By Thomas Gerbasi
There are fighters who can knock you out, boxers who can dazzle and frustrate you with speed. Then there are guys like Giovani Segura, hunters who will stalk you and stalk you and make your life miserable until he finally breaks you down, not only physically, but mentally.
It’s a gift, one that has earned Segura two world titles at 108 pounds, and as he approaches Saturday’s highly-anticipated rematch with the man he knocked out in a 2010 Fight of the Year candidate, Ivan Calderon, he is firmly in the camp of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ And that’s not a surprise considering that he learned the art of fighting long before he put on the gloves and picked up the sweet science of boxing.
“I started training late, and the little thing that I knew about boxing was what I would see in Mexico on TV,” recalled the native of Ciudad Altamirano. “I grew up in a tough neighborhood, and at the playground playing soccer you always had fist fights. So for me, coming into a ring with gloves and headgear and all this protection was new for me and I didn’t have no fear. It was crazy because I would see guys get nervous about sparring, and I would tell them that I used to do it without nothing. So I saw things different.”
Those early scraps built his toughness. His boxing brain was more advanced than most as well, and again, it was done back home with no gloves, no headgear, and no trainers.
“In Mexico, sometimes the only way to see fights was to go to the bars when they used to buy the fights,” said Segura. “I was 10, 11, 12, and I would be right there with my uncles, begging them to take me to see the fights and behaving myself so they would take me. As soon as we’d get there, they’d tell me I couldn’t come in. They’d say “The only way to come in is to consume something and you can’t drink, you’re a kid.” Then my uncle would tell them, give him a soda.”
And for the next couple hours a new world would open up for the young Segura.
“I’d see the fights in a different way,” he said. “I would understand who won a close round and if it went to a decision I would know who won the fight. I saw boxing in a mature way since I was a little kid. I didn’t see a fight with my heart and by just following one fighter; I understood the language of boxing, and I believed that helped me in my training and the little learning about boxing that I did.”
By the time Segura and his family moved to Downey, California when he was 15, the die was cast. He was going to be a fighter.
“I took it as a game,” he said. “Then I started looking and I’m like ‘wow, you can get paid for this. I’m gonna give it a try.”
Segura was raw throughout approximately 40 amateur fights, but he was aggressive, had heavy hands, and was willing to learn. These are all traits he still possesses today, but back then, when he decided to turn pro in 2003, just days before his 21st birthday, there was one significant difference – his family wasn’t on board with his choice of occupation.
“When they saw me coming home from work and leaving the food on the table and going to the gym, they started getting mad at me,” he remembered. “They said, ‘You’re taking this thing too serious. All the guys you see on TV, like Oscar De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker, they all started from seven or eight, and you’re already 20, what are you thinking?’ I’m their kid and they always wanted to protect me, but I never listened to them because I was on a rollercoaster and pushing myself to see how far I could go. I was knocking people out in the amateurs, so I was like ‘let’s see how far I can go.’”
He’s gone pretty far and his family has come around to accept their young champion. 19-0-1 in his first 20 fights, Segura lost his lone pro bout via decision to Cesar Canchila in a bout for the interim WBA junior flyweight title in 2008. Less than eight months later, he crushed Canchila in four rounds to win the belt. He has since been elevated to full champion, and defended his crown four times before adding Calderon’s WBO title to his trophy case last August. In a steadily rising career, this was the crown jewel thus far, an action-packed thriller that saw Segura eventually use a punishing body attack to force Calderon to take a knee in the eighth round. And though the win took place in Calderon’s backyard in Puerto Rico, the shockwaves were felt back home in Mexico, where the 29 year old Segura has become a bit of a celebrity.
“Now I’m an example for everyone and it’s good,” said Segura, who has even seen kids around the gym sporting the same haircut he does. “I’m happy and thankful for what I’ve done, but I think I can do more. I’m still pushing myself in the gym and training as hard as I can. But it’s crazy.”
He recalls a recent trip back home where he was recognized by an elderly cleaning woman in the airport.
“Oh son, I saw you,” she said. “Good fight, but next time try to go more to the body.”
“She talked boxing like a man. People in Mexico are hardcore followers. They talk to me and recognize me and I feel weird.”
But the soft-spoken slugger is getting used to the notoriety, and when he returns to face Calderon at the Auditorio del Estado in Mexicali, he expects to thrill his fans with more of the same. As for Calderon, Segura – who is coming off a seventh round TKO of Manuel Vargas last November – is surprised that the longtime champion wanted his first fight back to be with the lone man to beat him as a pro.
“I was really surprised because I really didn’t give him a chance and I hurt him really bad, but he’s talking and saying this time he’s going to have a good preparation,” said Segura. “Before the fight he was saying that he had fought better fighters than me, like (Hugo) Cazares, so he probably took me lightly. Maybe this time, he’ll come back different. I’m pretty sure that this time he’s gonna try and move more.”
And as far as Segura’s concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that. Calderon will do what he has to do, and Segura will do what he has to in order to win. There’s no secret what “El Guerrero Azteca” has planned for this weekend, and it’s made him not only a champion, but a respected member of an elite fraternity. He’s a Mexican fighter, and that’s a title that can’t be earned just by being born there.
“All the time that I was watching TV and I would see a boring fight, I always said to myself, ‘one day, if I ever become a fighter, I will never be a boring fighter like this guy,’” he explains. “I’m still like that, and after the fights I’m always watching myself and saying ‘well I can do better, next time I can do this, I can do that.’ Even though I won against Calderon, when I was gonna fight him, I could visualize not just beating him, but making it an exciting fight, one that people wanted to watch. We have a big background of world champions (in Mexico) who are admired for their courage and their heart, and I have to fill those boots and find a way to be like them. I have to represent what my champions from my country are – true Mexican champions.”