By Keith Idec
PATERSON, N.J. — This is the type of exposure Jonathan Maicelo sought when he moved from his native Peru to northern New Jersey in 2009.
It took a lot longer than the undefeated lightweight contender expected, but Maicelo will finally fight on American television Friday night. He’ll headline an ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” telecast from Santa Ynez, Calif., where he’ll meet Russia’s Ruslan Nugaev in a 12-round fight (9 p.m. ET/PT).
Maicelo (19-0, 11 KOs), who signed with New Jersey-based promoter Gary Shaw last year, didn’t hesitate to take this fight on 2˝ weeks notice because he didn’t want to pass on national exposure.
“I came real close to losing faith and giving it all up,” said Maicelo, who resides in North Bergen, N.J. “But just having that will and determination made me come back to the United States and things finally are paying off. I’m 29 years old. I should’ve had this a little earlier, but I’m a 29-year-old that’s in great shape. Having the faith that one day this was going to happen kept me grounded, and now this opportunity is here. It’s fate and I’m ready to seize the opportunity.”
Maicelo’s path to Friday night was particularly frustrating because he is a mainstream star in Peru. His sold-out fights are broadcast nationally on free TV in his homeland and draw great ratings, despite that he has faced a modest level of opposition during his eight-year pro career. He also has appeared in Pepsi commercials and performed on “El Gran Show,” Peruvian television’s version of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Though it is highly unlikely he’ll attain that level of stardom in the United States, the charismatic contender is ready to start making a name for himself among American fight fans.
A victory over Nugaev (22-6-1, 12 KOs) in their USBA title fight would earn him a spot in the IBF’s 135-pound rankings and could lead to a title shot later this year in a lightweight division devoid of high-level talent. Maicelo already is ranked No. 7 by the WBA and No. 11 by the WBO.
“I want the biggest things in boxing, and Friday night is the beginning,” Maicelo said. “By the end of the year, I’ll be fighting for a world title. I’ve waited long enough. I’m ready. I feel more mature, I’m much better technically and I feel it’s happening now for a reason.”
The 30-year-old Nugaev will fight for the first time since July 2011, but he represents a solid step up in competition from Maicelo’s last three opponents (combined record of 54-39-1 entering their losses to Maicelo). Nugaev hasn’t been knocked out as a pro, either, and Maicelo has not gone 12 rounds.
If he wins Friday night, Maicelo’s handlers hope his next fight comes against a legitimate lightweight contender.
“When he first came here, he was all heart,” said Butch Sanchez, Maicelo’s co-trainer. “He had skill, but it wasn’t developed skill. Now we can put him in with top guys, without thinking about it. He’s definitely a lot more polished now and I think the timing is right for him to make that move.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.