By Jake Donovan
If there’s one lesson that has been learned in the oft-hard luck career of Orlando, it’s to never rest on his laurels.
Not even the sweet taste of success from last year’s monster upset stoppage win over previously unbeaten Juan Manuel Lopez was enough to change who he has always been – a business-first fighter who remains grateful for the opportunities thrown his way.
It was why the 31-year old chose to remain active in 2011 in the absence of big fights to complement what he achieved in Puerto Rico last April. Two stay busy fights remained a far more productive year than sitting on his ass waiting for whatever opportunity comes his way.
It is also why this weekend’s featherweight title fight rematch returns to La Isla Encanta, rather than Salido holding out for something much closer to home. The Mexican didn’t in any way attempt to use his newfound championship status for any kind of leverage.
Instead, he picked up a couple of wins and then when the moment came, signed on the dotted line to once again face Lopez. The fight takes place at Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, once again airing on Showtime (Saturday, 10PM ET/PT).
The terms could have been better, but for Salido they were simply good enough to move forward.
“It didn’t matter to me where the fight took place. I don’t care where I fight, I just care that I fight,” said Salido (37-11-2, 25KO), who rides a three-fight win streak heading into this weekend. “I went to Puerto Rico to face him the first time because I wanted the fight and I wanted his title.
“Sure I would love for him to come to Mexico to face me. But this is the fight that my promoters wanted and it was decided that Puerto Rico is the best location for it.”
It was the place where he confirmed his credentials as a championship place amidst a career 16 years deep and still going strong. Salido has been at the title stage before and even served as a titlist for a brief spell in 2010 before falling short to Yuriorkis Gamboa in a unification match later in the year.
But it was his nip-and-tuck affair with Lopez last April that forced the boxing world – and the featherweight division in particular – to stand up and take notice, that he’s nobody’s steppingstone.
Still, he finds himself in need to once again prove his worth. Salido enters Saturday’s fight as a 2-1 underdog to repeat his biggest win. No problem, says the battle-tested Mexican, who has never won more than nine straight at any point in his career and has grown accustomed to having to prove the naysayers wrong time and time again.
If anything, it further motivates him to improve on last year’s performance rather than accept it as good enough to get the job done again.
“I know what to expect in the rematch,” Salido insists. “I’m not underestimating him just because I beat him the first time. But I am certain that I can repeat what I did last year and continue my career. I feel better than I ever have in my career, but I still have to go into the ring, do everything right and just take it from my opponent.”
Salido almost forgot that lesson, an intended tune-up fight in his hometown against Weng Haya last December. The hapless contender flown in from the Philippines on short notice to replace originally scheduled opponent Carlos Leyva and meant to be served up as cannon fodder.
Instead, he gave Salido a serious run, flooring him twice early on before the champion recovered and took over before being dropped and stopped early in the eighth round.
The fight caught major buzz within hardcore boxing circles, with whispers circulating that Salido had peaked and was ripe for the taking. Perhaps it was the shock of the normally iron-chinned featherweight sent to the canvas, but the news was nevertheless blown out of proportion.
Salido had a chance to reflect on the fight and has ensured that nothing of the sort will ever again be the case for as long as he remains on top.
“There were a lot of distractions going into my last fight, plus the opponent changed a couple of times,” Salido admits. “They told me one guy then brought in someone else. Also I can’t lie, maybe I was overconfident going into the fight. I was fortunate enough to recover from the early knockdowns to get up, knock him out and proceed with the rematch with Juan Manuel Lopez.”
Rematches have been built on far less momentum than what has been provided for this bout. Plus, many have lost sight of the fact that the onus remains on Lopez to prove that he’s not on the slide – or worse. It’s been a while since the Puerto Rican has looked like the superstar that his handlers were making him out to be while trying to build up a showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa.
Regardless of how Lopez has appeared in recent fights, Salido carries the same mentality as he had when they fought last April. In beginning his pro career at age 15 all the way back in 1996, Salido has grown wise enough to know when the deck is stacked against him and also that with success, often comes an opponent’s best effort to knock you down from your perch.
After all, it’s the very mindset he carried into their first meeting.
“When I got into the ring, I just had no respect for him,” Salido reveals. “Some guys are nervous when they go into fights like that. For me, it was do-or-die and I just didn’t care about anything else. My mentality for that fight was that I was going to win no matter what.”
This time around, Salido expects Lopez to come to him with a do-or-die attitude. In preparation of that, he also believes that we will see the very best version of the 31-year old entering his 52nd professional bout.
“I am going to fight him better than I did in our first fight. I know he will be a different fighter in this fight. He’s a former champion who wants his title back. I expect him to be better prepared for this fight, but guess what? I’ll be better prepared too and believe this will be a better fight than the first.”
With a repeat win, the world will be at Salido’s fingertips. His future could include a number of lucrative options, perhaps even avenging his last defeat to Gamboa more than a year ago.
But a lot needs to happen between now and then. Chief among them is a victory this weekend and also a reason to abandon a weight that he has no problem making.
“Of course I would like to go up and fight Gamboa again but right now I have a big fight in front of me, I’m comfortable still making 126 lb. Once I get past the JuanMa rematch, we’ll see what else there is to take care of at 126 and then probably move on to 130. I want bigger names and bigger wins but the first step is taking care of Juan Manuel Lopez again.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]