Fighting banker Antonio Nieves plans rough U.S. welcome for Inoue
Throughout his professional boxing career, Antonio Nieves has become accustomed to his routine: wake up in the morning, pound the pavement for roadwork, then head to his job as a personal banker at PNC Bank, before getting in his rounds at Strong Style Gym.
“I’ve been doing it so long, the way I’ve done it; I just don’t know any other way,” says the 30-year-old Cleveland native, who helps bank customers open home equity lines of credits and apply for loans when he’s not in the boxing ring.
Ahead of the biggest fight of his career, a challenge of WBO junior bantamweight titlist Naoya Inoue at the StubHub Center, on September 9, Nieves is taking a leave of absence from work to focus on preparing as best as he can in an attempt to hand the Japanese fighter his first defeat. To keep his head in the game, Nieves is staying in a rented house on the east side of Cleveland, alongside gym mate and unbeaten lightweight contender Ryan Martin, bringing a camp-like feeling to training.
Nieves (17-1-2, 9 knockouts) admits he was surprised that he was being considered for the title opportunity against Inoue (13-0, 11 KOs), a champion already in two weight classes, who is making his U.S. debut on the “SuperFly” card, broadcast on “HBO Boxing After Dark.”
Nieves is coming off his first loss, a split decision to Nikolai Potapov in March on a “ShoBox: The New Generation card,” a decision head trainer Joe Delguyd describes as “a travesty,” and has never fought at or below the 115-pound limit before as a pro.
What is less surprising to him is that he’s being overlooked as a showcase opponent.
“I think people are counting me out because of the hype Inoue has. They have this really big hype on him. He’s a massive puncher at 115. He does all these great things,” Nieves tells RingTV.
“None of that really matters because, come fight night, I’ll be ready to go and do my thing.”
Nieves says the 24-year-old Inoue has had things go all his way in his career, which saw him stop Adrian Hernandez for the WBC junior flyweight title in 2014 before jumping to 115 for a quick knockout win over Omar Narvaez to win the belt he’ll defend for the sixth time. Nieves says he isn’t planning on being so accommodating to Inoue in Carson, California.
“Watching his fights, it almost seems that it’s been very easy for him. He’s just been able to do whatever he wants in the ring. My game plan is that we’re not gonna let him do whatever he wants,” says Nieves, who is managed by David McWater and Tim Van Newhouse of Split-T Management, and promoted by Salita Promotions.
“I’m actually coming down from super bantamweight, from bantamweight. I should be the bigger guy that night. We’re gonna push him around, rough him up.
“We’re not gonna stand in front of him. We’re not gonna let him get his big shots off. We’re just not gonna let him do what he’s used to doing and we’re gonna mess with him.”
Delguyd knows exactly how steep the challenge is before them but he says he sees a pattern in Inoue’s recent opponents, outside of David Carmona, the only fighter to take Inoue the 12-round distance. The trainer said fighters have just been happy to be in the ring with Inoue and were beaten before the bell rang.
“Obviously he’s a talented man. He’s fast and he hits hard,” Delguyd concedes, “but also you’ve got to be realistic about what those circumstances are. He’s never fought outside Tokyo ever. What we don’t know is how that will affect him. He may be great, all pumped up like, ‘I’m in Los Angeles. I’m fighting on HBO. I’m in America.’ It might also be, ‘I’m not in Tokyo; all my friends from high school are not at ringside and I didn’t sleep in my own bed.’ There’s no telling how that will affect him.”
Nieves first came to combat sports at age seven, when his parents put him in martial arts, to which he migrated to kickboxing. From kickboxing he picked up boxing to improve his punching. He grew up a fan of boxers from his parents’ native Puerto Rico, like Felix Trinidad, and he was soon stuck with the Sweet Science.
He says his amateur career consisted of about 90 fights, highlighted by five Cleveland Golden Gloves titles, a second place finish to Tramaine Williams at the 2011 National Golden Gloves in the 123-pound category, and a stint at the qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics.
Delguyd, who has trained Nieves since he was in eighth grade, remembers Nieves as a baseball star and good student in high school, someone who “comes from a good family.” When Nieves was studying at Chancellor University, he approached Delguyd and expressed his desire to turn professional. At first, Delguyd wasn’t having it.
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You’re in college.’ I said talk to me about turning pro after you graduate college,” says Delguyd, who co-trains Nieves with Francis Figueroa Sr. “He graduated college. We were at the graduation ceremony, at the commencement; that’s the first thing he said to me: ‘You got to turn me pro now, Coach; you promised.’
“He’s always done the right thing…that translates to the boxing,” Delguyd adds. “He’s a hard worker. He knows he’s gonna have to earn everything he gets.”
Nieves hopes to become the gym’s second reigning champion. The other one is Stipe Miocic, the current UFC heavyweight champion, whom Nieves has known since they were both boxing in the amateurs.
“Me and Stipe, we’ve known each other for a long time. Before he even became the champion, we’ve always been good friends,” said Nieves. “He’s great to have around, always positive, always tells you to do what you do, don’t back up and leave it all in the ring. He’s always there to show his support.
“To have someone like that coming from where we come from, the Midwest, to come out a champion, it motivates me that we’ve got fighters here and we can do big things out in the Midwest.”
Though Nieves has a kickboxing and martial arts background, he never thought of following the same path as Miocic into mixed martial arts, though he did compete in one amateur fight that came to be as a matter of circumstance.
“It was a confusion. I was supposed to be kickboxing and they matched me up with an MMA guy. Long story short, I ended up fighting the guy anyways, fought to a draw,” said Nieves.
What keeps the father of two waking up and getting to work, be it at the bank or in the gym, is the hope of giving his children more than he had, just as his parents did when he was growing up.
“My parents always had nothing but always did everything to give us all we needed. My family motivates me, just to want to do better for my kids and for myself. Just to keep moving forward and do the best I can in whatever I’m doing and show them that, do whatever you can with whatever you got and everything’s gonna be OK,” Nieves said.
Nieves’ day job may be to help people open up accounts but if he can pull off the victory, he’ll be making his share of bank deposits as well.
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