Brian Viloria returns to Macau to fight Jose Alfredo Zuniga.
After a few hiccups with regard to setting dates and a viable opponent, Brian Viloria (33W, 4L, 19KOs) will be returning to China’s world renown boxing and gambling Mecca, the Cotai Arena, Venetian Resort in Macau, China to battle Mexico’s Jose Alfredo Zuniga (11W, 5L, 5 KOs, 1 D) this Saturday July 19, 2014. This flyweight bout will be a part of the undercard for the highly anticipated headline fight featuring popular Chinese sensation and two time Olympic Champion Zou Shiming (4 W, 0L, 1 KO) who will be fighting Columbian Luis De La Rosa (23W, 3L, 13KOs, 1 D) for the vacant WBO International Flyweight Title.
In taking this bout, both Viloria and Zuniga are looking to aim higher. For Viloria, it will be a chance to regain his position in line for the IBF title belt with a win against the less experienced but solid and durable competitor in Zuniga:
VILORIA: “It’s going to be a tune up fight hopefully to get in line for the IBF belt.”
In going after a victory against Zuniga this weekend in Macau, Viloria is angling hard to go through the necessary hoops to land the chance to win back his WBA Super World flyweight title and WBO flyweight title respectively, both of which he lost via split decision at the Cotai Arena in April 2013 to the explosive Juan Francisco Estrada (23W, 2L, 19KOs) who still holds both world title belts. Certainly the IBF belt would serve as tasty bait to hook Estrada for a rematch even if this would still require one or two more gateway fights after a victory against Zuniga on Saturday night.
For Zuniga, he too is looking to carve a way towards another world title fight but from a very different career vantage point. At twenty-five years of age, Zuniga is eight years Viloria’s junior. There is a vast chasm between what Zuniga is looking to achieve versus what Viloria could lose with a less than ideal performance. Viloria’s camp knows that things are a bit more precarious given where Viloria is currently in his career and the great heights to which he has traveled within that career. While Viloria exudes his usual no worries go with the flow attitude, within his inner circle, longtime cut man Ruben Gomez minces no words when it comes to how serious of a threat Zuniga could be to Viloria’s future if not handled correctly. The mindset of team Viloria at this juncture is explicit - nothing can be taken lightly:
GOMEZ: “He (Zuniga) fought for the world title several times. His record doesn’t really reflect how good he is but he’s really much better than his record shows. At this stage you’ve got to be careful with everybody because everybody gets ready to fight Brian. Sometimes you don’t know too much about them but they know everything there is to know about you. Brian’s been working very hard.”
If anyone can accurately gauge and articulate what is going on behind Brian Viloria’s easygoing poker face, it would be Ruben Gomez. For fourteen years, Gomez has been the sole constant in Viloria’s corner for all of the years that Viloria has been a professional.
VILORIA: “I’ve been with Ruben since the start of my professional career. After I turned pro right after the Olympics he jumped on my camp and he’s been there with me ever since. I mean I change a lot of times with different trainers and coaches but one key consistent factor in my career was Ruben. It’s kind of like a tattoo, you know? I got it right after my amateur career and I just can’t get him off of me.” (laughs)
Despite Viloria’s usual charismatic levity, he clearly understands that it is not just Zuniga whom he is fighting against but also the negative perception of time. It is common that fighters in the lower weight classes have shorter careers than their counterparts in the higher weight classes. Viloria at the otherwise youthful age of 33 might find himself in what would be for him the highly uncommon position of defending himself against questions of age should he not perform to a decisive win versus Zuniga, let alone the crushing disappointment of a loss. While on the surface a win against Zuniga could be classified as simply a way station on the climb to the top of the Mount Everest that is the path to the World Title, the slightest misstep via loss or lackluster performance could be just the fatal ammunition that critics and naysayers alike could use to set off a dangerous avalanche of obstacles and doubts damaging enough to pull Viloria under without a chance of regaining the return trip that a fighter of his caliber deserves. While few would dare to say right now that Viloria’s career is anywhere near this state, a loss against Zuniga might make some nasty buzzards venture out into the sunlight in the hopes of an early feast. As such, Viloria is avoiding any and all possibilities of calamity with a laser focus on his physical training and his mental motivation:
BRIAN: “At this stage in my career every fight is going to be serious. It’s going to help me get in line for another title shot so I’m going to just go out there and try to give my 110%. I’m motivated by a lot of things in my life right now. One of them is that my new son has been born. Two months ago. That motivated me a whole lot. Not only that, but my last fight against Juan Francisco Estrada was pretty close - enough to be a split decision. I really want to get back into the ring and show that I am one of the best at the top of my game. That’s what’s motivating me right now. Right now I’m going to go there and do my best.”
Viloria’s best would include his current close-knit team that includes along with mainstay Ruben Gomez, Wild Card trainer Marvin Somodio and Viloria’s wife Erica. While leaving their two-month-old son behind will be hard especially for Erica as a first time mom, it is clear that she is needed and wanted for this one week of important business in Macau.
GOMEZ: “Erica has been instrumental. She’s been the number one assisting in every aspect.”
VILORIA: “She didn’t want to at first. She wanted to stay with the baby and take care of him but you know grandma and grandpa are going to take care of our son and a week is not that long. Of course we are going to miss him. I mean I miss him when I come out to the gym but I think it’s going to be good. I had to talk her into coming a little bit”.
While Somodio and Viloria have shared their usual simpatico trainer fighter routine stateside at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym, because Roach himself will be in Macau serving as Zou Shiming’s trainer, Somodio will need to stay behind in Los Angeles and attend to the rest of Roach’s considerable stable of professional fighters as Freddie’s right hand man at the gym. This is bittersweet for Somodio due to his close relationship with Viloria both inside and outside of the ring but in speaking to Somodio immediately after Viloria’s last sparring session before leaving Los Angeles, Somodio was unflaggingly confident that Viloria is more than ready and primed for a decisive victory against Zuniga.
SOMODIO: “Macau is a great venue for Brian because Macau is close to the Philippines. Of course I’m going to miss it because we work really for a long time. At the gym, I am his trainer but outside of the gym we are friends. We are family. Brian is Filipino and I am Filipino too. We speak the same dialect, so I think that is the reason why we get along very well. I’m his trainer but I have to take care of the other fighters here. I know Brian is going to win. Brian is 100% ready. He trained hard for this fight and Ruben will take care of him. His timing is great, stamina perfect, speed, so he’s ready to fight. I think he’s ready to fight tomorrow.”
With regards to questions of legacy, pressure and anything he might have up his sleeve specifically for Zuniga when they clash on July 19th, Viloria remains quintessentially down to earth with a touch of pop culture.
VILORIA: “The kamehameha? For all you Dragon Ball Z Kai fans out there. I’m just going to go out there and perform as best I can. You know that’s all I can promise you guys. And show an exciting fight. I think it’s a bit more pressure for me to do well, but for me, I just have to train hard and prepare to fight as exciting as I can and just keep going with the flow. I try not to let it bother me or get into my head. I don’t think Michelangelo thought about his legacy when he was painting the Sistine Chapel. I think he was just trying to get paid that day and maybe not get his head cut off. But it’s the same thing with me. I love the sport. When you love something you don’t really think about how they will look at you later. You just try to enjoy it as much as you can when you can. And when it’s time for you to hang it up you’ll see what the history books will write about you.”
With regard to who will likely comprise Viloria’s corner on Saturday night, the set corner should be Ruben Gomez, Roger “Speedy” Gonzalez and stepping in for Somodio none other than Freddie Roach.
As a final show of solidarity, Somodio had these last brief words to Filipino fans as well as Brian himself in regards to Viloria’s fight this Saturday:
SOMODIO: “ Please support Brian. Brian is ours.”
Written by Kylie Krabbe
Photos by Kylie Krabbe
July 17th 2014