Oscar Negrete: Smaller fighter, huge opportunity
There’s an uphill climb awaiting Oscar “El Jaguar” Negrete on Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden in New York City, in the form of WBC junior featherweight titlist Rey Vargas.
“I’m happy and I’m motivated,” Negrete told UCNLive.com outside of the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California. With his manager translating from Spanish, he continued, “I came to the U.S. starting from nothing and now I’m here ready to battle for a world title – an opportunity that I didn’t bat an eye to take – I took it even though it’s up a weight class and now it’s time to go in there, have some fun and go get what we worked hard for, since we started.”
Negrete will look to have his moment on his HBO debut and, 12 days away from December 2, the 30-year-old had just caught a glimpse of what it’s like to partake in a card of this magnitude. Miguel Cotto’s swan song against Sadam Ali is the main event of the HBO card and, back inside the downstairs gym at Wild Card, the Puerto Rican legend’s final media workout had Negrete getting his name out there.
“It’s very satisfying,” Negrete said. “We started at nothing and now we’re here. It’s fortunate that the fans here in Los Angeles have taken a liking to me. It’s all fine and dandy but, of course, we come here to get our job done.”
For the past three or so years, since making his United States debut, Negrete, 17-0 (7), hasn’t exactly made waves in the boxing world but his career has benefited plenty by simply being here. At virtually any boxing event in the L.A. area, you could find Negrete showing his face and willing to talk, as he slowly learned English, not to mention, most of his fights have taken place in Southern California. The media workout felt like a graduation of sorts, as the L.A. boxing media saw the familiar face under this kind of light but this isn’t the only perk.
Trained by Manny Robles, at Legendz Boxing in Norwalk, California, Negrete has honed his craft alongside budding talent far more familiar to the boxing world and it has supplied tremendous sparring. Former Irish Olympian Michael Conlan has been the main sparring partner for this camp and the featherweight prospect has provided the size and length to mimic Vargas’ physical assets. Over the years, Negrete regularly trains with the current WBO titleholder at 122 pounds, Jessie Magdaleno, as well as the WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez, both of whom are trained by Robles. Needless to say, he’s used to being the smaller man in the ring and will certainly be on Saturday evening.
“We fought at 118 and 122 the whole time, so, pretty much, we were preparing, in our mind, for an opportunity like this,” said Negrete.
The option to go four pounds north was always open, Negrete further explained, but, considering the options, taking this shot was a no-brainer. Negrete had been featured on Estrella TV and RingTV.com cards, streamed by Golden Boy Promotions, along the way, but he’s coming off his ESPN debut last June, in which he provided an exciting stoppage of Sergio Frias to win an NABF bantamweight trinket. It was a timely event for Negrete, who isn’t really regarded for his power, but it actually jumpstarted a career that had largely gone unseen. Despite not having a major test, Negrete has pretty much breezed through the perennial journeymen Golden Boy feeds its prospects. That said, everything Negrete has accomplished so far garnered him a No. 10 WBC junior featherweight ranking in November.
Vargas, 30-0 (22), is looking to cap off a very successful 2017, in which he won his first world title in the United Kingdom (a majority decision over Gavin McDonnell), then signed with Golden Boy Promotions and subsequently made his HBO debut last August. The 27-year-old Mexican outboxed Ronny Rios to a unanimous decision that night, at the StubHub Center, and it turned out to be a showcase of the physical strength and power for Vargas. Trained by Ignacio “Nacho” Berestain, Vargas has a long left jab and whipping right hand that generates plenty of torque out of his 5-foot-8 frame.
“We’re fortunate that we got this match-up, even though (Vargas) is tall, lengthy and knows how to use his distance very well but I’ve been training to come at him and just give him 12 rounds of pure hell,” said Negrete.
Listed at a generous 5-foot-5, Negrete has his work cut out for him, if he wants to give Vargas hell. What he lacks in size and power, he makes up for in ring I.Q. and fundamentals. If one gets inside, Negrete can explode offensively as Jose Estrella and Ernest Guerrero discovered in late-2015. In a fight with Jose Bustos in 2016, Negrete’s toughness was revealed after being cut by two separate headbutt but the blood didn’t stop it Negrete from earning a wide unanimous decision. In a walkout bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena last May, Negrete pitched another perfect game against Victor Ruiz, showcasing his wherewithal to mix up the delivery of his short shots and proved, yet again, that, no matter the moment – in this case an incredibly empty venue – Negrete isn’t exempt from making menial mistakes.
Given the occasion of Cotto’s final night, the Mecca of Boxing will certainly be unlike any setting in which Negrete has fought but, much like the support of the Puerto Rican crowd that’s sure to fill the big room at MSG, he hopes to channel the same type of nationalistic inspiration, as Negrete looks to become Colombia’s only current world titleholder.
“I feel very proud,” Negrete said, when approached with that idea. “My town of Tierralta would be very proud of me too. They’re happy that someone is going out and representing the town.”
Negrete goes home regularly, the last time being in July, after his last win, but making an arrival with the WBC belt around his waist is one of the moments he’s dreamed of, since he left. Terrialta’s representative will not only be put on the map, for a moment on Saturday evening; it’s up to Negrete to make the rigorous climb to victory.