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Calderon gets respect, but not from the networks

11
Jun

Ivan Calderon (left) is every bit as talented and accomplished as fellow Puerto Rican standout Miguel Cotto (right). THE RING's 108-pound champ is arguably more skilled and ring savvy than Cotto but unlike his good friend, Calderon has never fought on HBO or Showtime. Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank

It’s easy to promote Ivan Calderon in his native Puerto Rico.

The slick, savvy southpaw is appreciated in the boxing-proud culture of the Caribbean island, where he packs fans into arenas and does brisk pay-per-view sells.

And why not? Calderon — who defends his RING and WBO junior flyweight titles against Mayol Rodel this Saturday — has elite credentials:



He’s undefeated in 32 bouts. He’s a decorated former titleholder and champ, having defended his WBO strawweight title 11 times before moving up to the 108-pound division where he won THE RING title, which he’s defended three times.

He’s defeated seven current or former titleholders during his six-year title run.

Calderon is arguably the best 105/108-pound fighter since Mexico’s Ricardo Lopez, who retired undefeated eight years ago and was recently inducted into the hall of fame.

However, as his nickname “Finito” indicates, Lopez, who scored 38 knockouts in his 51 victories, had a hell of a punch; Calderon doesn’t.

The Puerto Rican ring general has only stopped six fighters in his 32 victories.

Calderon’s lack of pop makes him a tough sell in the States, despite the respect he receives from hardcore fans and most boxing writers.

Calderon is ranked No. 7 on the pound-for-pound list on Yahoo! Sports, which polls around 30 members of the boxing media every month. He’s No. 6 on Dan Rafael’s pound-for-pound list on ESPN.com’s boxing page.

In terms of talent and skill, most boxing writers consider Calderon to be on par with fellow Puerto Rican standout Miguel Cotto, who Yahoo! Sports ranks No. 6 and ESPN.com ranks No. 7.

However, Cotto, who headlines Saturday’s card at Madison Square Garden, possesses an aggressive, punishing style that has made him a staple on HBO, which will televise Cotto’s fight with Joshua Clottey live.

Juan Manuel Lopez, Puerto Rico’s newest rising star who has knocked out almost everyone he’s fought, is on his way to becoming a regular on HBO broadcasts.

Calderon has never fought on a live HBO or Showtime broadcast during his 8¾-year pro career. When he’s appeared on live TV in the continental U.S. it was on small pay-per-view broadcasts or the undercard of a major HBO PPV show.

The 34-year-old veteran says he doesn’t understand the fascination with knockouts and punchers that network executives and most fans have.

“I don’t get why everyone’s got to be a puncher these days,” Calderon said from his New York City hotel room Wednesday night. “If fans want to see a puncher in the ring that’s fine; I’ll fight a puncher. I’ve never been afraid to box a puncher. I just don’t get why people want me to be a puncher.

“I don’t have to be a puncher to beat a puncher. You would think people would enjoy watching me outbox and breakdown the harder punchers. I think it makes for good TV. Ask my fans in Puerto Rico, where I sellout the place.”

Calderon says using his skill, experience and wits to beat physically stronger fighters is what motivates him to stay on top of his game.

“I maintain excellence in the ring because of my discipline and because of the challenge of fighting all these guys who are so much bigger than me,” he said. “Mayol is a big guy for junior flyweight. He’s 5-foot-4. That’s tall from where I’m standing. I’m 5-feet even.

“Fans who think I can’t punch at all don’t realize how big some of these guys are that I’m fighting. Nelson Dieppa, (Roberto) Levya, and Hugo Cazares, these guys are 5-foot-5, 5-foot-6, and they’ve fought at 115 pounds, even bantamweight. They’re featherweights on fight night. I don’t put on more than four or five pounds after the weighin. I should get more credit for beating these guys.”

Sadly, that’s unlikely outside of Puerto Rico. Most fans and probably all of the major network executives have no idea who Dieppa, Levya and Cazares are.

However, there is a 108-pound boxer that some have heard of — Brian Viloria. The popular Filipino-American boxer puncher from Hawaii was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team.

In April, Viloria won the IBF belt with an impressive 11th-round KO of longtime titleholder Ulises Solis in front of 18,000 in Manila, Philippines. Solis, an experienced technician from Mexico had made nine title defenses, including an eighth-round TKO of Mayol.

Viloria, an amateur rival of Calderon’s, has an entertaining style and the big punch that networks like.

“Brian could punch in the amateurs,” Calderon said. “He beat me twice and I remember feeling his power, but I was well prepared the third time we fought, just before the Olympics, and I beat him easy.

“I wasn’t surprised that he knocked out Solis, a guy I was never able to get into the ring. Brian can really crack, especially with his right. But when he doesn’t get that right hand to work during a fight he gets frustrated and tired, especially in the late rounds. I know how to beat him and I hope I get the chance.”

He might. Bob Arum, Viloria’s promoter and Calderon’s co-promoter (along with Peter Rivera), has stated on record many times that he would like to match up the junior flyweight standouts later this year.

“Maybe that’s why they matched me with a Filipino fighter (Mayol),” Calderon said. “To help build up a fight between me and Viloria.

“I’m willing to go the Philippines to fight him, if that’s what they want. All I ask is that I get paid the same (amount) as what I would make if the fight took place in Puerto Rico.

“My fight with Mayol is going to be on Direct TV in Puerto Rico.”

It will also be seen in England (on Setanta Sports), Mexico (TV Azteca) and the Philippines (Solar Sports).

If the wily vet bets Mayol, it would be nice see Calderon-Viloria on an HBO or Showtime broadcast.

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

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