By Ryan Maquiñana
After 41 wins, 32 knockouts, and two defeats, Hector “El Tigre” Saldivia finds himself on the brink of a welterweight world title shot when he faces British rising star Kell Brook (28-0, 18 KOs) at Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield, England, on Oct. 20.
The heavy-handed native of Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, has been here before. Two years ago, he rode a 12-bout winning streak into a title eliminator with another sanctioning body before being ambushed by Said Ouali in the first round.
“I’ve learned a lot since I was last defeated against Ouali,” Saldivia told BoxingScene.com through interpreter Armando Juarez. “I gained a great deal of experience since then. I saw a lot of mistakes in the way I fight and I have learned to correct them in sparring.”
That re-education has led him to eight consecutive wins and a couple regional belts. Now based in Oxnard, Calif., Saldivia has traveled a few miles south to Hollywood’s Wild Card Gym with trainer Robinson Zamora to log several rounds with highly touted 147-pound prospect Jose Benavidez Jr.
“We’ve been giving each other some good work. ‘El Tigre’ is very tough. He’s been applying good pressure when we spar and he doesn’t let up. He’s definitely ready for this fight,” Benavidez said.
Saldivia has also studied Brook’s style by watching the Brit’s last win against Carson Jones, a hotly contested majority decision.
“I did watch the fight a few times, and I thought Jones won by one or two points,” Saldivia said. “Because Brook is a local, the decision would make sense in that he would win the fight. If it's close in our fight, Brook will probably have the benefit of the doubt.
“But I’m going to England trying to win before the 12th round. I want to demolish him. I want to win by a wide margin or convincing enough to everyone.”
When asked to break down any possible weaknesses in Brook’s arsenal, Saldivia was direct in his analysis.
“The pressure is definitely what made it difficult for Brook against Jones,” he said. “He doesn’t enjoy being pressured in the ring. I feel like Carson Jones lacked a little activity until the sixth round and that might have cost him the decision.”
Saldivia pointed to another of his foe’s weapons that he has tried to address in sparring.
“Benavidez and Brook’s styles are fairly similar,” he said. “They both have a very good, fast left hook. Overcoming Benavidez’s left hook will help me overcome Brook's left hook in the fight.”
Oct. 20 marks only the third time that the 28-year-old Saldivia will have fought outside South America. The loss to Ouali took place in Las Vegas, and this time, he plans to alter the itinerary of this trip to a foreign locale.
“I’m planning on getting there a week before to adapt to the climate,” he said. “There’s a difference of eight hours. But really, I don’t feel the pressure of fighting in his hometown.”
On the heels of countrymen Sergio Martinez, Marcos Maidana, and Lucas Matthysse scoring triumphs in the past few weeks, the boxing world’s attention will soon focus on Saldivia. Rather than shying away from the spotlight, however, he embraces it.
“Yes, Argentina has had great boxers,” he said. “Those guys are on top of the mountain and have world titles. This is the fight that will help me get closer to that level alongside them.”
Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly boxing column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.