The day Diego Magdaleno has dreamed about since he first laced on a pair of boxing gloves at 7 years old has arrived. But he never thought he would have to go halfway around the world to realize that dream.
The 26-year-old Las Vegan is in Macau with his first opportunity to become a world champion. To do it, he’ll have to defeat Roman “Rocky” Martinez, the WBO super featherweight champ who is strong, tough and determined to keep what he has as he makes his second title defense.
“It’s what I’ve been training for my entire life,” said Magdaleno, who will enter the ring at 6:30 a.m. today Las Vegas time with a 23-0 record with nine knockouts. “I know this is a life-changing moment for me, and it’s up to me to take advantage of it.”
The fight will be televised by HBO2 (Cable 201) on tape delay at 2 p.m.
Magdaleno was hoping for this opportunity to come sooner in his career and much closer to home. But boxing being what it is with politics and injuries forced Magdaleno to wait — and to travel. He won the NABF super featherweight title in 2011 at Texas Station and successfully defended that belt five times.
Now, he’s hunting a far bigger prize.
“I thought about all the amateur fights I went through, all the hardships you endure as a professional fighter, all the sacrifices you have to make with your lifestyle, and it all boils down to this one moment,” Magdaleno said. “I’ve tried to let everything sink in day by day, but I also know there’s more at stake in this fight than any other I’ve fought. I have to be perfect in my workouts. I have to be more precise in everything I do.
“When you fight for a world championship, it’s different. There’s more media attention. Everyone’s watching a little closer. You can’t afford a slip-up. That’s why I left it all in the gym. I don’t want to look back saying, ‘I could have done this,’ or ‘I could’ve done that.’ I want to be 100 percent prepared, and I feel like I’m ready — physically and mentally.”
Brad Goodman, who is one of Top Rank’s matchmakers and whose company has been with Magdaleno since he turned pro in 2007, said there was no need to rush to get him to today’s stage.
“We would do that with any of our fighters,” Goodman said. “When we signed Diego, we were looking at a long-term situation where he could develop as a professional, we’d move him up as he got better and more comfortable with going against better opposition.
“We always had confidence in him that he could one day fight for a world title. We wished it would have come sooner, but sometimes things are out of the fighter’s control or the promoter’s control. But what matters is that Diego’s here, he’s fighting for a world championship, and while it’s a very tough fight for him, it’s a fight he’s capable of winning. He has great mental toughness and endurance. He refuses to believe he’s going to lose.”
Magdaleno is not lacking confidence going into the biggest fight of his career.
“You have to believe in yourself,” he said. “I know Martinez is a tough guy and he comes to fight. But I’m going to show him I’m just as tough, and I’m coming to fight as well.
“For me to win this fight, I need to use my boxing skills. I know I’m the better boxer. But I’m not going to let him push me around, either. I’ll work inside when I need to. I just have to be smart about it.”
Magdaleno said he knows what Martinez intends to do and he’s ready.
“Martinez only has an ‘A Plan’ — he looks to land that big right hand. He loads up and presses it,” Magdaleno said after Friday’s weigh-in in Macau, where both fighters came in at the super featherweight limit of 130 pounds. “I will win and make this fight easy by out-boxing him and out-thinking him. I have scouted him in person, attending his fights and watching loads of tape. My style has matured.”
Pat Barry, who has trained Magdaleno since he was 9, said his fighter has better power than people give him credit for.
“People said he had no knockout power, but I beg to differ,” Barry said. “Early in his career, he was focusing on making the transition from amateur to professional, and he was still developing physically. Once he started to learn to sit down on his punches, he started dropping guys. It was like a light went off inside his head.”
At one point from April 2010 to May 2011, Magdaleno had recorded four straight stoppages. His vanity plates on his car — IMAKO (I’m a knockout) — were reflective of that run. But today isn’t about knockouts. It’s about winning.
“I’ve never gone into a fight thinking I’m going to knock a guy out, and I’m not going to start now,” Magdaleno said. “The moment you start thinking about knocking a guy out, that’s when you, yourself, get knocked out. This is about being smart and staying cool and understanding this is a 12-round fight and being patient.”
This will be Magdaleno’s first time going beyond 10 rounds. But his obsession with staying in shape shouldn’t make going the distance a problem. He ran a half-marathon in February with friend and fellow boxer Victor Ortiz, and he’s been running the trails at Mount Charleston for years. Even when he hurt his left wrist and hand in November, which put him out of commission for six weeks, Magdaleno never stopped running.
“I pride myself in always being in shape,” he said. “I’m ready to fight all night if I have to.”
Magdaleno last fought on Aug. 4, when he stopped Antonio Davis at Texas Station. He said the layoff gave him time to sharpen his skills and focus on Martinez (26-1-2, 16 KOs), whose first title defense was a controversial split decision draw against Juan Carlos Burgos on Jan. 19.
“It was truly a blessing in disguise,” said Magdaleno, whose Dec. 7 fight against Adailton De Jesus was canceled after the injury was discovered. “It gave me a chance to heal up, freshen up and get ready for this fight.”
Magdaleno got into boxing through his father, Jesus, when the family lived in Los Angeles. They moved to Las Vegas when he was 7. While his dad never boxed professionally, he gave his son some advice as he started taking him to the gym.
“He said if you’re going to do something, do it the best you can,” Magdaleno said. “No shortcuts. Do everything 100 percent.”
It has been the mantra Magdaleno has lived by throughout his career. And when he goes into the ring in Macau, he does so as a role model for Las Vegas’ youth.
“I want the kids to see what is possible with hard work, that you can realize your dreams,” he said.
Even if you have to go halfway around the world to do so.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.