By Peter Lim
In 2000, Rocky Juarez returned from the Sydney Olympics with a silver medal around his neck. Unbeknownst to him at that time, silver would be the defining symbol of his pro career. Juarez (30-10-1, 21 KOs) fought unsuccessfully for a world title five times (four losses and a draw).
In his last bout, Juarez reignited his career by out-boxing and out-brawling 25-year-old Rene Alvarado (21-3, 14 KOs) over 12 rounds for the WBC Silver featherweight title. The victory was voted Comeback of the Year of 2014 by BoxingScene.com.
Juarez, 34, defends his belt against Robinson Castellanos (20-10, 13 KOs) of Mexico tonight at the Cowboys Dance Hall in San Antonio tonight. The fight, also a title eliminator for Jhonny Gonzalez's WBC belt, will be aired on Fox Sports.
"It's all or nothing now," Juarez told The Houston Chronicle. "I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I don't even see age as an issue. I know I'm up there in age and considered a veteran in the sport but I just see it more like I'm having fun, doing what I love doing and I'm in a place where I wasn't in my past. I'm in a place now where I'm more of a family man and I'm more of a disciplined fighter in and out of the ring."
Given Castellanos' crude, free-swinging style, he will force an action-packed slugfest for as long as the fight lasts, according to Juarez's sparring partner Miguel Flores (14-0, 7 KOs). But educated boxer-punchers almost always prevail over back-alley brawlers, Flores added.
"When you stand (toe-to-toe) with Rocky, that's when he does his best work," Flores told The Houston Chronicle. "Robinson's going to be there to be hit because he's not going to be moving around."
Flores has been trying to mimic Castellanos' wild punching, especially his signature looping uppercuts, in the gym. What Juarez has lost to age, he has made up for in experience and wisdom, Flores said. Plus, he added, Juarez still retains the capacity to flatten a guy with a single punch.
Three members of the 2000 US Olympic team - Jermaine Taylor, Brian Viloria and Jeff Lacy - went on to win world titles in the pro ranks. All three remain active and Taylor even won his second title last year. Juarez hopes to be the fourth boxer from the Class of 2000 to earn that distinction and break the jinx of always finishing second best.
"I'm a fighter that doesn't quit on his dream," Juarez told the Chronicle. "I've never given up on that dream even though people have counted me out."
Read this writer's prediction on Juarez-Castellanos at peterliminator.blogspot.com.