranda, another one of a long line of Mexican warriors.

Gittelsohn didn't want to risk fighting in Mexico and worked diligently to entice Miranda to travel to Honolulu to face Brian at the Blaisdell Center with Viloria who spent many years as a young man in Hawaii, striving to revive  interest in boxing in the islands.

The extremely likeable Gittelsohn  made it clear that the term manager  " doesn't quite capture my relationship with him. I love him like a son."

Gittelsohn was personally "bled" financially to entice Miranda to defend his title in Honolulu. As he told Yahoo! Philippines, "It was very difficult to get the Miranda fight and it was particularly difficult to get Miranda to fight in Honolulu. He was paid more money than he ever dreamed he would get paid and Brian took short-end money because he believed in himself and more importantly we all believed in him."

Viloria stunned Miranda, dropping him in the very first round before cruising to victory.

Then came the biggest test of his career when he faced another Mexican with a huge reputation,  former light flyweight champion Giovanni Segura who, like Viloria, was moving up in weight after becoming the first fighter to knock out previously undefeated Puerto Rican champion Ivan Calderon, not once but twice.

Viloria conceded he was the underdog but emphasized,  "It all comes down to execution. Train hard, set up a game plan, try to work on the game-plan during training and when it comes down to the fight night you have to execute it. We have to fight smart, intelligently, stay off the ropes against Segura and just go out there and do my best."

Viloria said some people underestimated his "hidden" punching power, referring to the 11th round knockout over fancied Ulises Solis and dropping Miranda in the very first round. He said, "Hopefully on the day of the fight my punching power will show because I have a stopping ability. I also have the quickness, the ring intelligence and so much experience and I try to use everything all at once. "

Brian Viloria beat Omar Nino Romero in a rematch earlier this year. (NPPA Images)

Gittelsohn recalls, "We stood alone in a very big dark world when people had turned their backs on Brian. But you know it's the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. People get on and off the bandwagon very quickly but we know that Brian needs big fights to get motivated. Unfortunately we learned that the hard way but Brian needs to be in fights where people don't give him a chance. He was not given a chance against Segura, who was on everyone's pound for pound list and Brian took him to school. It wasn't even close and that technical knockout was about as exciting a knockout as I had seen that year."

Explaining the decision to face off against the hard-hitting WBA champion Hernan "Tyson" Marquez in a unification bout at the LA Sports Arena on November 18, Manila Time, Gittelsohn noted that Brian "Had a good run and that's why we simply didn't go down the list of contenders for just an ordinary guy. Brian needs the kinds of sort of stepping stone fights  and big names and in the lighter divisions there are very few of them so Marquez fits the bill."

Viloria agrees. He told us "I need to be challenged (like the fights against Miranda, Segura and Omar Nino Romero.) It's the same way with this fight. I feel I'm going to be challenged in this fight and I trained real hard and I honed in a lot of my skills and my focus zeroed in on what I need to do. This is the type of fight where I can't come in 50-60-75 %. I need to bring everything in — all my knowledge in the sport of boxing — all of my energy and my being into this fight. Its not only an exciting fight but it's a fight I want to win."

Returning to the Wild Card Gym of celebrated trainer Freddie Roach after a stint under Robert Garcia who, significantly, was picked to train Marquez, Viloria feels at home. He said "It's been great. It's like the old times having Freddie there and to see him train. You know and understand that it's like one big circle. I started off my career at the Wild Card and now I don't want to say I'm on the last leg of my career but I'm back home. It feels great to see the guys in the gym there and have a family atmosphere."

Roach has assigned young Filipino trainer Marvin Somodio, whom he recruited from Manny Pacquiao's training camp in Baguio City and thinks very highly of, to handle the training of Brian who gets on famously with the Somodio.

Viloria said, "I love Marvin. He's like a buddy and is like a brother now. He helps me get ready. Marvin is really knowledgeable in boxing — very smart he's like a sponge — he absorbs everything so fast, so quick. Marvin understands the sport a lot like Freddie and to have them in my corner I think is going to be a big help."

But the WBO champion knows he is in for a rough time against Marquez whose nickname "Tyson" spells it all out, especially after he dropped Filipino super flyweight Richie Mepranum twice en route to a comfortable ten round decision fairly recently.

Viloria recognizes the ability of Marquez. He told us, "He's a great fighter. Great hand speed, great power behind his punches . What struck me was I thought he was a lot bigger but I was actually looking a little down at him. He was a lot smaller than I thought he would be because on tape he looks a lot bigger. So I'm going to have a little bit of a height advantage but I also noticed he had short arms too, so he doesn't have reach and I can utilize some of this knowledge in my game plan."

Viloria recalls his rousing victories over three tough Mexicans in "Pingo" Miranda, Giovanni Segura  and Omar Nino Romero and makes it clear: "I got to do it again one more time. I've learned these past few years in all these great fights what I need to do in the ring and I'm honing in my skills on that and I also want to be known as a cerebral type of fighter and I'm going to show that on November 17."

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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