By Thomas Gerbasi
In the Hollywood version of the Brian Viloria story, the “Hawaiian Punch” defeats Roman Gonzalez in Madison Square Garden on October 17, tosses the WBC flyweight title belt over his shoulder, drops his gloves in the middle of the ring and walks off into the sunset.
Viloria, in his 15th year as a professional prizefighter, is okay with much of that story. But he’s not having the walking off into the sunset part.
“No,” he laughs. “I think I’ve got a lot left in the tank. I hate looking past anybody before the fight takes place, but if everything goes the right way, there are a lot more fights, and even a possible rematch with him. But we have to go through this fight first.”
Who could blame him for wanting to stick around? If he turns back “Chocolatito” - a 43-0 destroyer who has found himself replacing Floyd Mayweather on several pound-for-pound lists - the 34-year-old Viloria will have put himself in position for not just a rematch with the Nicaraguan, but his pick of big fights at an age where flyweights are usually five years into their retirement or need to be going in that direction.
Viloria is in neither spot. The only member of the 2000 United States Olympic team still near or at the top of his game, and one of the few still competing, the Waipahu native has won 10 of his last 11, he’s just two years removed from holding a world title and, most importantly, he still enjoys getting up in the morning and doing this for a living.
“I love doing what I do,” he said. “I don’t look at it as something that’s mostly a grind. It’s my passion, I love going to the gym and I love every aspect of the fight game, even the weigh-ins. (Laughs) A lot of people hate doing the weigh-ins, but every aspect of boxing, I love doing it. When you love what you do, you don’t feel like you’re burning yourself out.”
So is that the secret to him still being relevant when his more heavily hyped Olympic teammates like Jermain Taylor, Jeff Lacy, Calvin Brock and Rocky Juarez are either retired or on the last legs of their career? Viloria believes there a lot of factors involved, one of which is living the life of a professional athlete all year round.
“I don’t let myself get out of hand too much between fights and I keep myself in great shape during the off-season when I’m not in training,” he said. “I feel that if I just take care of myself outside of the gym, the longevity in the sport can happen.”
It has for Viloria, a two-division world champion who may be one of the most underrated fighters of this era. It’s a snub that doesn’t bother one of the classiest gentlemen in the sport, especially since he knows a win a week from Saturday would alter his standing forever in the eyes of fans and pundits.
“I knew eventually people would take notice if I just continued putting on great fights, winning fights, and being exciting,” he said. “I know a lot of people have already taken notice and hopefully on October 17, people will take a lot more notice.”
Oh they will, and it has little to do with the possibility of Viloria winning another world title. For everyone watching, it will be an opportunity to see a young man pegged as a future great (Gonzalez) in the Mecca of Boxing against an “old” lion who will show up to fight when his name is called. That has hurt Viloria at times in the past, but that mindset is in his Hawaiian blood.
“That’s the mentality,” he said. “How we say it is ‘go for broke.’ Go and leave everything in the ring; don’t hold anything back and just give it your best, and anything can happen if you do that.”
So the odds don’t matter to Viloria. He knows he’s the underdog, he knows that “Chocolatito” is expected to put on another spectacular performance, this one at his expense. But Viloria has been the favorite before and lost, and he’s been the underdog and won. And with that experience in his back pocket, if there’s one thing he knows about boxing, it’s that no one is invincible.
“We talk about it,” Viloria said of his conversations in the gym with his fighting brain trust of Freddie Roach, Marvin Somodio and Ruben Gomez. “There are a lot of things we see in Roman’s style that we can try and exploit, but I think it all comes down to me being in shape and in top, prime condition for this fight and just letting my hands go and trying to work the game plan we’ve set for ourselves in the fight. If we do that perfectly, anybody can go down, even a great fighter like Roman Gonzalez.”
Viloria pauses, then repeats the line for emphasis.
“Anybody in this sport can be beaten. So that’s the mentality I’m going in with – it’s all or nothing.”
Maybe this Hollywood story has an even better version with a Brian Viloria rewrite.