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Salido Eyes Featherweight Title Opportunity…Again!

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)

By Bill Tibbs


This Saturday night, all eyes will be on the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas when welterweight champion Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley defends his World Boxing Organization (WBO) title against seemingly ageless Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez. Bradley is coming off an exciting, gut-check, 12-round war in his last title defense victory against Ruslan Provodnikov. Meanwhile, Marquez is basking in the glow of his highlight reel knockout over four-time nemesis Manny Pacquiao last December. Another interesting bout on the card features Mexican warrior and former featherweight champion Orlando Salido, who looks to regain the WBO featherweight title he lost in his last bout to Mikey Garcia. He meets Orlando Cruz in a 12-round bout for the vacant title in what is sure to be a great fight…because Salido is seldom in any other kind.

 

Turning pro at age 16 in his native Mexico, Orlando “Siri” Salido fought like many tough, young Mexicans do, trying to cut their teeth and make a buck in a tough business. That is to say he fought everyone and anyone put in front of him just trying to make a few dollars and carve out what he could in terms of a career. While blueprints like that seldom lead to glossy records, they do benefit a young fighter in regard to gaining a wealth of experience that can pay great dividends down the line. This was clearly the case with former world champion Salido.


Turning pro in 1996, while Salido did amass valuable experience, he also built an unremarkable 11-7-2 record in his first 20 bouts. But the tough, gritty featherweight kept improving and by the summer of 2001, as he made more appearances in the United States, he started to show a skill set more akin to contender than opponent. In the fall of 2001, he decisioned former longtime WBO champion Regilio Tuur over eight at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. In his very next outing, Salido lost a razor-thin majority decision to former World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight champion Alejandro Gonzalez in a fight that could have gone either way. In his next fight just three months later, he decisioned undefeated and future world title challenger Lamont Pearson over 10 frames. This bout would be the start of a strong, nine- bout undefeated streak that would include wins over former world title challengers Carlos Gerena and Radford Beasley. The run vaulted 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 in September of 2004 for Marquez’s World Boxing Association (WBA) “super” and International Boxing Federation (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 the mentality of the constantly improving Salido, who said, “That fight showed me I could fight amongst the best in the world in my division.” The bout also turned heads in the boxing world as fans and media now saw Salido as a serious, world-class fighter having gone 12 rounds with arguably one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best. Never one to take the easy route, his next fight in the spring of 2004 saw him defeat former world champion Cesar Soto over 10 rounds. Just two fights later, he stopped future world title challenger Rogers Mtagwa in five rounds.

 

Again, two fights later, it looked like Salido had finally realized his dream when he beat IBF champion Robert Guerrero. However, the bout was ruled a “no-contest” after Salido failed a post-fight drug test. “Siri” got right back on the horse and put four wins together, taking him into the fall of 2008 when he was awarded a shot at IBF champion Cristobal Cruz with the title vacated by previous titleholder Guerrero up for grabs. In a heartbreaker, “Siri” found himself on the wrong side of a close, split decision loss. After back-to-back wins in the summer of 2009, he was again awarded a shot at Cruz and his IBF world featherweight title. This time, Salido dominated and picked up a 12-round unanimous decision, nearly sweeping the scores on all three judges’ cards and claiming the IBF title.

 

His first fight as champion four months later was no soft touch, to say the least, as he battled former Cuban amateur star and undefeated world champion Yuriorkis Gamboa in Las Vegas with Salido’s IBF and Gamboa’s WBA “super” featherweight titles on the line. With a win, Salido couldn’t keep his IBF belt due to weighing 10 pounds over the featherweight limit on the morning of the fight but this tangible proved moot. Gamboa beat Salido over 12 rounds in a unanimous decision to remain undefeated.

 

At this point, much of the boxing world felt that while respecting Salido as the quintessential overachiever, his title run was done. More than likely, so were his days as a world title threat. His reputation as a crowd-pleasing slugger however did award him another title try and he was ushered into the backyard of huge Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez, who was undefeated in 13 previous title fights, (all for regional or major titles). While “Siri” never failed to deliver a riveting fight, he certainly was not expected to upset any apple carts and leave with any hardware. Unfortunately for Lopez, Salido didn’t get the memo and he battered the hometown favorite, stopping him in eight rounds and relieving the undefeated champion of his WBO featherweight title. The win capped a career-long battle for legitimacy and elevated the friendly, well-spoken world champion to the elite level among featherweights. He defended the title just three months later, stopping Kenichi Yamaguchi in 11 rounds. After one more TKO win in 2011, Salido would kick off 2012 in a rematch with Lopez. To put an exclamation point on his title-winning effort nearly a year previous, he travelled back to Puerto Rico and stopped Lopez in 10 frames. After one more KO win in Mexico to close out his 2012, Salido looked to make the second defense of his title in January of this year against hot, undefeated prospect Mikey Garcia of Oxnard, California.

 

Garcia, trained by older brother and former world champion Robert Garcia, had shown good hand and foot speed along with power, in dispatching 26 of 30 fighters inside the distance. However, Salido’s tenacity and experience in tough fights were certainly the ingredients to make this an intriguing match-up and “must-see-TV” for boxing fans. Garcia fought well and dropped the champion in rounds one, three and four before Garcia suffered a broken nose and couldn’t continue. The judges went to the scorecards and Mikey was the new champion. While Salido’s manager, Sean Gibbons respected Garcia as an “excellent fighter,” he did mention in a recent conversation that the fight “left a bad taste in our mouths the way it ended.” Speaking en route from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, Gibbons added, “Orlando finishes real strong in most fights. The punches that Garcia was landing later weren’t having the effect on him the way they had earlier and it would have been real interesting to see that fight go til the end. It would have been interesting to see how the final one-third of that fight was gonna go.”

 

After the fight, Gibbons and Salido were undecided as to what they were going to do but were thrilled when the chance to fight for the now-vacant WBO title surfaced. Salido will now face Orlando Cruz, 20-2-1 (10), on Saturday night. “This is an absolutely winnable fight. He will win this fight,” stated Gibbons emphatically. “He’s going to be in great shape and he knows this is a great opportunity that he can’t - and won’t - let slip by. Nothing has ever been given to this guy. He’s travelled a tough road to get to where he is. He is going to be a world champion again in October.”



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