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Best I Faced – Celestino Caballero

24
Aug

At 5-foot-11, Celestino Caballero was unusually tall and rangy for the junior featherweight division. After recovering from some early setbacks, he went on to become the IBF and WBA 122-pound titleholder and was widely considered the premier fighter in the weight class in the mid to-late 2000s.

Caballero, who was the oldest of five children, was born in the coastal town of Colon, Panama on June 21, 1976.

“My early years were difficult,” Caballero told The Ring through Rogelio Espino. “I worked, collecting iron and copper cans, since I was 11, to help my mother. We were very poor. We had no help and we worked to earn money. Many times, I had to go to school without breakfast. They were difficult times.”

From a young age, Caballero watched boxing but was more interested in soccer. However, several members of his family boxed and that helped steer him in that direction.



“My father was an amateur boxer and I have to cousins who also were boxers,” he said. “My father’s cousin, Antonio ‘Buchi’ Amaya, was a [three-time world title challenger and] famous professional boxer in Panama.”

He followed in the family tradition and boxed from the age of 16. However, he was unable to get many fights and was unable to participate in national or international tournaments. He had 16 fights, going 12-4.

Caballero turned professional in November 1998 and showed early promise claiming the Panamanian junior featherweight title in his eighth outing.

He stayed active and continued to win before he was involved in serious road traffic accident, suffering head injuries that threatened not just his career but also life. Thankfully he made a full recovery and returned to boxing six months later.

“Pelenchin” saw his unbeaten streak come to an end, after 17 consecutive wins. when he was stopped by veteran Jose Rojas (KO 3). He rebounded with two wins and was matched with unbeaten countryman Ricardo Córdoba.

“I wasn’t well-trained in that fight,” said Caballero, who was dropped in the 10th round en route to losing a wide 12-round unanimous decision. “I prepared for just 15 days and without a coach. I trained for Ricardo Córdoba’s fight while working in a restaurant, delivering on a motorcycle. I realized that through that fight I would become world champion because Ricardo Córdoba was good and couldn’t KO me.”

The defeat lit a fire under Caballero, who got back in the win column. He trained diligently over the festive period ahead of an IBF 122-pound eliminator against unbeaten knockout artist Daniel Ponce De Leon in Los Angeles in February 2005.

“From the beginning, I knew I’d win because of my preparation,” said Caballero, who out-foxed the Mexican slugger by wide 12-round unanimous decision. “For them it was a surprise because they were confident in Ponce De Leon and the short time, I took the fight in. They sent the contract 12 days before the fight.

“The strategy was to box on the outside and that’s what I did for a while. I went to the body when I felt his power was gone.”

After that confidence-booster, Caballero comprehensively routed Jose Luis Valbuena (TKO 5). While Caballero waited for his IBF title shot, he was presented with an opportunity to fight for the WBA interim title.

The Panamanian was being heavily avoided and had to bid his time. When the opportunity came, he had to travel to Thailand to face recently minted WBA titleholder Somsak Sithchatchawal in October 2006.

“Thailand was a big journey,” said Caballero, who stunningly stopped the hometown favorite in three-rounds. “On the day of the fight, we had to travel three hours and the Thais took one hour more to get there. Not only that, I also had the sun hitting my corner and Somsak’s corner had shade.

“Winning the title for me was something of a dream because no Panamanian had ever been crowned in Thailand before, it was an honor for me.

“They got on the bus with Somsak and went to the hospital and left us there for two-and-a-half hours. The good thing is the Panamanian consul in Thailand was at the fight with his family and he had a 15-passenger van and we were able to go with him.”

When Caballero returned home, he was met with a hero’s welcome from his proud countrymen.

“I was received by the humble people of my country, family and friends,” he said proudly. “[They] gave me an excellent welcome that I still remember fondly.”

Clearly buoyed by the title win, Caballero went on to defend his title against Ricardo Castillo (DQ 9), Jorge Lacierva (UD 12), former junior flyweight titlist Mauricio Pastrana (TKO 8), former flyweight beltholder Lorenzo Parra (TKO 11) and Elvis Mejia (TKO 1).

