Antonio Nieves is ready to face ‘The Monster’
“It’s the hole-in-the-walls that have the best ones,” proclaimed Antonio Nieves before taking another bite of his taco at a media workout on Wednesday afternoon. Just three days before the biggest fight of his life, having the privilege to eat so freely is, perhaps, a testament to his readiness for this Saturday night, when he will challenge WBO super flyweight titleholder Naoya Inoue.
Fighting out of Cleveland, Ohio, Nieves says the Mexican food isn’t all that bad in the Midwest, with hidden gems only the locals can tell you about. His take on finding the best quality of Mexican food is comparable to discovering a competitive excellence in the boxing ring these days – you have to know where to look. That won’t be all that hard to find at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, as Nieves finds himself on a tremendous HBO Boxing After Dark (10:15 p.m ET/ 7:15 p.m. PT) tripleheader that features the best of the best in a weight class that often gets overlooked. With the card billed “SuperFly,” it’s the culmination of a mini-revolution led by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez – who headlines the card, looking to avenge his only defeat against WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in the main event. In a WBC eliminator to face the winner of that fight, Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras will duke it out in what’s sure to be a heated Mexican rivalry.
Ranked as the No. 7 contender in the WBO’s super flyweight rankings, Nieves isn’t exactly one of the six fighters for whom boxing fans will tune in or show up to see however. In fact, he’s likely the only one who isn’t easily recognized by even the hardcore boxing fans. On the other hand, Nieves doesn’t mind being in this position.
“The hype is behind him. Everybody is looking for him to win,” said Nieves about Inoue. “He has to come here and show the States that he is the real deal. We don’t know how he’s going to react to that. Obviously he’s familiar with the hype and stuff out there (in Japan) but it’s a different story coming to a whole new country.”
Inoue, 13-0 (11), showed up to the workout garnering much attention from the American media. Fighting out of the Kanagawa Prefecture, the Japanese phenom is regarded as the country’s best fighter currently but all the pomp and circumstance of seeing this kid they call “The Monster” for the first time in the flesh was different for the man fighting him.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen him when he was here but he barely threw punches in the ring. He barely let a sweat come off. He drank water and spit it all out. He looks like a guy cutting weight,” said Nieves. “I’m coming down from ’22 and ’18 – I spent most of my career there – and I feel good at ’15. Maybe this is the weight I belong in but we’ll find out soon enough.”
If his empty taco plate wasn’t already an indication, Nieves, 17-1-2 (9), goes into his first world title shot feeling great – and not having to drain himself leading up to it.
“A lot of the concerns they had about me fighting (Inoue) was if I could make the weight,” Nieves explained. “They thought I was going to drain myself, that I was going to be weak. I was 114-and-a-half yesterday – I have not stopped eating or drinking water. Weight is perfect and I’ll have no issues. I’m 30-years-old but my body hasn’t been in hectic wars. My body hasn’t taken punishment. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t really party hard. I reserve my body to be in tip-top condition. The only hell I put it through is in training. I might be 30 years old but my body still functions like if I was 20-to-21 years old.”
Naoya Inoue UCN interview:
“He obviously has the skills,” Nieves said when asked to analyze Inoue. “He’s a two-time world champion for a reason. He does a lot of good things in there – he’s quick and strong for the weight. Half of his fights are at 108 and him being the bigger guy, obviously he’s gonna be stronger than a lot of those guys. He’s good. Nothing but love and respect to him but I’ve never seen anyone actually fight him – like put pressure on him and make him feel uncomfortable and not let him do what he wants. We’ll see how he reacts.”
As of Thursday, Nieves is a 16-to-1 underdog against Inoue and fans are giving him little chance to make this the only fight of the HBO card perceived to be a showcase. But it’s not affecting his confidence whatsoever.
“This is the fight game – anything can happen – one punch can turn the whole fight around,” said Nieves. “The only pressure I put on myself is to stay focused and remember to do what I know best. If I lose, nobody is going to say anything because I was supposed to lose; you know what I’m saying? Everybody has me losing. Everybody has this has a walk in the park for him, so, for me, it goes in one ear and out the other. Come Saturday, I’m going to do what I do – make sure my defense is up tight, so he can’t get off those hard shots. I’ll start landing my body shots, then it’s going to be a different story.”
Nieves firmly believes the impression Inoue is expected to make could ultimately affect his performance in the ring and, for a guy who has always been an underdog in life, being the afterthought of the card is the position in which he’s comfortable.
“I’ve always been the small guy in my family. I come from the inner city of Cleveland – they count you out when you’re born. I don’t think he’s experienced anything like that in life. I think he’s been catered to his whole life and gets what he wants. On my side, I have to earn everything. I don’t think he’s went through that in life – and I have. I think that’s going to play a factor in this fight because when things are not going his way – we’re going to see how he reacts.”
Should Nieves pull off the upset, those who have only heard of Inoue may be those extremely shocked but, in a weight class in which the best fighter was recently upset by a guy from Thailand whom no one ever heard of, it’d be wise to temper the shock. Much like the raggedy taco stands that largely go unseen, there has been a competitive quality in the super flyweight class that shouldn’t be ignored.