Karlos Balderas: Making virtue a necessity
It’s been a little over a year since undefeated lightweight prospect Karlos Balderas made his professional debut, and entering his sixth pro bout, this Saturday night, at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles, California, the 2016 U.S. Olympian has already felt his growth as a fighter.
“When I first started, had my pro debut, I was kind of rushing things,” Balderas told UCNLive.com, at a media workout, in downtown L.A., Wednesday afternoon. “I feel like I was going out there too fast, trying to finish my opponents in the first couple rounds. So now that I’m getting more fights in, I’m starting to get more experience, and I feel like now I’m actually gonna start taking my time, breaking these fighters down, little by little. My dad and my uncle have been telling me I can’t knock everybody out in the first round. With some people, you’re just gonna have to go the distance with them. That’s what I’m understanding now, as a pro. I’m still very new to this. I’m only 22, and I still got a long way to go but I think that’s been my biggest growth: being patient.”
A month ago, at the Staples Center, Balderas contradicted what his family of coaches have been telling him by knocking out Alex Silva, in the first round, with a body shot. However he certainly did break Silva down within the two minutes and 25 seconds of that fight, and evidently the overall message is still getting through.
Balderas, 5-0 (4), takes on Giovanni Caro on the undercard of a lightweight title unification between Mikey Garcia and Robert Easter Jr., on Saturday night (Showtime, 10:00 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT). Balderas’ fight will be streamed live on Showtime’s YouTube and Facebook pages (8:00 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), and, if inclined to watch, you will get to see an intriguing prospect showcase himself against an aged Mexican veteran.
“I’m not worried about him. We’ve put in the work. I’ve sparred with (WBA lightweight champion Vasiliy) Lomachenko, (WBO featherweight titlist) Oscar Valdez, (WBA featherweight beltholder) Leo Santa Cruz. I’ve been in there with the best,” Balderas stated, “so I know what I’ve got to go in there to do. We were here last month, so this is nothing new to me. As far as my opponent, I’m not really too worried about him. I’m going to go in there and fight my fight, be first, be smart and I’m going to dictate the pace, then take him out.”
Caro, 27-23-4 (21), is coming off two knockout defeats, and may be heading right into his third, but sometimes experienced foes like him can reveal new things about a fighter. It’s all part of the longterm plan for Richard Schaefer, who promotes Balderas through his company Ringstar Sports.
“I do not believe in rushing, and I believe there is a formula to build, piece by piece, and give these fighters a longevity in their careers as well,” Schaefer told UCNLive.com at the same workout. “Not burn them out and put them into the toughest and most difficult tasks right away but that you have experience with different styles of opponents. One might be taller; one might have more reach. One might be a southpaw; one might be a bit heavier or lighter, stronger or maybe faster…Every opponent he has, the thinking is, what can he learn with this opponent? The opponent he’s fighting this weekend is a guy with over 50 fights, so this guy brings the experience, and how is Karlos going to deal with that?
“That’s how you eventually prepare a fighter to become a world champion, and then stay a world champion. Because to make somebody a world champion, in today’s age, with all these weight classes and all these belts is, frankly, not all that difficult but the longevity to stay a world champion, to stay undefeated, that is ultimately what is going to take you from this level to that level and to the next level. Eventually making a pay-per-view star and be ready for those big fights.”
Schaefer unveiled Ringstar Sports with the signing of Balderas shortly after the Olympics, and has since been actively featured on Premier Boxing Champions undercards, one of them the lead-in to a telecast on FOX last February.
“I’m very, very patient because this is not about short-term gain and long-term pay,” Schaefer explained. “This is about building it the right way. It was something we discussed from the very beginning because, when I signed Karlos Balderas, I made a substantial investment up front but then, with every fight, you make more of an investment. Could we do now Ryan Garcia versus Balderas? Would we be able to sell out StubHub (Center), and things like that? Probably. Would we get a big TV license fee? Probably. But this is not about cashing in some chips; you know, even though I’m convinced he beat Ryan but this is about making this as big as we can, and, for that, we need patience.”
