By Thomas Gerbasi
Brian Viloria shouldn’t be a little over two weeks away from a world title fight against Artem Dalakian. Not at flyweight, not at 37 years old. Doesn’t he know that 112-pound fighters are supposed to be washed up at 30 and in retirement at this age? Doesn’t “The Hawaiian Punch” realize that the more celebrated members of the 2000 United States Olympic team - Jermain Taylor, Jeff Lacy, Rocky Juarez – have all made their exit from the sport?
How does he explain this?
“Well, I have a cryo chamber in my basement that I step into every time I…”
Viloria starts laughing, but when he stops, the explanation for his longevity in the sport is a simple one.
“It’s basically just taking care of myself outside the ring,” he said. “In between fights I still try to eat healthy, even though I’m not in training camp. I try to stay active, and the key part of the longevity is staying in shape in between fights. Guys like (Floyd) Mayweather have done that, Bernard Hopkins the same thing, and I’m basically living the lifestyle of a training camp even when I’m not in training camp.”
Again, it sounds simple, but so few fighters follow the lead of guys like Viloria, Mayweather and Hopkins. They blow up between fights, don’t live the fighter’s lifestyle 24/7, and subsequently, training camps are often used not to get better, but to lose weight. And eventually, that vicious cycle takes its toll, shortening careers. And when you’re talking about fighters Viloria’s size, it’s even worse, because careers in those divisions have historically ended long before the age of 37. Viloria expects his to be one of them.
“I thought I would be over by the age of 30,” he said. “A lot of guys in the lower weight divisions don’t last past 30, 32 years old, much less 37. I just feel like I’m blessed. God has given me the chance and the strength to just keep doing this at an elite level. I’m not just going out there and hoping for things to happen; I’m just happy that things are turning out the way they are right now.”
Winner of two straight over Ruben Montoya and Miguel Cartagena, Viloria has looked good since his 2015 defeat against Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. After that ninth-round TKO loss, the Hawaii native admits that he thought about walking away from the sport. And it wasn’t the first time he felt that way.
“I’d be lying to you if I said that didn’t cross my mind,” he said. “There are many times when I did come into a self-reflection of where I should go after the losses. When I lost to (Juan Francisco) Estrada, and even before that when I lost my WBC title (to Omar Nino Romero) way back then. There are many times in my career when I seriously thought I was going to take another route and hang up the gloves.”
That’s surprising, especially given where he was at during those times in his career. But the most surprising admission is that he thought of walking away from the sport even before he won his first title by beating Eric Ortiz in 2005.
“The very earliest one was after the fight before I fought for the world title, the Contreras fight,” he said of the 2005 bout in which he stopped Ruben Contreras, with the Mexican battler having to go into surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. “When the whole incident of him going into a medically induced coma and having to go into brain surgery and all that, I told myself then, if my opponent wouldn’t come out of that alive, I was going to hang the gloves up.”
Contreras survived and Viloria continued to fight, winning four world titles. A victory over the unbeaten Dalakian will make it five, but he is under no illusions about where he’s at in his career at the moment. Does he feel he have what it takes to get another belt? Absolutely. But as far as fighting for another five years, that’s not happening.
“When you get up in age you lose a little step here and a step there, but I feel better than I did in my previous matches,” he said. “I feel really good right now, and every time we did try to explore what I should be doing, it always came back to me saying I still think I’ve got what it takes. I still have more in the tank, and that’s why you still see me here today fighting for my fifth world title. I’m taking it one fight at a time. I know I don’t have much longer in my career, I’m not gonna do this until I’m 40. That’s something that I told myself, so I’m just gonna take it one step at a time. At this stage, I’m trying to enjoy every moment because I know I won’t have many of these moments left in my career.”
So how does he beat a hungry, unbeaten opponent, knowing that while “The Hawaiian Punch” is still there, those lost steps could cost a 37-year-old fighter?
“Fighting smart, just using that experience to my advantage and exploiting some of his inexperience in the ring,” Viloria said. “I know how talented he is but, at the same time, I’ve gone through the wringer myself and I’ve faced the best. So given that experience, I’m gonna have to utilize that come fight night and try to maximize each mistake that he makes, try to maximize the experiences I’ve gone through in the past and try to use that. And I’ve used that in training camp. I’ve taken what’s worked in past training camps and I’m preparing myself the right way to try to get myself in position to get the best work and reach the goals that I set out for myself. I’m ready for it, I’ve gone through it, and I just have to deliver it on the 24th.”
The last time we spoke, before the Gonzalez fight, I asked Viloria if the perfect cap on his career would be to beat “Chocolatito,” grab the belt and lay his gloves in the center of the ring and walk away. He said that would be nice, but he still had plenty of fight left him. I didn’t ask him that question this time, because it sounds like he’s still happy to be fighting – on February 24 and any time after that.
“I’m just gonna try and enjoy the ride, regardless of what happens,” he said. “I’m gonna enjoy every second of every minute when I’m in that ring because that’s when I feel most alive. When I was a kid and decided I wanted to become a fighter, that’s what I dreamed of doing, and I’m still doing it at this stage in my career. And regardless of what happens that night, I hope it’s gonna end up with me having another world title around my waist, but at the same time, I think going through that whole process, it’s already a victory for me.”