Oscar Collazo’s boxing origin story isn’t necessarily one of outright salvation the way it is for so many other fighters, but the sweet science offered a place for him to explore his athletic ambition in a way no other sport could for a man his size. 

Collazo was born in Newark, NJ, and as a child developed a love for two sports: Baseball and boxing. As a Puerto Rican in the vicinity of New York City, he naturally became a Yankees fan, a near foregone conclusion given the team’s attachment to the Puerto Rican community that dates back to the mid-20th century. In a 1976 New York Times piece by Murray Schumach detailing the bond between Puerto Rico and the Bronx Bombers, one of its central characters declared “most Puerto Ricans are Yankees fans.” As the team enjoyed further glory periods in the 1990s and 2000s anchored by names like Bernie Williams and Jorge Posado, that attachment grew stronger. 

As a child named after Oscar De La Hoya, whom he’d grow up to have his checks signed by, he enjoyed boxing and would scrap with his brothers, but he was a fine ballplayer and wanted to see those dreams through. He spent time on the Puerto Rican national team as an early teen, but as time went on, his diminutive stature would understandably get in the way. The smallest player in Major League Baseball today, Jose Altuve, has five inches in height and roughly sixty pounds on him. In boxing however, as long as you can get to 105 pounds, there is room for you in the sport. By the age of 15 he’d transferred to boxing, and although he had to battle to stay on the national team just as he did on the diamond, in this sport he couldn’t be denied. It no longer mattered if there were people bigger than him, he only had to compete against men his own size, and matched up against them, he was better than damn near all of them. 

As audacious as Collazo’s dreams here, declaring that he would one day be the “face of Puerto Rican Boxing” when he signed his first professional contract in 2019, they are coming true—and quickly. Faster than any Puerto Rican fighter’s ever have, in fact.  On Saturday, Collazo became the WBO minimumweight champion, stopping Melvin Jerusalem in seven rounds in Indio, CA in a bout aired on DAZN. In doing so, he captured a world title quicker than any other fighter from Puerto Rico, achieving the feat in just his seventh professional bout. 

What makes Collazo’s rapid ascent most impressive is that it’s not one that needs any kind of verbal asterisk when discussing it. It hasn’t been a matter of a prodigious talent steamrolling overmatched opposition in a shallow division. Instead, Collazo has had to gut out victories over the likes of former champion Vic Saludar in his fifth pro bout, one in which he had to get off the canvas in order to prevail. In his next bout, he scored a devastating knockout over the Yudel Reyes, a fighter who had never been stopped before, the kind of knockout many assume do not or cannot happen at 105 pounds. 

Then, in his crowning moment, Collazo weathered an early storm from a rangy and dangerous puncher in Jerusalem. Through round three, it looked as though those attributes might stymie Collazo, but in the fourth round, Collazo made a decision and an adjustment one wouldn’t expect a fighter with his lack of professional experience would be able to find. The 26-year old sold out in order to get to the inside, and within three rounds, managed to break Jerusalem down with body shots. By the sixth, Jerusalem was carrying his hands at his sides in order to protect from the blows to his beltline, sometimes obsorbing more visually striking shots to the head as a fee. 

The tax was ultimately too heavy for Jerusalem, who retired in his corner at the end of round seven. Even when fighters are physically overwhelmed in a fight, they will often try to save face in their post-fight interviews in order to plant the seed of possibility that the fight could have gone another way if it were to happen again. In Jerusalem’s case, he did a slight bit of that, invoking jet lag as a reason the fight ended as soon as it did, but otherwise told Steve Angeles of ABS-CBN News that he simply could not absorb any more body shots, and that his brief stint of training in Los Angeles was not enough to adequately prepare him for what he was up against on this night. 

Collazo battered and broke one of the division’s best fighters, and one of its demonstrated most dangerous punchers. In doing so, Collazo also began an era in the minumweight division that could be the most exciting one it has seen since Ricardo Lopez and Rosendo Alvarez reigned in the late 1990s. Collazo, along with brothers Ginjiro and Yudai Shigeoka, represent a young, powerful and marketable trio that could collide in the near future and bring 105-pound title fights to the forefront of the boxing consciousness. 

It’s a place the division has flirted with entering, thanks to Lopez and more recently, Collazo’s friend and mentor Ivan Calderon. Lopez and Calderon each often found themselves on undercards of major events, but selcom as the main attraction themselves. Even the best minimumweight title bouts have been viewed as fine appetizers, but never a main course for the audience in the United States. Even though pound-for-pound greats such as Chocolatito Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue have come through the sport’s lowest ranks, their true acclaim had to wait until their scales showed a higher number.

But with a bountiful selection of places fights can air in 2023 and a gradual erosion of the stigma that both talent and power can exist in the lightest weight classes, Collazo may be a part of creating a landscape in the sport that his predecessors didn’t enjoy. 

Seemingly, nothing would make Calderon in particular happier. In the moments following Collazo’s victory, Calderon was one of the first to post on social media to congratulate him. The photo he posted wasn’t one of the two of them, and its caption mentioned nothing of the advice he’d given Collazo over the years. It was simply a photo of Collazo in triumph, with a caption that ended with “un abrazo,” a hug for his friend. Or perhaps, a passing of the torch. 

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman