by David P. Greisman
BJ Flores is coming off a Jan. 28 win over Hugo Pineda, a sixth-round technical knockout that gave him three wins in six months. Those keep busy bouts, he said, have gotten him sharp and ready for a title shot — a title shot he believes could be coming soon, based on the rankings.
Flores recently spoke with BoxingScene.com about the Pineda win, why he turned down a title shot against Ola Afolabi, what fighters he is interested in facing next, Marco Huck’s performance against Alexander Povetkin, and the state of the cruiserweight division.
BoxingScene.com: It’s been several weeks since your fight with Hugo Pineda. What are your thoughts on that victory — what it meant, how it went?
Flores: “To be honest with you, it didn’t really mean anything. It was just a chance for me to get back in the ring. It was a guy who — a couple of guys kind of fell out, and he was begging for the fight. He said he was in camp with Glen Johnson and Lucian Bute and Andre Dirrell and all these guys, getting these guys ready for all their fights, and he was ready. He wanted to fight me bad. He couldn’t wait, said that just nobody wanted to fight him.
“I didn’t really like the fight, because he was maybe decent back in the day, but he’s moving up in weight and everything. I didn’t really like the fight, but to be honest with you we really couldn’t find anybody else. We offered the fight to five or six other guys rated in the top 10 in the North American ratings, and we just couldn’t find anybody else to fight. At the end of the day, I told the matchmaker, ‘Him, I guess.’ I was trying to hold out for someone better, but at the end of the day, that’s the guy we got.
“The fight went as expected. I have to knock a guy out like that if I’m to be in serious contention for any kind of title. I can’t let a guy like that hang around.”
BoxingScene.com: We’d heard in a press release this past month about you turning down a title bout against Ola Afolabi. It sounded like there wasn’t really much time for you to get ready for that. When did you get the offer from Afolabi, and when would the fight have been?
Flores: “I think the offer was Feb. 4, and it was supposed to be the fight was Feb. 25. It was just 21 days. I had just fought the week before, and as easy as the fight was, my hands were still a little sore from the training camp and everything. I just wasn’t ready. I couldn’t get back in the gym. I had a left knuckle problem that the doctor told me to rest at least 10 to 14 days, so that would’ve carried me right up until the fight. Also, the offer to fight Afolabi was a laughable $25,000 to go to Germany on three weeks notice. That is an absolute joke of an offer. I make more than that doing my own shows in Springfield [Missouri] against any opponent.
“I’m getting to a point now where I’m almost in that spot where I have the mandatory spot with the WBO — I think I’m No. 3. Ola Afolabi is No. 1. He’s going to be the champion now that Marco Huck’s out. No. 2, Denis Lebedev, is with the WBA, the interim champion. I’m ready to move into that mandatory spot. I don’t have to take an opportunity on 15 days notice like that and cheat myself.
“I feel like I did that already when I went to Australia and was forced to come in at 195 pounds and coming off a 16-month layoff [against Danny Green]. After my last fight we reached out to Danny Green’s people about a rematch. It was a fight that was very close and he had promised me a rematch. This time I would come over at 200 pounds and give me a shot to avenge my decision loss. They rejected and said Danny is moving back to light heavyweight. So now I can focus on my next fight or a shot at the title.
“I’m not going to cheat myself the next time I go for a title shot. I’m going to give myself a fair shot. And if I can get a fair shot, and if I have six to eights weeks to train and everything’s normal, then I’m going to beat Ola Afolabi. That’s it. And whoever I fight, I feel like I’m going to beat, if I give myself a fair shot. But I’m not going to take any more shortcuts.
“Ola Afolabi isn’t like this huge opportunity that I have to give up everything to get the chance to fight him. I can get him on his next fight because I’m going to be the No. 1 contender anyway. That fight’s going to come soon enough if everything plays out.”
BoxingScene.com: Aside from the short notice, it seems like knowing where you’re ranked makes the decision easier, even though you and I both know that in this sport, there are times that title shots can be few and far between.
Flores: “Absolutely. The title shots can be few and far between, but now I’m finally with the right guys who can get me the title shots. I’m not at anyone’s mercy now, like ‘Please give me a title shot.’ I’m going to get my title shot whether you like it or not, because I’m beating the guys, I’m moving up in the ratings. It doesn’t matter who wants me to get one or who doesn’t.
“I’m with the right guys know — Mr. King and their people. I’m getting a title shot, and I’m going to get my fair notice and my fair shake when I get there. I don’t have to take a title shot on 15 days notice. I don’t have to take short money or anything. I got people behind me now that are going to give me a legitimate shot to go over there and win.”
BoxingScene.com: Do you have a preference between Afolabi and Lebedev?
Flores: “To be honest with you, it’s an interesting situation, because the WBC title, we’re hearing that Krzysztof Wlodarczyk might be fighting Antonio Tarver in Late April, and if he does that he’s going to be stripped of his WBC title. So if he’s stripped of his WBC title, I’m rated No. 4, I believe, by the WBC. So that would be another option to be able to fight for the title, because [Giacobbe] Fragomeni and Silvio Branco are the No. 2 and 3 rated contenders, and they’re fighting for the silver belt. You know, Francisco Palacious is No. 1, so he might be fighting for the vacant WBC title as well.
“To me, it doesn’t really matter who I’m fighting. I would take that fight next. I’m coming off three fights in six months. Like I said, the reason for those three fights — I’m not saying ‘Hey, the three guys I beat are the greatest guys in the world,’ but they’re good, tough North American contenders. It’s not just that I beat them. It’s the way that I beat them. I feel like my timing and my reflexes are back now. I’m sharp. I’ve been back in camp consistently. We’ve been having good training camps. I feel like I’m ready for whoever now. It doesn’t really matter, to be honest with you.”
BoxingScene.com: Those three fights were in your hometown. Would you be willing to go on the road or, hearing some of those names, out of the country to fight these guys?
Flores: “Absolutely. But does Ola Afolabi have a big following? I mean, am I going to go to his hometown? He might as well come to Springfield. I would definitely go to fight him, wherever that is, but he doesn’t really have a home base as far as I know. If he does, please tell me. If it was on a Klitschko card or something like that, like a fight in Germany or whatever, then that’s fine. If it makes sense, we’ll do it.
“If I’m the No. 1 contender, wherever they say the fight is, whatever we decide the terms are, that’s how it’s going to go down. I don’t really care about anything else. Whatever we get it, we get. Wherever the fight’s at, it doesn’t really matter. But of course, I’d rather fight at home if I’m fighting a guy who doesn’t have a home base.”
BoxingScene.com: I’m not certain one way or the other about Afolabi. I know that Lebedev is bringing people in.
Flores: “Lebedev does. The thing with Lebedev, though, is he’s the WBA interim champion right now, and I think he’s talking about fighting a couple different guys. Lebedev’s not really on the radar because he’s with the WBA, and I’m kind of more with the WBO and WBC right now, because that’s who’s got me rated higher and in contention to fight for the titles.
“Whoever’s in those sanctioning bodies, whoever we can get to fight that makes sense, I can fight for the vacant title or I can fight the champion. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter to me. I feel sharp now after three fights in six months. I’m very confident now. I’m just ready to fight. I just want to make sure we get the proper and full chance to go into any fight, and we like our chances with anybody.”
BoxingScene.com: Let’s talk about another cruiserweight, or perhaps a former cruiserweight. Did you see Marco Huck’s fight with Alexander Povetkin? What’d you think of that fight and Huck’s performance?
Flores: “I sure did. Huck is just a tough, gritty, strong, well-conditioned, mentally tough guy. I’ve always known that about Marco Huck. I think he kind of exposed Povetkin. You just got to look at the level of competition in cruiserweight boxing. Marco Huck is a very good cruiserweight, and now he’s a very good heavyweight. It just shows that the gap isn’t as big as it used to be between cruiserweights and heavyweights.
“David Haye went up to heavyweight, was able to win a version of the title very quickly. Marco Huck went up to heavyweight and, in my opinion, won. Maybe he gave away some of the early rounds, but Povetkin could barely even stay on his feet at the end of the fight. He hurt Povetkin. He was never hurt himself. These top cruiserweights are going up to heavyweight and doing very well. I thought he fought a great fight, and I thought he won the fight.”
BoxingScene.com: You’ve said before that cruiserweight is your home right now, but does seeing what Huck and Haye did make you more eager about going up to heavyweight?
Flores: “Eventually, but like I said, that’s so far in the future. You’re talking about David Haye, who unified the cruiserweight division before he went up. Marco Huck had eight successful defenses before he went up. I’ve got so much ground in-between now and then before I even talk about that, but there’s definitely potential. I always want to focus on the next fight. I’m not even a world champion at cruiserweight. I just want to focus on my next fight and make sure I fight the best I possibly can.”
BoxingScene.com: And this is a good division you’re in. It’s heating back up, with Steve Cunningham, Yoan Pablo Hernandez, Troy Ross, among others. You’ve got some good competition you could be facing down the line.
Flores: “These guys are beasts, man. These guys are all tough guys. Steve Cunningham is a proven, time and time again, very, very good, tough fighter. A lot of people think maybe he’s slipping now because he’s getting a little older. He just lost to Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Hey, Yoan Pablo Hernandez is very, very good. Steve Cunningham is very good. Denis Lebedev is very good. Troy Ross is very good.
“These guys are top, top, top, top-level fighters. I got to be at my best to be able to compete with these guys. I just want a chance to prove that.”
BoxingScene.com: Anything else you want to say?
Flores: “A big shout out to Springfield, Missouri. If we don’t get this title shot coming up next, I will be back doing a card, maybe an ESPN card in May. I’m just looking forward to getting back in the ring. I’m going to be stronger, faster. Next time I get that shot for the world title, I will not go home without a belt. I will come home strapped up after my next opportunity. I will not let it slip be me two times.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]