It didn’t hit Jessie Magdaleno as his hand was raised at ring center at the Thomas & Mack Center, or as he celebrated afterwards with a slice at Pizzeria Francesco’s in Treasure Island.
“It sunk in when I got home,” says Magdaleno of the night last November when he became champion, outpointing Nonito Donaire by unanimous decision to win the WBO junior featherweight title.
“When I went back to my house, back to my wife and my son, and I just let everything fall into place, emotions got to me. Just looking at the title, that’s when I knew that I became world champion and one of my dreams did come true.”
That dream was fulfilled nearly six years to the day he turned pro, and though he had been undefeated and was the WBO’s No. 1 contender, some doubted he could make good on his clearly evident boxing talent. He’d developed a reputation for missing weight, and even promoter Bob Arum admitted at the post-fight press conference that there was a time when he wasn’t sure that the Las Vegas native had the necessary dedication to go to the next level.
People around Magdaleno could see he needed to make changes. Most importantly, he could see it too.
“I went through a hard time in my career where I didn’t know where my head was at. I needed to make changes, I needed to lose friends. I needed to lose certain people to get to the dream I wanted,” Magdaleno said that night at the pizzeria.
“I think Jessie wasn’t as focused at that time,” said Frank Espinoza Jr., who manages Magdaleno along with his father, Espinoza Sr. That began to change, Espinoza says, when Magdaleno became a father.
“That’s his pride and joy, I think his son, Leo, has played such a big part. Because now it’s no longer about Jessie, it’s about him and his family and I think he knew that there’s no more games, now it’s time to take it to the next level because now he has mouths to feed,” said Espinoza.
Seeking new surroundings, Magdaleno (24-0, 17 knockouts) left his longtime trainer, Joel Diaz, in Indio, California, last summer and began training with Manny Robles at The Rock Boxing Gym in Carson. Now he’s set for his second outing with Robles this Saturday when he faces Adeilson Dos Santos (18-2, 14 KOs) down the road at StubHub Center.
That fight will be one of three title fights shown on an independent pay-per-view produced by Top Rank, including WBO super middleweight titleholder Gilberto Ramirez against Max Bursak, WBO featherweight titleholder Oscar Valdez against Miguel Marriaga, plus the pro debut of 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stephenson.
Magdaleno had known Robles because he also trains Valdez, who is also managed by Espinoza, and he’s been happy to work with Robles and his assistant Edgar Jasso. The Rock is home gym to a who’s who of young fighters: Aside from Magdaleno and Valdez there’s Irish Olympian Michael Conlan and his compatriot Jason Quigley, plus unbeaten Olympians Terrell Gausha and Joselito Velazquez.
The change of scenery and personnel has been good for Magdaleno, he says.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my career.
“My previous trainers didn’t do what these guys do and that’s why I’m glad everything’s changed. Everything’s better as of now and for the future,” said Magdaleno, who claims Diaz wanted to play multiple roles in camp and wasn’t open to bringing in specialists to help.
“[Diaz] didn’t allow that and that’s why I had rough times making weight when I was with him. Because I couldn’t get the nutritionist’s meals that I needed like how I have now.”
In an article by Steve Kim before the Donaire fight, Diaz, who still trains Jessie’s older brother Diego Magdaleno, claims, among other things, that Jessie showed up heavy for camp last summer and “wasn’t even trying” to lose weight before the two split.
In Dos Santos, Magdaleno faces a fighter who is four inches taller at 5 feet 8 inches and has lost twice — once to British contender Kid Galahad by decision in 2014 and another time by second-round knockout to Fabian Oscar Orozco three fights ago in March of 2016.
Dos Santos has little experience at the top level — a statement Magdaleno could have related to a year ago.
“At one point nobody knew who I was when I was fighting Donaire and nobody thought I was capable of beating him. And look what happened,” said Magdaleno, who like Dos Santos is 25 years old.
“I think his opponent is obviously much taller, he’s got a little bit of a punch,” said Espinoza. “I think he switches southpaw every now and then. To be honest with you I just think that Jessie is gonna make the statement because I think he’s at a new level and that’s what he wants to show the division.”
How does one follow up beating a four-division champion in their last fight?
“I want to unify the title at some point. I want to make this another unified title. I want to go after the WBC champion (Rey Vargas). Maybe even a fight with me and (WBA junior featherweight champion Guillermo) Rigondeaux could possibly happen,” says Magdaleno.
With or without a title, it’s good to be Jessie Magdaleno these days.
“I continue being Jessie Magdaleno and I continue living my life the way I live it. It’s something that I’m gonna continue doing. I’m not gonna let a title change me because a title doesn’t define who I am.”
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.
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