Balderas was bombarded with several questions surrounding Garcia, a fellow junior lightweight prospect deeper into his pro career but around the same age, and a friend out of California’s high desert. How Garcia could be mentioned so often alludes to the fame he’s gained through social media, over the past year. Garcia, who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, was brought up by Schaefer first before being asked which fighter he thought would be easier to promote.
“Well in the short term, it’s easier to have a fighter like Ryan because obviously he makes more noise but, at the end of the day, you need to be able to back it up,” Schaefer answered. “When it comes to the talent, I think Karlos is in a league of his own. I think, in the long run, it’s better to have somebody like Karlos. By the way, Karlos and Ryan know each other; they respect each other. They have sparred before, and you can ask Ryan what happened, so we’ll leave it at that.”
There may be more of a promotional rivalry between the two sides, and, off the record, earlier, Schaefer had just discovered what had happened from Balderas’ father. Karlos is practically the spiritual opposite of Garcia or, at least, he nodded when that sentiment was offered. The only thing flashy Balderas has ever done is legally change his name from Carlos to Karlos, which he says was simply to be different, and, given how polarizing Garcia has been already, there certainly is potential for a following by staying how he is, as long as his talent keeps progressing and he proves his worth in the ring.
Raised in Santa Maria – a small town off the coast of Central California – Balderas came from humble beginnings, raised by Mexican immigrants seeking better opportunity. “It has the best weather in the U.S.,” Balderas proclaimed before relating the attitude of his small town to the unpretentious strawberry fields in which many immigrants like his parents sought work. Santa Maria isn’t all peaches and cream, with issues of gang violence. Balderas has never been one to get in trouble, nor has he ever been in any sort of gang, but he mentioned losing two of his friends to the streets: one murdered and the other going to jail. They boxed too, and Balderas has learned from their stories to help mold the mind of a young man dedicated to his craft. Karlos bares the unique name of his father, as his middle name “Zenon,” which translates to “gift from God.” An uncle who is a pastor back home has always made Balderas strong in his faith, and really his tight-knit family has rubbed off on a humble kid.
“The place I’m thinking of having my dream fight is in Mexico, at Estadio Azteca,” said Balderas, whose family originates from Mexico City. “I can’t just be with my American people. I have to be with my Mexican people. I’m Mexican-American, so I have to learn how to represent both.”
There’s another example of a brash prospect, five pounds north of Balderas, in Teofimo Lopez, who deems himself ready for the fast track to achievement, at 20 years old, and just 10 fights in as a pro. Karlos has sparred with him, in the past, as well, and, when asked what he thought about Lopez’s career path, Balderas couldn’t have been less worried about someone else’s plan, which could one day explain him being the one left standing, through virtues of his route and his attitude.
“I’m paying attention to what I got to do,” Balderas said. “As far as me and my team, we’re doing things the right way, and we’re gonna be here for awhile. We’re thinking long-term, not short-term, you know. We’re focused on us.”
Recently at a boxing card in Las Vegas, the loud personalities of Lopez and Garcia clashed for all of social media to hear and see. When asked his thoughts of the overblown melee, Balderas quickly changed to the man not always seen but the one molded through his upbringing. He may always be considered the quiet one but there is still a fighter’s attitude deep inside.
“(Team Lopez is) not gonna walk up to us and disrespect us like that,” Balderas declared. “Where my dad and my uncle are from, there’s no such thing as a bully. Over there, you’re a badass or they make you badass, so that’s the mentality that they gave us. Believe me; they’re not gonna walk up to us and disrespect us like the way they disrespected Ryan. They’re not gonna scare me or punk us…Not personal with me but they’ve been doing a lot of talking and running their mouth quite a bit, and they got it coming.”