By Ryan Maquiñana
Diego Magdaleno’s name has been increasingly absent on lists featuring prospects to watch, and for all the right reasons.
Now making his third defense of his NABF junior lightweight title against Emmanuel Lucero (26-7-1, 14 KOs) this Friday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in his hometown of Las Vegas, the 25-year-old Magdaleno (20-0, 7 KOs) has gradually made the transition to contender.
“Las Vegas supports me 100 percent, and with my family and friends at every fight, I think there’s always pressure on me in every fight,” the southpaw told BoxingScene.com. “But I think I fight well under pressure. It’s something I look forward to. I like to show everyone out there, especially with the hometown fans, that I’m doing something for them when I fight.”
After a string of four consecutive knockout victories that helped him to chip away at an early reputation of being feather-fisted, a hard-earned unanimous decision over Alejandro Perez vaulted him into the top 10 of both the WBC and WBA.
“I learned a lot from that fight,” Magdaleno said. “From the first round, I didn’t expect to get caught. He got me in the first round with a big punch, and I had to bounce back from that.”
Magdaleno rebounded quickly from getting floored in the initial minute of the fight, taking over the second half of the fight en route to an eye-opening triumph.
“I’m going to have to be ready for situations where times can be tough and you have to know how to control yourself in the ring,” he said. “You can’t let something like that distract you, and if I had to go the whole 10 rounds, that’s something I had to be ready for.”
Magdaleno is inching ever so close to the world title shot he envisioned for himself four years ago when he signed with Top Rank after compiling an amateur record of 111-16 with trainer Kelcie Banks that included a gold medal in the 2007 U.S. National Championships at lightweight.
The lefty attributes his development to the men in his corner as a pro, namely manager/trainer Pat Barry and former world title challenger Augie Sanchez, who knows all about fighting in Las Vegas as a hometown hero.
“It’s great having Pat who is more of an old-school trainer, who wants everything to be about the basics, and Augie, who’s still fresh in the game,” Magdaleno said. “[Augie] gives you his side about being quicker, faster, moving my head, getting in and out. Really, they complement each other and complement me. I can really sit on my punches while still being the boxer now. They enhance my skills in a way that I feel most comfortable.”
With only three knockouts in his first 15 fights, Magdaleno’s lack of power initially raised questions about his viability as a legitimate contender. The fighter was well aware of these qualms, and he actually attributed his hypersensitivity to this claim as to why stoppages were few and far between when he started his pro career.
“Back then, I was a little more on my toes,” he said. “I was fighting a little with anxiety looking for a knockout instead of taking my time, waiting for an opportunity, and taking advantage of it.”
After going the distance with Manuel Perez last year–a rugged veteran whom neither Brandon Rios nor Mercito Gesta was able to finish off before the final bell–Magdaleno hit the switch and reeled off four stoppages against the once-beaten Carlos Oliveira, Derrick Campos, Marcos Leonardo Jimenez, and trial horse Gilberto Sanchez Leon.
“I think it was Pat and Augie getting me believing in myself to put the guy out,” Magdaleno said. “You have to have that confidence in believing in yourself on the inside. I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable in the ring, and it’s about not really looking for the knockout and letting it take care of itself.”
Magdaleno hopes to start a new string of stoppages tomorrow against Lucero, who has shared a ring with Rocky Juarez, Jason Litzau, and Daniel Ponce de Leon—with all three fights ending in defeat by knockout. His last fight took place in July, where Yuandale Evans needed just six frames to take him out.
Still, Lucero holds 13 wins over fighters with winning records, and the Evans loss snapped a two-bout winning streak that included a New York State junior lightweight title for the Scranton, Pa., resident who is a butcher by trade.
“We went over the tape. He’s a righty, and he’s a shorter guy,” Magdaleno said. “I haven’t fought too many shorter guys. Something he likes to do is wing his shots from the outside. It’s an awkward stance that can throw you off. He comes from low angles. One thing I want to do is pick him apart with my jab and get out of the way of his right hand coming around over the top.”
Lucero’s also known for his three-round destruction at the hands of Manny Pacquiao back when the two were junior featherweights, a bout Magdaleno has also studied.
“I actually saw that Pacquiao fight, and he got pummeled really good with the left hand,” Magdaleno said. “I think he’s going to be in line for it. He likes to fight on the inside, a slugger-type guy. You have to be aware of headbutts. It’s a common thing that happens with lefties and righties, especially with the way he leans in sometimes, so I have to keep my guard up.”
Camp has transpired at Barry’s Boxing, about a 10-minute drive south of the Mandalay Bay, and Magdaleno has had some explicit goals every time he enters the gym for sparring.
“I guess I really want to showcase everything I have,” he said. “I want to use a wide range of my boxing skills in the ring in every round. Most of all, I think I’ve been focused on keeping the pressure on my opponents and staying on top of them more consistently—and then taking them out.
“Miguel Diaz brought in a couple Cubans, and we fought another guy named Jesus Gutierrez, a shorter fighter who kind of fits the style of Emmanuel Lucero.”
Magdaleno’s wide shoulders and defined upper body have caused some to wonder how he can continue to make the 130-pound limit.
“Usually I stay within 145 to 147, with the highest I’ve been being 150,” he said. “I guess I’m one of those guys who’s naturally been built that way.”
With the NABF title in tow, Magdaleno is currently ranked with the WBC, whose titleholder Takahiro Ao barely scraped by with a split decision last weekend against Devis Boschiero.
He could also make a run at the title sanctioned by the WBA, whose propensity to hand out multiple belts like candy makes it hard to decipher who really is champion.
“I think 2012 is the year for me,” Magdaleno said. “Whether the title shot happens in January or mid-summer, I’m fine with that. I believe whoever holds the title is obviously worthy of fighting.
“I’m not really big on giving a specific name because it can change from one guy to the other, so I’m just focused on winning this fight and going from there. I just know that after this, 2012’s my year.”
Ryan Maquiñana is the boxing correspondent at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and Ring Magazine’s Ratings Advisory Panel. E-mail him at [email protected], check out his blog at www.maqdown.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.