From then on, it was all boxing all the time. Magdaleno started his amateur career and a year later, the young amateur boxer moved with his family to Vegas.
What caught Magdaleno’s eye?
“It was everything,” he said. “The colors of the gym. The ropes. To me, when I was at that age, eight years old, it looked like a jungle gym to me, where boys and girls could run and play around. But once I got in there, I really got serious because I am very, very competitive. That’s what took over was my competitiveness.”
When Magdaleno first arrived in Vegas, he was a traditional orthodox fighter. He began training with Chauncey Banks and soon he began fighting in what he now uses: a right hand lead putting his power up front.
“He thought that I’d have an advantage to have my power hand up front. I was only nine years old. I didn’t know any better. He said, ‘Hey, turn this way,’ and I did it.”
At first, the style change. Despite its theory of putting the power in front while gaining torque on the weaker hand to increase power, Magdaleno took some time to get used to the style.
“I’m a solid southpaw now. I prefer that over anything. After so many years of doing it, it’s become natural now,” said Magdaleno, who explained that now he feels both hands have enough power to get the job done. “I’ve learned to kind of use them both. Naturally, my right hand is powerful but I seem to crack a lot of guys with the straight left as well; you know?”
Magdaleno amassed an impressive record winning, by his estimation, somewhere around 116 amateur wins with 15 losses. However, he didn’t push through all the way to the Olympics through two trials. He showed no hint of bitterness when I asked about it. Simply another lesson learned by an intelligent young warrior.
“It was great experience for me as a fighter, to get to know the different countries that are out there. It was all motivational for me,” said Magdaleno. “It was a big drive. I fell through with the amateurs. The last time I went down there, I kind of wanted to prove to myself and not leave anything out there where I should’ve or could’ve made it to the Olympics. I went for it and I lost in the quarterfinals the last time I went out there.”
Soon after the trials, Magdaleno turned pro and signed with Top Rank. There was no downtime from the trials loss.
“For me, I kind of knew already what I wanted to do and Top Rank was one of the first promoters who extended their arm out to me and, sure enough, next thing you know, we are sitting down and signing papers with Bob Arum,” he explained.
Magdaleno now works with manager/coach Pat Barry along with former featherweight contender Augie Sanchez. He’s amassed 22 wins against zero losses and eight knockouts and in the process, has come to understand himself much better as a fighter. A boxer/puncher who can move and utilize speed to land in combination, Magdaleno’s style is a classic one.
“I think I am a very well-rounded fighter,” he said. “I think I can do it all. I stick and move. I can punch when I need to. I think I am really universal. I don’t come out the same way every round. I can switch up every round and come out and be a different fighter. I think that is what confuses my opponents.”
It’s not without a bit of flash that Magdaleno also describes as function. When it comes to trunks, he prefers to wear a kind of Hector Camacho-style gladiator trunk.
“I find they are a lot more comfortable for me, for my style, because I have a kind of wider stance. And with that style, I feel I can move a lot better in the ring,” he explained.
In his last fight, Diego showed flashes of real power, stopping Fernando Beltran in seven rounds. He credits it with better understanding himself as a fighter through experience.
“I am starting to lay the punches down,” Magdaleno said. “I think awhile back when I first started, I was lifting a little too much weight to kind of get that power when really, I don’t need it. I let the weights go and the knockouts started coming. I got my speed back. The power was still there. I was just not using it the right way. And now I think everything is just coming together. I don’t even go for the knockout even though I am getting them.”
What is also improving is Magdaleno’s finishing instinct. To look at him, you might judge Magdaleno as a mere mover but he is willing to exchange and is getting better as an infighter every fight.
“When I see something in my opponent, something that I can take advantage of, believe me, I will jump right on it right then and there. I am not afraid to mix it up and get my hands dirty a little bit,” he said.
Now he faces Davis, a 40-year-old veteran who will come to fight and test him.
“Antonio Davis is an experienced guy. He is a true warrior in there and I know that he is going to come to fight,” said Magdaleno. “He wants to sit in the middle of the ring. He wants to exchange blows and I have to bring my A-game to this fight. Every fight gets bigger and better as I said. I have to be on point.”
Each time out, Magdaleno faces a new test in this developmental phase of his career as he moves closer and closer to a world title shot. In Davis, Magdaleno recognizes the challenge presented to him.
“I think he is going to bring a lot of pressure in this fight. He will try to pressure and try to bully me around,” acknowledged Magdaleno. “He’s a little older than I am and he has that mindset where he thinks he’s just going to push you around.”
Diego’s brother, Jesse, also fights under the Top Rank banner. At the suggestion of Top Rank, both men have enrolled in Las Vegas’ Cleveland Clinic program that monitors brain damage in contact sports athletes. They will be monitoring both fighters throughout their careers as part of an overall study.
“Top Rank actually approached us with that,” said Magdaleno. “They wanted young fighters; in fact, they want every fighter out there but one of the first things, they asked Jess if he would do that. We got more information and sure enough, next thing you know, Jesse was in there. I am supposed to be getting signed up for it after this fight. I think it’s a good thing. All fighters, even other sports, you know? I think the brain is something to take seriously, especially in the line of work that we do. You don’t want to end up as a handicapper after life after boxing. So getting a head start and finding out what is going on in the brain while we are in there boxing is a really good thing.”
Class act from top to bottom, Magdaleno presses forward with his campaign Saturday night. Another step forward in a young warrior’s journey.
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST.