What’s the SETUP?
Magdaleno’s record, 19-0 (7), may indicate upon first glance that his fists are more goose down than granite but guess again. The wide-shouldered Las Vegas southpaw has suddenly experienced a power surge with four consecutive knockouts, including ones over a pair of angular 130-pounders, 5’9’’ Marcos Jimenez and 5’11’’ Gilberto Sanchez Leon.
The 2007 U.S. Nationals amateur lightweight champion has developed before our very eyes on his promoter’s “Top Rank Live” series and the 24-year-old credits his corner for the transformation.
“A lot of it was earlier in my career was making transition from the amateurs to the pros,” Magdaleno said. “I’m getting more comfortable with every fight. I’m working with a strength and conditioning coach. We’ve been doing a lot of light weights and adding more as camp’s gone on. I think in the ring, I’ve been turning my hips and sitting on my punches more and that contributes more to the knockout.
“As far as a moment that sticks out in my mind, it’s probably that fight with Jimenez. As early as round one, I felt real confident. One thing on my mind was to pressure him and I used everything in my arsenal because my stamina was there. After getting him out of there since that fight, my confidence has grown.”
Magdaleno’s trainer, Pat Barry, recalls a seminal moment that occurred almost a year before the knockout streak began.
“When he beat a quality fighter like [Josenilson] Dos Santos a couple years ago, you could see his confidence show,” said the cornerman. “I’ll tell you, a lot of it was mental on his part. In the amateurs, you have headgear. I really don’t think he believed in himself in the pros at first. He’s got some power in his left hand and I could see it when he hit the focus mitts. It was more a psychological or conscious thing believing he was a puncher.”
Perez, 15-2-1 (10), hasn’t enjoyed the same path to the national spotlight. The 25-year-old product of Salinas, Calif., went undefeated in his first 13 bouts as a pro before a split decision defeat to Adolfo Landeros in 2008 and a wide points loss to newly-minted WBA super bantamweight champ Rico Ramos a year later.
When several opponents subsequently pulled out of fights and an instance where Perez himself had to postpone a bout with current NABF/NABO featherweight titlist Mikey Garcia due to a shoulder injury, 16 months had passed. By this time, some people even doubted whether Perez would return to the ring. Perez, however, didn’t.
“I always stay ready in good shape,” Perez told me at the weigh-in of his last fight. He trains at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood. “I usually spar three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I rarely spend any time getting off my diet, even if it’s right after a fight.
“I believe in God and it’s all up to Him. I put everything in my training and go as hard as I can every time and whatever God brings me, I leave it up to Him.”
That patience was rewarded when Golden Boy offered him a slot on Telefutura opposite super featherweight Antonio Escalante in March. Despite moving up two weight classes and coming in as an opponent, Perez pulled off the upset in less than one round with a short counter right hand, abruptly sending Escalante sprawling for good.
“I knew Escalante was a toe-to-toe-type of fighter,” Perez recalled. “He was really confident. They didn’t know what was coming to them because after my loss to Rico Ramos, I started taking my preparation very seriously now.”
After the win, Golden Boy Promotions offered Perez a contract that was not to his team’s liking, so the seeds for this Friday’s bout were sown.
“We didn’t really like the deal,” Perez stated. “We tried to renegotiate. We never got a response from that, so we just left at that and nothing happened there. Top Rank had actually offered this fight in the past, so we were just waiting to see if anyone would call. Sean Gibbons called us offering this fight for this date and we were free agents, so we were ready.”
How do they MATCH UP?
As stated above, Magdaleno is undergoing a metamorphosis from boxer to boxer-puncher and the lefty spoke of facing another orthodox fighter as well as his perception of Perez’s style.
“Well, what we saw in the tape is that he’s a straightforward guy,” Magdaleno said. “I’m going to be ready for that. He also likes to go to the body. He’s going to be there in front of me so we can put on a big show.”
“Without revealing too much, we’re aware of what right-handers want to do with left-handers,” Barry added.
On the other hand, although Perez has been a pro for 15 years, he’s looking at his first non-sparring situation with a southpaw.
“I’ve been doing a couple things like using my jab more but to be honest, I’ve actually never faced a lefty up to his point,” Perez informed this writer. “I’ve been sparring with Ernie Zavala, Michael Farenas, and Roger Gonzalez- even though he’s not really a southpaw. I’ve done more than 120 rounds and in the end, I felt really comfortable, almost natural. I can go any day of the week with a southpaw now.”
Perez revealed another quirk about his preparation habits.
“As funny as this sounds, I don’t really like to watch my opponent’s tape because they don’t always fight the same way,” Perez shared. “If I see him now, he might change his game plan all the way around so it won’t be the same way he fought every opponent.
“That being said, I just trained for a little bit of everything. Short distance- I love that- a toe-to-toe type of fight. If he boxes, I’ll cut off the ring. If he uses his distance, I have something for that. They call me ‘El Alacran’ because my left hook to the head and body is like a scorpion’s tail and I plan on using it. If we don’t have an answer now for what he’ll bring into the ring, we’ll have an answer during the first three rounds.”
Returning to the topic of sparring, what better scouting report to attack Perez than from the man who last beat him? Magdaleno had the luxury of working with Ramos in training camp.
“We had Rico Ramos here and he gave me a lot of heads-up advice about Perez because they fought already,” the southpaw said. “I can’t tell you specifically what but it’s been helpful.”
Barry was a little more descriptive of the game plan.
“Rico was good quality sparring,” said Barry. “This fight’ll be like a gunfight. We got to be weary of both hands. It’s hit and don’t get hit. We’re not walking in or standing straight up. Diego will show a lot of movement and a lot of ring generalship and a lot of versatility.”
Meanwhile, Perez countered with his recollection of the camp leading up to Ramos, which would suggest he didn’t trot out the best version of himself in their November 2009 encounter.
“The training for the Ramos fight was my fault,” Perez remembered. “I didn’t train as hard as I did in previous fights. My body and mind was getting really tired. The 15years I’d fought I never took a day off or had a vacation. I don’t like making excuses but I wasn’t prepared for it and it showed.”
That lack of preparation was visible on the scale.
“I didn’t make weight,” Perez said. “I was two-and-a-half pounds over, which was really unprofessional on my part but the outcome of losing really helped me to focus more. If you want to do this, you really have to do it 100 percent. Thanks to that loss, I put things in perspective. At this level, the type of fighters you’re not facing aren’t as easy now.”
Extra pounds are an issue for this fight as well, except through the viewpoint of a different lens.
“I don’t have any problems making weight,” Magdaleno declared. “My diet and everything’s ready to go.”
“We’re more than likely staying at 130,” said Perez, a lifelong super bantamweight. “I feel fast. I feel phenomenal. Making weight here is easier than at 122 and 126. I do my own dieting, so it hasn’t been a struggle for me.”
In addition to the fighters locking horns in the center of the ring, the opposing corners will also affect the outcome of the bout by measuring wits as well. For Magdaleno, Barry and former world title challenger Augie Sanchez will handle that aspect and they have been pleased with Magdaleno’s mindset.
“There’s a maturity about him,” Barry said. “There’s the aspect of realizing that it’s not just an amateur fight where if you lose one, no big deal; you can bounce back. This is the pros. This is his occupation. For example, after a fight, a guy can go haywire. Not Diego, he’s shadowboxing and training hard again.”
“Working with Pat and Augie, we have a great team,” Magdaleno added. “Pat is a veteran and Augie’s fresh out of the ring. What Pat doesn’t catch, Augie will and vice versa.”
On the other hand, Perez will rely on the services of his team, which usually consists of Hector Valladares, Jose Luis Marquez, and Pepper Roach. However, Roach will be unable to make the trip after travel conflicts and inopportune medical complications and Perez has kept him in mind as he travels east to the Nevada desert.
“Hector Valladares has been my trainer for the past six years,” Perez said. “He hasn’t left my side. I’m really comfortable with him. He’s more than a trainer and more than a friend. He’s like a father figure-type for me outside and inside the ring as well. Jose Luis has been working the last three years. Pepper Roach is a wonderful person. I wish him all the best and that everything comes out good with a speedy recovery. We miss him at the gym.”
Where does the winner END UP?
Magdaleno currently stands at number six in the WBA and number 11 in the WBC, the sanctioning body that is tied to the NABF belt he currently wears around his waist. Winning will only elevate his status.
“I don’t take people lightly,” he said. “I don’t look past Perez. Top Rank has something in mind as far as something lined up to me, so I leave it them. They’re veterans of the game and definitely a title shot will be in my future if I take care of business.”
Fighting at home, Magdaleno insists he’s not distracted or feeling the added pressure from the Showtime coverage.
“A lot of people say I’m the favorite but I like to look at it the other way and fight like I’m still fighting for the belt. I work well under pressure and that’s what’s got me here.”
Perez assured this writer that he’s taking nothing for granted as well.
“I always enter my camp with the same mentality to win, no matter if I’m the favorite or not,” he said. “I got to train hard. I don’t underestimate no fighter, no matter the record of the guy. One punch from the underdog can knock an undefeated guy out. We both have two hands.
“If the fight goes past the fifth and sixth rounds, I feel confident in myself and my team that I can go all ten rounds nonstop. I’ve done it sparring before. If I see an opening for a knockout though, I’ll take it.”
Magdaleno summed up the contest well before getting off the phone to resume training.
“It feels great fighting on the ‘ShoBox’ anniversary,” he said. “It’s like history. We’re both bringing something big to Showtime on Friday.”
Ryan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. You can reach him at email@example.com, Facebook at facebook.com/rmaq28, or follow him on Twitter: @rmaq28.