Fortuna on the rise
Javier Fortuna headlines Premier Boxing Champions catchy and (in the case of Fortuna) very aptly named “Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays” (FOX Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), with the willing slugger keen to use the new series as a launching pad to bigger stages on Showtime, HBO or pay-per-view cards. Stylistically, Fortuna, 28-0-1 (20), is everything boxing fans crave, a free-swinging stalker with power in either hand who likes to march forward and put pressure on adversaries. Despite looking out of control and off-balance at times, Fortuna remains accurate and centered while winging hooks that make Ricardo Mayorga’s look compact. Still, for undefinable reasons, Fortuna has not found widespread traction with fans, his name recognition lagging behind the fighting heart and excitement he can generate. Fortuna hopes to reintroduce himself tonight and build on the career momentum he began at the start of the year with an impressive victory over brutish Bryan Vasquez for a secondary version of the WBA junior lightweight title.
When Javier Fortuna initially emerged in 2012 on ESPN2, with two victories worthy of “Knockout of the Year” consideration, the scintillating southpaw had that star of the not-so-distant future look. He eviscerated undefeated prospect Yuandale Evans (who did not fight again for three years) in one round and similarly destroyed respected former Mexican world champion Cristobal Cruz in two domineering rounds. Then Fortuna’s ascension stalled, not through defeats as he won eight fights in three years but rather via uninspiring performances struggling with weight and management distractions (a contract with Sampson Lewkowicz was extended last December). Now Fortuna claims those issues have been corrected, allowing him to focus entirely on opponents inside the ring. That will need to be the case or the erratic nature of Fortuna’s performances will be tested by a similarly precise and hard-hitting foe in Puerto Rican sharpshooter Carlos Ivan Velasquez, 19-1 (12).
An impressive victory puts an exclamation point on the current upward trend Fortuna’s life and career are undergoing, after his title-winning victory over Bryan Vasquez, emerging from the doldrums he experienced before signing with Al Haymon. Perhaps there is even a need for Fortuna to find a middle ground inside the ring, since he has either looked spectacular or disinterested (bordering on pedestrian) when a knockout did not develop early. Either way, Fortuna seems to comprehend expectations for this fight. “I need to be impressive in fights like this to keep my name on people’s lips and keep climbing up the ladder. I have to get through fights like this to make it to the top of boxing.”
At the press conferences, the Dominican destroyer has said everything is in place for a stellar performance, stating his Boston training camp with trainer Hector Bermudez (Fortuna previously worked with Argentine Pablo Sarmiento of Sergio Martinez fame) has equipped him for this outing, “I’m always in great shape. I show up to camp in great shape. I normally don’t spar much in training but, for this camp, I’ve already got a lot of rounds in. I’ve been sparring a lot to work on shortening up my punches and throwing them straighter.” Fortuna has seemingly found that focus in life he would do well to translate to the ring, “Boxing is my life. It is give and take. It’s my life and I’ve given a lot to it and sacrificed a lot but I’ve been rewarded very well for my efforts.”
While praising his preparations in training camp, Fortuna said they dedicated a lot of time to evaluating Velasquez and what he brings to the fight as well. Though Fortuna did not heap a lot of praise on Velasquez, he called his foe “a good amateur fighter, making the transition to pro but he hasn’t yet completed that task. At times, he keeps his guard up really high and shows no regard of people going to his body. But this is a huge opportunity for him, so he will be at his absolute best that night. I think I will knock him out. He stands up too straight and I will catch him but he’s a good boxer with a good record. Hopefully he’ll show up with no excuses.”
If excuses are what Fortuna’s camp are looking for, they won’t find them in Carlos Ivan Velasquez. Velasquez was talking about everything except excuses at the final press gathering, “All the training is over and now it’s time to fight. I had a great training camp and my body feels fresh. My weight is good. I’m looking forward to putting on a great show for the fans. I’m ready for this challenge. Being the main event is a blessing and I’m going to make the most of this opportunity.” Like many of his countrymen, Velasquez draws inspiration from his heritage and the long line of champions his Island nation has produced, “It’s time to bring another world championship back home to Puerto Rico.”
At 26 years of age, Fortuna is in his physical prime and the swiftness and velocity of his punches at their pinnacle. Importantly, those weapons are now bolstered by the knowledge that he can go 12 hard rounds after the distance victory over Bryan Vasquez, something that may have played out mentally in the dark recesses of Fortuna’s mind in some of his lesser performances. Fortuna hinted toward that fact in the post-fight interview, “The biggest key to my success tonight was my training. Before this, I didn’t have the stamina that I needed. After the fifth round, I was boxing to score points. I was never really hurt by Vasquez. I’m very proud of my performance tonight.” With that confidence established again, fans can hope for the reemergence of the switch-hitting, hands-by-his-waist, wild-hooking monster who first attracted our attention three years ago.
One negative issue that could resurface is Fortuna’s lack of defense and tendency to swell around the eyes, as were the cases in clashes with Juan Antonio Rodriguez and Vasquez. Both of those bouts went the full distance (10 and 12 rounds respectively) and, while the swelling did not seem to cause hesitation or create a lack of confidence in Fortuna’s offense, it could be a factor when facing elite opposition. With his eyesight limited, Fortuna showed he can take flush punches and endure, in both bouts, proving he has the fortitude to fight through adversity if challenged. Another positive side found in those tests is that Fortuna managed to throttle his full-frontal attack and controlled the bouts aptly with his jab, only working combinations when a clear advantage was in sight. If Fortuna can find the proper mixture of self-control and timed fury, he will be very difficult for anyone to beat.
These combatants have a lot to fight for and, given both men’s recent positive upswings, it should be an intriguing and entertaining duel. Carlos Ivan Velasquez wants what Javier Fortuna has, “It’s been a childhood dream of mine to become a world champion and now that time has come to show the world that I’m worthy. I’m going to leave everything in the ring against Fortuna. He’s one of the best fighters in the division and a win against him will open up many doors for my career.” While Fortuna wants to venture beyond the status of just being a champion and establish himself as an elite boxer who will put upstarts in their place, “Velasquez is a very tough fighter but I am going to prove that I am a great world champion. This will be an entertaining fight and I won’t stop going until I get the knockout.”