By Jake Donovan
It’s been a long time coming for Juan Carlos Payano’s first title defense, but the unbeaten Dominican insists he’s 100% ready for his showdown with Cincinnati’s Rau’Shee Warren. The pair of undefeated southpaw bantamweights collide Sunday evening at Full Sail Live on the campus of Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, headlining the inaugural edition of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Bounce TV (Sunday, 9:00 p.m. ET).
Payano certainly looked ready at Saturday’s weigh-in, showing off a shredded midsection in tipping the scales at 117.6 lbs. In boxing, however, there has always been a big difference between being in physical condition and fighting condition.
The only proof on the latter is to wait and see what happens once the opening bell sounds. The most glaring statistic in this match is the ten-plus months of downtime for Payano from his title win over Anselmo Moreno to Sunday’s clash with Warren—a gifted amateur who is the only American boxer ever to fight in three Olympic games (2004, 2008, 2012).
Still, Payano has been a fighter since youth, and believes a life of experience in addition to an intense training camp will have him combat ready for tonight.
“No concerns about the time off between fights,” Payano (16-0, 8KOs) told BoxingScene.com. “I've had over 500 amateur fights (498-30 as an amateur), fought in two Olympics (2004 and 2008 for Dominican Republic), 16 pro fights and I'm a veteran. There's no ring rust.”
Payano is one of the few fighters who can actually claim the phrase “I live in the gym” as a true statement and not just a metaphor. The five-year pro is housed in trainer Herman Caicedo’s gym (Caicedo Sports Gym) in Miami when away from his family back home in the Dominican Republic.
That type of dedication to the sport led to his first major title, scoring an upset technical decision win over long-reigning bantamweight titlist Anselmo Moreno in late September last year. His downtime was spent with his family, and also celebrating honors as Dominican Republic’s 2014 Fighter of the Year.
Also factoring into the extended ring absence was the collapse of Iron Mike Productions. Payano’s original team—managers Henry Rivalta and Garry Jonas—remain on board, after severing ties with Mike Tyson, whose companies merged in 2013 and conducting business through the end of 2014.
With the split came the waiting game, as Rivalta and Jonas sought the best laid plans for their stable of fighters. It eventually lead to signing with adviser Al Haymon, with whom Payano signed earlier this year. From there, it was a matter of the right fit for his ring return, rather than just taking any fight simply for the sake of fighting.
His patience paid off with the status of Sunday’s card launching the PBC brand on yet another network, as Bounce TV joins a growing list of outlets showcasing the series.
“Headlining on the first PBC on Bounce TV show is great, I'm just happy to be headlining a PBC show,” Payano acknowledges. “I appreciate the opportunity and I'm going to make sure the fans are entertained. I'm very thankful for what Haymon’s doing for boxers and boxing by getting Bounce and all these other networks involved.”
It also means getting Payano back in the ring, which of course is the point of any fighter’s career.
“It’s been a long time since my last fight, but I promise it will be the very best of me in that ring,” Payano insists.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox