High Stakes for Orlando Salido

Photo credit: Tim Price/Associated Press

Photo credit: Tim Price/Associated Press

 

On Sept. 12, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will face Andre Berto in a 12-round world championship bout for Mayweather’s WBC and WBA welterweight titles. The bout, billed as “High Stakes,” will take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and will be televised by Showtime Pay-Per-View.

 

The undercard features a WBO world junior lightweight championship rematch between Roman Martinez and Orlando Salido. Their first go-round was a great fight and if “Siri” has his way, this one will be just as good – but with a different outcome. Salido came up short in a unanimous decision in their first bout and is looking to recapture the WBO junior lightweight title.

 

The journey has not been an easy one for Salido. The fact that he finds himself on a card of this magnitude nearly two decades after he turned professional is a testament to the will, determination and attitude he has brought into the ring in 58 professional fights.

 

Sonora, Mexico-born Salido, 42-13-2 (29), turned pro in 1996 at age 15. He chalked up an unremarkable 11-7-2 in his first 20 fights and didn’t look like a fighter who would be around much longer than the average shelf-life of most pedestrian (albeit iron-tough), opponent-level, Mexican fighters. But here we are 19 years later as Salido prepares to fight in the chief support bout to undefeated, pound-for-pound star Mayweather on Sept. 12.

 

While Salido’s early statistics were subpar, his heart, determination and boxing skills continued to develop and were becoming well above average.

 

Despite those seven early losses, the tough, gritty Salido kept getting better. By the summer of 2001, he started to show a markedly improved skill set while maintaining an ingrained toughness built on years in the unforgiving club fight trenches.

 

In the fall of 2001, Salido decisioned former longtime WBO junior lightweight champion Regilio Tuur over eight rounds in New York City. Then in his very next outing, he lost a razor-thin, majority decision to former WBC featherweight champion Alejandro Gonzalez. But both outings proved this was a fighter who was getting better all the time as Salido was clearly in the process of reversing his early career trajectory.

 

In his next fight, just three months later, Salido beat undefeated future world junior lightweight title challenger Lamont Pearson over 10 frames. He followed that up with eight consecutive wins, vaulting him into his first world title shot but the task at hand was a tough one. Siri would face rugged Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez for his WBA and IBF featherweight titles at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. While Orlando would lose a 12-round unanimous decision, it was a fight that changed his mentality. Said Salido, “That fight showed me I could fight amongst the best in the world in my division.” The bout also changed the boxing world’s perception of Salido as he was now seen as a fighter who had gone from tough opponent to potential contender to a serious player at the sport’s elite level.

 

Never one to take the easy route, his following fight in the spring of 2005 saw him face former world champion Cesar Soto whom he beat over 10 rounds. Two fights later, Salido stopped future two-division world title challenger Rogers Mtagwa in five rounds.

 

A couple of fights later, it looked like Siri had finally realized his dream when he defeated IBF featherweight champion Robert Guerrero. However, the bout was ruled a “no-contest” after Salido failed a post-fight drug test.

 

Salido then put together four wins taking him into the fall of 2008 when he was awarded a shot at IBF champion Cristobal Cruz, who had won the title vacated by previous titleholder Guerrero.

 

After a very tough loss and two wins in the summer of 2009, he was again awarded a shot at Cruz and his IBF title. This time, Salido dominated and picked up a unanimous decision and the belt. The run-of-the-mill, rugged kid from Mexico, who started his career as a tough-but-undistinguished opponent-level fighter, had worked his way to the championship of the world – and he did it the old way: one tough fight at a time.

 

After losing the title in his first defense, almost four months later, to undefeated Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa, much of the boxing world felt, while respecting Salido as the quintessential overachieving tough guy, his time at the top was done. And more than likely, so were his days as a world title threat.

 

However, his reputation as a remarkably tough, crowd-pleasing slugger did award him another title try. In April of 2011, Salido was ushered into the hometown of Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez. To everyone’s surprise but his own, Salido battered the heavily-favored, hometown champion, stopping him in eight rounds and winning the WBO featherweight title. The friendly, well-spoken, Phoenix, Arizona resident was back on top again.

 

After stomping “JuanMa” in a rematch, Salido then faced undefeated Mikey Garcia in Jan. of 2013. One of boxing’s potential stars, (although absent as of late) Garcia beat Salido in eight rounds via technical decision.

 

Nearly nine months later, a great opportunity then landed on Salido’s doorstep in the form of a WBO featherweight title shot against Orlando Cruz in Oct. of 2013 on the undercard of Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas. Realizing title opportunities were going to be harder to come by as the years and the losses mounted, Salido came out strong and determined, stopping Cruz in seven rounds. Siri once again tucked a world title belt into his suitcase for the trip home.

 

Entering 2014, his 18th year in boxing, and at 33 years of age, Salido was being lined up as the fall guy for rising Russian amateur star and 2012 gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko’s world title shot. Lomachenko’s promoter, Top Rank Promotions, had the wheels in motion for the bigger end game, a possible match-up later in 2014 between “Hi-Tech” and its (then) other undefeated star, WBA/WBO junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux. That fight never came to be as Salido didn’t get the memo for his role against Lomachenko, schooling Vasyl over 12 rounds for the win.

 

In April, Salido traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico (the site of his second triumph over Juan Manuel Lopez) to battle the favored Rocky Martinez. In the fight, Salido seemed to hold back in the first half of the fight as he prepared for a strong stretch drive. While Salido was much stronger in the second half of the bout, his strategy over the first six rounds allowed Martinez to build up a points lead. In the end, Martinez won a unanimous decision. The fight was another classic in a career of great bouts for Salido but, once again, the loss placed him in another “must win” predicament in his next fight for his career to continue at the elite level.

 

In reality, with the miles Salido has logged, fighters like him can get old quickly. Despite the accumulation of wear and tear over a carer, the toll can show itself in one evening. And when that switch is flipped, it can be hard to turn around. While only 34 (not old in the modern era of boxing), he turned pro at age 15 and has been in a lot of tough fights.

 

That said, Salido is always in good shape and takes care of himself out of the ring. More importantly, if he wants to continue a bit longer (and he hasn’t indicated he’s ready to retire anytime soon), he knows what is at stake.

 

At a recent chat over dinner in California, manager Sean Gibbons (en route to Mexico) expressed his desire to see his fighter come out of the gate fast and set a very hard pace from the get-go in this rematch.

 

“Orlando laid back at times, too much early in the first one. Maybe he was saving it up do a strong second half and he is traditionally very strong in the latter stages of a fight. But this time, he is going to come out real hard and lay it all out. He can’t get behind in points like he did in the first one and have to play catch up. There is no waiting in this one. It’s all or nothing. It’s gonna be serious pressure; he’s gonna go for it,” said Gibbons.

 

And nobody wants to regain his title belt more than Salido, who said in a recent interview, “I’m excited for the rematch with Rocky Martinez. The first fight in Puerto Rico did not go my way. I got off to a slow start and had to fight two fights – one against the referee [Jose Hiram Rivera] and one against Rocky Martinez. On September 12, I am going to take matters into my own hands and look to knock out Rocky to get my world title belt back. Mexico and Puerto Rico have had a great rivalry over the years and, this September, you will see me bring the belt home to Mexico where it belongs.”

 

A “full speed ahead” strategy might not be too good for the odometer rating of a guy like Salido. However, this is what he does best and it is more than likely the strongest move for Salido to upset the movement of Martinez. Also, in the twilight of his career, he may as well leave it all – and more – in the ring. In the late stages of one’s act, you never know when it’s your final curtain call.

 

And Salido’s rematch blueprint should also result in another beauty for fight fans as well. It looks like he is about to add another great fight to an already stellar resume.

 

Salido has wrung every drop of ability he has out of himself. If there was ever a fighter who made a mile out of an inch, it is Siri. While he certainly has more days behind him than ahead of him in this sport, he isn’t done yet and looks to pull off yet another upset on Sept. 12. As hard as they come in boxing, Salido has made his mark in the game, has traveled the toughest roads boxing has to offer and isn’t done yet.

 

Salido is old-school. He may be one of the last of a dying breed, a throwback tough guy with two moves in the ring: forwardness and aggression. He sticks with what he knows and what got him here. Salido has also shown refreshing character in a business of fickle loyalties. With a win or a loss, Salido’s team remains intact in manager Sean Gibbons and trainers Santos Moreno and 80-year-old Victor Chino Barron (who has been with Salido since the champ was a young boy). Salido started in boxing’s basement but worked his way to the penthouse and he likes the view from the top. He may not be quite ready to step down just yet.

 

Conventional, modern-day wisdom would dictate that Salido is done and is looking to grab a few more paychecks before he rides off into the night. But don’t try telling him that. He is a fighter who developed the old way when a few losses were a part of a learning curve and development, not one’s elimination from the sport as a marquee player. He may have racked up some losses early and has seen his share of both peaks and valleys in his career but these have all made him the fighter he is today.

 

One thing that has never changed is Salido’s belief that he has one more great fight left, the belief that he can turn it around and surprise people – yet again.

 

From all reports, Salido has been conservative and wise with what money he has made in boxing. He will have a life in retirement with his family and his business interests. But in his heart, he is a fighter first and foremost. Guys who come up hard like Salido didn’t think about back-up plans and other options. Boxing was the ONLY option.

 

The Orlando Salidos of boxing aren’t supposed to be where he is at this stage of his career. The game was supposed to have chewed him up years ago but the ultra-tough, talented (and extremely underrated) Salido had other ideas.

 

If he can channel that fierce Mexican fighting spirit – and his well-traveled heart and body cooperate and hang in on fight night – don’t be surprised to see Orlando Salido heading home with his fifth world title in his suitcase.

 

 

Questions and comments can be sent to Bill Tibbs at bill.tibbs@ucnlive.com and you can follow him at twitter.com/tibbs_bill.

 

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