Next, Caballero fought unbeaten IBF titlist Steve Molitor in a unification in Canada in November 2008.

“Steve Molitor is a boxer with good style but no better than that of the Panamanian’s [I had fought] and I am strong agile and fast,” said Caballero, who dropped and stopped the hometown favorite in the fourth round. “I knew from my preparation; I would knock him out.”

He made a further two defenses of his two titles before weight issues saw him move up to featherweight, where he successfully beat Daud Yordan (UD 12).

“When I went to 126-pounds, the fighters or managers saw my evolution, nobody wanted to fight,” he said. “I challenged the big names, Juanma López, Israel Vásquez, Rafael Márquez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Jhonny González and none accepted.”

The lack of options meant Caballero moved up to 130-pounds to face Jason Litzau. It proved a step too far and Caballero, a 12-to-1 betting favorite, was outhustled by the American and dropped a 10-round split decision that was later awarded The Ring Magazine Upset of the Year on the undercard of Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis in Las Vegas.

With the lustre off, the bigger names no longer needed an excuse to avoid Caballero. When he returned, he fought at 126-pounds. Though no longer under the bright lights in Las Vegas, he had to go to Argentina and face WBA kingpin Jonathan Barros in July 2011.

Caballero lost a highly controversial 12-round split decision to Barros. They met in a rematch three months later, and this time Caballero wouldn’t be denied. He was rightly awarded a 12-round unanimous decision.

Caballero, who won three world titles, all on the road, in his opponents back yard, headed to Japan to face Satoshi Hosono (UD 12). However, his career stalled at that juncture.

“The WBA didn’t give me the fight for the WBA super championship with Chris John,” he said. “I asked for it and they denied it. I renounced the [WBA regular] title because of that. I left boxing for two reasons, the disappointment of the decision and a detached retina.”

After a 16-month hiatus, Caballero returned losing a 12-round split decision to Robinson Castellanos. Though he got back to winning ways, he lost to Adrian Estrella and retired with a record of (37-6, 24 knockouts).

In retirement, Caballero was caught in possession of over 10 kilos of cocaine in March 2016 and served two years in prison.

“I made a serious mistake and thank God I got out of it.” he said.

Caballero, now 46, is married has four children and still lives in Colon. He works in real estate and would like to work with aspiring young boxers.

He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.

BEST JAB 

Ricardo Castillo: He threw a very strong jab. I beat his jab with my speed and quick leg and waist movements.

BEST DEFENSE

Daud Jordan: Tightly closed. A hermetic guard. I broke his defense with fast and accurate jabs not letting him think.

BEST HANDSPEED

Jorge Lacierva: The speed was good but I have the ability to adjust to that with my leg movements.

BEST FOOTWORK

Lacierva: He moved very fast with both feet and hands. To be able to connect effectively was somewhat complicated.

SMARTEST

Lorenzo Parra: He knew the ring very well. He knew how to move and took advantage of all the spaces.

STRONGEST

Satoshi Hosono: He stayed on his feet in a very hard fight. I realized he was strong and made the decision to box and dodge his attacks. He has all my respect.

BEST PUNCHER

Daniel Ponce De León: He had a strong punch. His left hand was as strong as a rock but I prepared myself hard for that. He stunned me but I recovered quickly.

BEST CHIN

Hosono: He endured a lot of punishment. He didn’t go to the canvas, he just stumbled.

BEST BOXING SKILLS

Parra: Parra is very interesting; he knew how to attack and defend himself. I defeated him because of my strength and effectiveness. I used my attributes very well. I capitalized on my opponents and work on their defects.

BEST OVERALL

Ponce De León: The odds were all against me. He was strong and had endurance. It was a war.

Rogelio Espino helped co-ordinate and translate this feature. The Ring appreciated his assistance.

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on [email protected]

 

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