By Jake Donovan
A moment of familiarity struck Orlando Salido in the wake of his technical decision loss to Mikey Garcia earlier this year. The dreaded “R” word entered his mind, the first time he gave any consideration to the subject in a dozen years.
Once upon a time, Salido – five fights in to his pro career but still a few months away from his 21st birthday at the time – had his mind made up and ready to find another line of work. A road trip from his native Mexico to the United States helped change his mind, landing with the right trainers, manager and promoter to forge out what has been a memorable career.
Now 32 years old and more than 50 fights into his pro career, it gets a little harder to talk yourself out of decisions once your mind is made up. Salido never fully embraced the concept of calling it quits, but has used the past eight months to put his career in full perspective.
“After that fight I had a long time to reflect on what happened. I had to take a look at my career to see if this was still what I wanted to do,” Salido says of the time spent since ending his featherweight reign in New York City this past January. “I know the fight with Mikey I wasn’t myself. It was a tough night.
“But that’s in the past and I know what I’m capable of doing. Right now I feel like I did before my fight with Juan Manuel Lopez and I think you’re going to see that same type of fight from me on October 12 versus Orlando Cruz.”
A reprieve comes in the form of a vacant title opportunity. Salido defended the belt with honor for nearly two years before coming up short in the main event of HBO’s first boxing telecast of 2013. His successor, Garcia didn’t enjoy quite as many fond memories as featherweight titlist. His reign ended on a scale in Dallas, showing up heavy for his eventual knockout of Juan Manuel Lopez this past June.
Garcia has since set his sights on the 130 lb division, where he will challenge for his second major title on November 9 versus Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez.
By then, Salido will have a crystal clear picture on his future. The veteran faces Orlando Cruz four weeks prior, squaring off for the vacant featherweight belt on October 12 in Las Vegas. The bout is his first since the loss to Garcia, using the downtime to reevaluate his career and also allow a previous eye injury to fully heal.
Heading into a title fight cold and coming off of a loss isn’t an ideal situation, but the break from the ring made Salido realize he still has plenty left to offer the sport.
“I still want to do this because I still have a lot left and I think I can still do a lot of things in boxing,” Salido insists. “But on October 12 I have to show everyone that I am back and what I am capable of doing then go from there. I am not thinking about the future, I just want to show everyone that I am back.”
Salido has been written off plenty of times before, but still manages to hover around the top of the featherweight division. Next month’s bout with Cruz will mark his 10th title fight, his record a not-so-sparkling 4-4-1 in such affairs. It took him four tries to finally claim a belt of his own, only to concede the crown to Yuriorkis Gamboa in his very next fight.
His very next performance – an upset knockout win over Juan Manuel Lopez seven months later on the road in Puerto Rico – spoke volumes of what Salido is still capable of deep into his career. Furthermore, it lent legitimacy to a longtime run largely spent as a gatekeeper.
“Without a doubt I have been in there with some great champions. I won some and I lost some and I did gain great experience fighting them,” Salido says of his career as a whole, but not mistaking experience for in-ring advantage on fight night. “I just feel for this fight it will be whoever is better prepared. We are both hungry. We both want it. It's just a question of who is going to be the best that night and I think I will be.”
Cruz’ career run hasn’t been as memorable in the ring, though the Puerto Rican has made major headlines in the past year. A member of the 2000 Puerto Rico Olympic boxing squad, Cruz hadn’t amounted to much more than a fringe contender in the pro ranks. However, a major light was cast on his career last October, when he “outed” himself, thus becoming the first known openly gay active boxer.
Less than a year later, he’s in his first world title fight. Adding to the pot is his Puerto Rican roots, which always makes for a terrific storyline when paired with a Mexican warrior such as Salido.
That last part gives Salido additional incentive to proudly march on.
“I think about what I have done against Puerto Rican fighters. I am 5-0 against them and looking to make it 6-0,” Salido vows. “I know how to fight them and my experience helps me to do that and I’ll be ready for anything that happens in the ring based on my experience on what I have done in the ring against them.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox