By Lyle Fitzsimmons
The World Wide Elite Entertainment premise is, according to its own publicity, “to right many of boxing’s wrongs” with a focus on “guiding talented but misled fighters that weren’t provided fair opportunities in the past due to managerial or promotional issues.”
Its biggest flag-waver and highest-profile property is co-founder Francisco Palacios, a two-time world cruiserweight title challenger who’ll end a two-year ring hiatus on Saturday night in Orlando, Fla.
There, the 37-year-old will face 38-year-old Epifanio Mendoza, who’s played the role of hard-punching gatekeeper since his days as a middleweight and has a resume dotted with former champions Chad Dawson, Jeff Lacy and Beibut Shumenov, alongside contenders BJ Flores, Luis Ortiz and Lateef Kayode.
The native Colombian won five of seven fights in 2014 after competing just once last year and he has 34 knockouts in 39 career wins, but his fortunes have changed dramatically since a failed WBC light heavyweight shot at Dawson in 2007. He was 28-4-1 entering that match, but is 11-14 since.
“After two years without fighting, everyone has told me I’m crazy,” Palacios said. “Well, I guess I am, because I think in order to get where I want to be I have to face guys like this that fight. It’s like making a prospect into a contender and I feel great about it. I think it’s a hand-crafted fight and I know he hits hard, but everyone in this division does. I hit hard, too.”
Palacios won his first 20 fights as a pro before dropping a split decision to WBC cruiser champ Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in April 2011 in Poland, then won once more before another loss to Wlodarczyk – this time by a narrow, but unanimous verdict in September 2012 – stalled him at 21-2.
He’s not fought since, thanks to the sorts of promotional/managerial conflicts he insists were reasons for forming the promotional enterprise with business partners Josue Aguilar and Alejandra Quintero.
“It’s hard to abandon something you love and are so passionate about, because of someone that wasn't doing what they had written in a contract,” he said. “But I was never the one that was always fighting on a regular basis because of promotional reasons. I was in the gym always doing something, either strength and conditioning, teaching it or learning it.”
And to those who suggest a comeback at this stage is folly, he predictably suggests otherwise.
“They’re wrong because when you love and you’re passionate about boxing,” he said, “just because you’re not active doesn't mean you’re not in the lab working on a new potion to better your magic.”
He’ll return to the ring alongside a new trainer, former light heavyweight title challenger John Scully, a corner veteran who’s worked with his own collection of high-profile clients, most notably Dawson for his two fights in 2012 – a decision victory over Bernard Hopkins for the WBC’s 175-pound title in April and a TKO loss to Andre Ward for the WBA/WBC belts at 168 pounds in September.
The dual role of fighter/promoter is challenging, Palacios concedes, but he says his aim to provide previously wronged fighters with better options reaches back to a youthful commitment to truth.
“Now that I’m my own promoter and looking forward to promoting other fighters, I will change it because I won’t sell them pipe dreams,” he said. “My partner, my late brother and I, as kids, we made a bond that until this date has been my main thing. It’s to keep my word.
“So, as they say, my word is my bond. I take it very seriously. I will use myself as an example and I will offer them the right thing when it comes to the table, not pipe dreams and fantasy.”
The ultimate aim for the business, Palacios said, is to follow the path laid by the big boys, particular the ones nicknamed “Golden Boy” and “Money.”
“I want to be recognized as the world’s best. I want to be at the same level as GBP, Mayweather Promotions, Top Rank, etc.,” he said. “I may not have their finances, but God is leading my path and with God who can be against me? We are taking this event and promotion around the world, and the finances will be there.”
The in-ring goal is a little simpler: a third go-round with Wlodarczyk, this time on neutral turf.
“To me, the first I definitely won. The second, maybe not,” Palacios said. “I would love a third one with him, outside of Poland. It would be a great fight. We both are great warriors and great fighters, but I don’t mind going up the ladder again and whooping all these guys up. But my timetable is ASAP.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title fight schedule:
WBO junior bantamweight title – Villa Maria, Argentina
Omar Andres Narvaez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Felipe Orucuta (No. 1 contender/No. 22 IWBR)
Narvaez (42-1-2, 23 KO): Eleventh title defense; Held WBO title at 112 (2002-09, 16 defenses)
Orucuta (29-2, 24 KO): Second title first (0-1); Lost split decision to Narvaez in May 2013
Fitzbitz says: Unless his last name is Hopkins, a 39-year-old champ is never too far from acting his age and losing his title. These two were close last time, and it’s about time for transition. Orucuta by decision
Vacant IBF junior flyweight title - Tijuana, Mexico
Javier Mendoza (No. 3 contender/No. 70 IWBR) vs. Ramon Hirales (No. 4 contender/No. 15 IWBR)
Mendoza (21-2-1, 18 KO): First title fight, 12 consecutive wins by stoppage
Hirales (20-4-1, 12 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2, 1 KO), held WBO title at 108 (2011, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: When a good young man meets an experienced older man, bad things can happen to him. Especially if that older man is still on his game. Could be the case here. Hirales by decision
WBA lightweight title – Helsinki, Finland
Richar Abril (champion/No. 13 IWBR) vs. Edis Tatli (No. 6 contender/No. 24 IWBR)
Abril (18-3-1, 8 KO): First title defense; Third fight outside United States (2-0)
Tatli (23-0, 7 KO): First title fight; Twenty-third fight in Finland (22-0)
Fitzbitz says: I don’t have an expert’s grasp on the level of 135-pound competition in Finland these days, but I can’t imagine it matches what Abril has seen. Unless he gets Rios’ed again. Abril by decision
WBC super flyweight title – Guamuchil, Mexico
Carlos Cuadras (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Jose Salgado (No. 3 contender/No. 23 IWBR)
Cuadras (30-0, 24 KO): First title defense; First fight against two-loss foe since 2011
Salgado (34-2-1, 27 KO): First title fight; First fight against undefeated (non-debuting) opponent
Fitzbitz says: Salgado has gotten his shot after working the so-so side of the super flyweight street, and he’ll notice the different level of opposition upon vying for the title belt. Cuadras in 10
Last week's picks: 2-2 (WIN: Mayweather, Santa Cruz; LOSE: Ruenroeng, Bey)
2014 picks record: 65-19 (77.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 612-213 (74.1 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.