In the summer of 1999 Brian Viloria was 18-years-old, an experienced amateur boxer, and set to fight in the finals of the World Amateur Boxing Championships. A clear underdog, Viloria was to face skilled Cuban Maikro Romero, a gold medalist in the 1996 Olympics who had already defeated Viloria in the first round of the 1998 Goodwill Games.
“I get the Cuban again, that’s a dream come true,” Viloria told an Associated Press reporter. “He beat me the last time. He is a very smart fighter. He knows what to do in the ring. But now I am more mature.”
Viloria, 36-4 with 22 knockouts and two No Contests, still loves what he does and becomes visibly excited about boxing, 16 years after beating Romero and helping the U.S. boxing team to win four gold medals. “I don’t look at [boxing] as something that’s mostly a grind. It’s my passion. I love going to the gym and I love every aspect of the fight game,” says Viloria. There can be no doubting the Waipahu, Hawaii native’s affinity for the sweet science.
A few months after his win over Romero, Viloria defeated both Glenn and Nonito Donaire in the U.S. Olympic boxing trials before going to Sydney. And as the more popular members of the U.S. team got large signing bonuses, lucrative contracts and modeling gigs, Viloria plugged away. By now the rest of the team has either been retired or threshed from the world class heap in the pro ranks, but it’s Viloria who readies himself to face flyweight champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, possibly the best fighter alive, tonight at Madison Square Garden.
When odds for a fight are pegged at upwards of 10-to-1, that is in effect suggesting that the underdog has about a 10 percent chance of winning. In this case Gonzalez is a commanding favorite, and as a likely successor to the “pound-for-pound” throne in the vacuum of power created by Floyd Mayweather‘s retirement, by all means he should be. But the odds are awfully dismissive of a veteran fighter who has defied both the clock and a boxing establishment that insists fighters of his mass don’t matter.
Fighting in the co-feature of an HBO Pay-Per-View headlined by Gennady Golovkin vs David Lemieux might not bring an audience quite as vast or diverse as the Olympics, but it nonetheless figures to net Viloria great money for a flyweight bout and more attention than the division is generally afforded stateside in recent years. In fact, prior to Gonzalez’s stoppage of Edgar Sosa last May, HBO had not aired a flyweight fight since Danny Romero vs Francisco Tejedor in 1995, and other networks rarely filled the gap. It’s nearly impossible to stay relevant for long, yet Viloria has done it.
Stepping in with Gonzalez is a daunting task for young, active fighters; he throws combinations beautifully, rarely making exploitable mistakes and demonstrates true instinctual movement. And Viloria is not young, nor very active. At 43-0 and 37 knockouts, Gonzalez does not yet know what it feels like to lose. If you believe reports that he was 88-0 as an amateur, then defeat truly is a foreign concept to the Nicaraguan who was once taken under the wing of the late, great Alexis Arguello. He likewise has overcome the stigma hovering above the heads of smaller fighters.
Viloria is 34, soon to be 35. He has fought in China, the Philippines, Australia, all over the U.S.. He is either worn or well-traveled, experienced or weathered. Either way Viloria has come too far to accept anything less than everything. His professional career began in 2001, and he was an ex-Olympian fighting at the Convention Center in Honolulu. It was about as far away as one could get from New York City and still be in the United States. But this time it’s not about representing a country or a heritage. This time it’s a full-fledged quest for greatness, and Viloria doesn’t aim to fail.
— Patrick Connor