By Ryan Songalia
In boxing, sometimes it's not what you can't do, but what you can do that can be your greatest detriment. Luis Collazo knows that very well. Talent can be a double edged sword. To borrow from a Jay-Z album, Collazo's skill has been a gift and a curse. The former WBA Welterweight titlist has found that looking good in the ring can make you unattractive to matchmakers.
With boxing politics the way they are, Collazo understood that he'd have to take advantage of the opportunities that came his way. With only two weeks notice, Collazo stepped in to face the WBA Welterweight champion Jose Antonio Rivera last Spring. In a 12 round test of manhood, Collazo walked away with a split decision victory and a strap around his waist to signify the achievement. His first defense was essentially an infomercial for his campaign as a welterweight champion. Collazo painted a masterpiece on the face of Miguel Angel Gonzalez, convincing the Mexican legend to call it a career a half hour later.
Now possesing political leverage in the form of championship credentials, Collazo got his chance to announce his presence to the world under the bright spotlights of HBO's World Championship Boxing against pound for pound elite Ricky Hatton. The bout would be hard pressed to have started any worse for Collazo, as he was sent to the floor moments into first and didn't get going in the first quarter of the fight. Not ready to concede his belt, Luis Collazo roared back with an exhibition of courage and poise, winning many of the middle rounds with flashes of brilliance that suggest his world class status. Collazo fought valiently, and in the eyes of many deserved to retain his title. The judges working that fight did not concur, awarding Hatton a close decision.
Performing well is no consolation for being removed from your title. Collazo had to deal with the heart break of failing to walk away with the win. "Right after the fight, I went home to see my daughter. I went home and looked at the tape. I looked at the tape over 30 times. Everytime I see it, I get mad at myself. At the same time, I believe I still won the fight."
The Hatton fight wasn't his first defeat. In 2002, he found himself on the downside of a third round stoppage to unheralded Edwin Cassianni. After controlling the first two rounds, Collazo was momentarily overwhelmed by his opponent's unexpected flurry, prompting Jay Nady to halt the bout with Collazo on his feet. Often times, a fighter learns more from his losses than his victories, and Collazo is no different.
"With the Cassianni fight, I thought it was a premature stoppage but at the end of the day, it made me a mentally stronger fighter. I grew alot out of that fight. The Ricky Hatton fight...just put me to another level. It let me know how much talent I really have and that I'm really a threat in the welterweight division."
After watching the Brooklyn native make one of the sport's pound for pound elite look awkward and vulnerable, there was scarcely a line around the block waiting to get in line with the underrated Collazo. With the high risk/low reward incentive that Collazo presents, most figure that it doesn't make financial sense to take such a dangerous fight.
Who can blame them really? Collazo has the combination of attributes that make for a tough fight against anyone in the division. Southpaw slicksters are nobody's favorite opponents, avoided as if stricken with leprosy. Aside from his left-handed stance, Collazo also possesses two of the quickest hands in the division, and is very skilled at using them. His 97-7 amateur record tells the story of a man who did things the right way in the ranks of headgear and 10 oz gloves. He won the NY Golden Gloves twice, once each in open and novice, at the 147 pound limit. His amateur polish shines brightly through his smooth style. He has every move in the book, adept at using his feet to perfectly position himelf at angles to do damage with his combinations. He's a handful for anyone in the division, so it's not exactly surprising that his phone isn't ringing off the hook from the Margaritos and Mayweathers of the world.
John "Iceman" Scully, who was in the opposing corner for the Rivera fight, was also impressed with him. "Luis is difficult because he is a slick and cagey guy, very well schooled, who will also bang it out with fast hands when the situation calls for it", Scully analyzes. "He's so dangerous because he appears to have great legs and he can box and brawl equally well. He knows when to do one or the other. Being all that and a southpaw to boot makes him difficult for anyone in his weight class."
If there is a shortcoming in Collazo's game, it's his pugnacious demeanor. Collazo has brilliant boxing skills, but his willingness to trade punches leaves him vulnerable to incoming flack from his opponents. "Sometimes the macho comes out of me, I want to stand in front of you toe to toe." For Collazo's part, he claims that he will execute a smarter fight from now on. Having gained a world of experience in the Hatton bout, he believes that he has learned from his prior lapses in judgement.
"I've grown definitely. I know to go in there and do what I do best, and that's box. Don't try to prove nothing to the people, the fans, to the judges. Just go in there and stick to my game plan and execute the way I always do."
Now, with the Hatton affair in the rear view mirror, Collazo has been struggling to attain the fights that would breath life into his career. "I don't know why. I'm just another fighter. I'm a southpaw, yeah I understand that. I'm slick, yeah I understand that. When it comes down to it, you gotta prove yourself. If you ain't gonna prove yourself, why consider yourself the best in that division? The only way you can be considered the best is by fighting the best."
When talks fell through that would've paired Collazo with Carlos Quintana, Don King reached into his own roster, pulling up Hercules Kyvelos for the November 4 date. You remember Kyvelos, the former Canadian amateur star whose claim to fame are his knockout losses to Antonio Margarito and Cosme Rivera. Scully, who has sparred with Kyvelos before, believes Collazo is too much for the Canadian. Scully relates "Luis is probably in his prime right about now or pretty close to it while Hercules, while very dangerous with the left hook to the body, probably is further from his best day. Confidence wise, I think they are probably on two different levels right now. I think a betting man would go towards Luis at this point."
While consensus thought sways towards an easy night for the New Yorican, Collazo is not overlooking Kyvelos. "Now at the stage I'm in, every fight is an important fight for me", Collazo states. "Hercules Kyvelos is a tough fighter, he's a tough competitor who comes to fight." I'm not taking this guy lightly. He's coming with bad intentions, but I'm ready for whatever."
This is a good fight for Collazo to get back into the mix at 147, as well as an opportunity to make some noise on a major fight card. That said, Kyvelos' challenge will be spirited, but insufficient. Eluding to my earlier Jay-Z reference, Collazo has 99 problems but Kyvelos ain't one of them.
Assuming all goes according to plan, a win would go a long way towards re-establishing him as one of the top fighters at welterweight. Ring Magazine ranks Collazo as the number 4 contender, with Baldomir as champion followed by Mayweather, Margarito, and Judah. A fight with any of them would bring him to the next level of public consciousness, yet that would be contingent upon the other fighters putting their John Hancock on the contracts.
Scully also believes that Collazo will have a hard time getting the big names to face him. "I can't see any of them in a hurry to meet up with him because beating him won't make them anymore of a household name, but losing to him is a realistic possibilty, especially for Cotto and Margarito. In other words, he may have it tough because the risk of losing to him isn't going to equal the reward offered for going against him."
"If he gets an opportunity again he is certainly capable of pulling off what most would deem an upset. Or maybe he will be the Hagler, or better yet the Herol Graham, of his generation and he will be avoided by the absolute elite."
Bob Arum, who has interests in several of the top welterweights, recently claimed that Margarito was the most feared man in the division. While his knockouts have been spectacular, certainly there will be a few guys willing to go to a purse bid with a fighter who recently was offered an $8 million payday before ever facing a top three contender.
"Margarito is a great fighter, but who has he fought?", reasoned the former WBA titlist. "I believe that if we fought it would be an excellent fight, it'd be like Sugar Ray versus Tommy Hearns. He's a puncher, I'm a boxer. That's a fight people would love to see. We tried to get that but they don't want to fight. Hopefully after he does the mandatory with Paul Williams, if he wants to get it on, we can get it on."
The victor of the welterweight summit showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Carlos Baldomir would provide Collazo's best bet at gaining the respect he so greatly desires. Collazo is reverant of the Argentinian champion, but has choice criticism of the Grand Rapids wizard. "I think Mayweather is overrated, Zab [Judah] exposed him for the first few rounds of their fight. I just wish Baldomir would come out with the victory."
Collazo's denouncement may stem from a belief that Baldomir would be more willing to accept Collazo's challenge than Mayweather. "In the welterweight division, he hasn't really fought nobody", Collazo claims. "He's been fighting 140 pounders. You know the fights taken and the fights that should've been [taken]."
In spite of Collazo's difficulties obtaining the necessary opposition to add credability to his profile, he remains optimistic for the future. "I'm just trying to stay busy and when a big fight opportunity comes through, I'm going to make the most of it and get my crown back. Right now, I'm just trying to stay busy and when a big fight opportunity comes through, I'm going to make the most of it and get my crown back." Collazo is still only 25 years old, affording him plenty of time to fulfill his maximum potential.
As Collazo prepares for his next sojourn through the ropes, he keeps in perspective his driving forces that inspire him to perservere through the treacherous waters of boxing's business side. "What motivates me is the hunger and the passion I have for this sport and my daughter (two year old Khaylah). That's my life, my passion, my pride and joy. That's what pushes me everyday to do what I do."
"I just want to fight the top guy in the welterweight division, whoever it is. I want to prove to the people that I'm The Truth. The only way I'm going to be able to do that is by fighting the top guys, and I'm willing to do that."
Any questions or comments? Send them to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org