By Keith Idec
The congratulatory text message from Mark Wahlberg immediately made Alex Saucedo understand what he had accomplished moments earlier.
The star actor, who’s also Saucedo’s co-manager, informed the junior welterweight contender that his epic comeback against Lenny Zappavigna reminded him of the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward fights. Wahlberg played Ward in his Oscar-winning movie, “The Fighter,” so Saucedo took Wahlberg’s words as the ultimate compliment.
Wahlberg also offered Saucedo some gratuitous advice.
“He said, ‘Next time, we want you to hold when you’re in that situation or take a knee or something,’ “ Saucedo told BoxingScene.com.
Others have suggested Saucedo take a bow for that unforgettable performance.
Zappavigna hurt Saucedo so badly during the fourth round, a knockout defeat in his hometown seemed inevitable June 30. Battered and bloodied, Saucedo somehow survived Zappavigna’s assault during a completely one-sided fourth round in which referee Gerald Ritter would’ve been well within reason to stop their scheduled 12-rounder.
Ritter instead afforded Saucedo a chance to withstand that brutal fourth round. Saucedo started to come back during the fifth round, swelled Zappavigna’s left eye shut, opened cuts above and beneath it, and stopped him in the seventh round.
“It was a war,” Saucedo said. “It was one of those fights where people have never seen me like that. It was the only time I’ve been hit like that, been hurt like that. But they also seen what I have, the heart that I have.”
Wahlberg wasn’t the only one that thanked Saucedo for reminding him of so many of Gatti’s courageous comebacks.
“I’ve been getting so many messages from people all over the world,” Saucedo said, “telling me that they haven’t watched a fight like that since Arturo Gatti. It feels good to have people telling me that. But every fight is different. Not every fight is gonna be like that. But that was one of those fights that I had to just leave it all in there, so that’s what happened.”
The 24-year-old Saucedo’s fight Friday night against WBO junior welterweight champion Maurice Hooker probably won’t resemble Saucedo-Zappavigna all that much.
The 5-feet-11 Hooker is an inch taller than Saucedo (28-0, 18 KOs), whereas Zappavigna is a least three inches shorter than him. Hooker has long arms and is a skillful fighter who’ll try to box Saucedo from the outside.
“He’s a whole different fighter from Lenny Z,” Saucedo said. “He’s a fighter that has longer reach, that likes to box a little more. But he does have power in both hands, so we have to go in there and work smartly, and start working on the things I’ve been working in camp. We brought in three sparring partners that fight similar to Maurice Hooker, so I’m working on different things. He’s a whole different fighter from Lenny Z, but like I said, I’ll be ready for anything that he brings that night.”
Hooker thinks Saucedo is underestimating his power based on how he fought against Terry Flanagan in his last bout. The Dallas native out-boxed Flanagan (33-2, 13 KOs) to win a split decision June 9 and captured the then-vacant WBO 140-pound championship in Manchester, England, Flanagan’s hometown.
After fighting well in his last opponent’s backyard, Hooker (24-0-3, 16 KOs) is more than prepared to make his first defense against another hometown hero in an encounter ESPN will air from Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (midnight ET/9 p.m. PT).
“It made me a better fighter,” Hooker told BoxingScene.com regarding his win against Flanagan. “Styles make fights and with that style, I had to try to stay on my toes and use my speed, keep on the outside. I wasn’t really looking for no hard shots because I wasn’t looking to get stuck on the inside with Terry Flanagan, because he is pretty quick.
“So I guess Alex Saucedo and his team probably think I don’t got power, but I wasn’t trying to knock Terry Flanagan out. But this fight right here, Alex Saucedo gonna be there. He don’t move his head a lot. I know he talked about he worked on it, but he’s gonna be the same fighter. But it’s gonna be a good fight.”
Saucedo sought to improve his defense by moving his head more during his recently completed camp at trainer Abel Sanchez’s gym in Big Bear Lake, California. Fighters often revert back to how they’ve previously performed once they’re tested, though, thus Saucedo must resist that temptation as he attempts to realize his lifelong dream.
“It’s an opportunity I’ve been looking for since I started boxing,” Saucedo said. “I was the only guy making a name for Oklahoma at the time, fighting in tournaments. I always wanted to bring championship boxing back to Oklahoma and now I’m doing that. I’m very excited, very happy and I was motivated throughout camp. And now it’s time to go to work.”
If Saucedo defeats Hooker, he’ll become Oklahoma’s first recognized world champion since Sean O’Grady owned the WBA lightweight title in 1981.
This fight isn’t just about Oklahoma history for Saucedo. He has personal history with Hooker, too.
They sparred against each other several times when they both trained at the Maple Avenue Boxing Gym in Dallas. Back then, they shared the same manager, Arnie Verbeek, who told BoxingScene.com this match means more to him than most bouts because Saucedo left early in his pro career to find another management team.
“I hope he looks at that sparring because that was when I was 16 years old,” Saucedo said. “I’m a whole different fighter. The times that I sparred him was when he was finishing camp and I was barely going in there. I was fighting at 147 and I didn’t know how to take care of my body like I do now. I’m a whole different fighter. It’s a lot different. So if he’s looking at that, it’s gonna be different.”
Hooker, meanwhile, is motivated to destroy Saucedo’s dream before his hometown crowd. The 29-year-old champion recognizes it won’t be easy, not after what he saw Saucedo do versus Zappavigna (37-4, 27 KOs).
“That guy got heart,” Hooker said. “He comes to fight. He’s young and determined. He’s got everything in front of him, but he’s got a lot of pressure on him right now. He’s fighting in his home. He’s got a lot of friends that’s gonna be there, his team is depending on him, so he’s got a lot of pressure on him right now. And I don’t, so I’m ready to go in there and shut his crowd up.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.