IBF champion Sanchez awaits 24-0 challenger at Hard Rock

When he was 6 years old, Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. wanted to box.

His father, who had been a professional boxer, had other ideas.

His son wasn’t going to endure the punishment he went through in a 17-year career that saw him fight from a junior welterweight to a light heavyweight. Zurdo Sanchez’s kid was going to go to school and get an education. His athletic endeavors would be confined to the soccer pitch.

But eventually the father gave in to the son’s wishes, and today, Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. is the IBF super flyweight champion. The 22-year-old will defend his title tonight at the Hard Rock Hotel against undefeated Roberto Sosa in the 12-round main event of Top Rank’s card on the UniMas Network (Cox Cable 64).

“It took me a long time to convince my father to let me fight,” Sanchez Jr. said. “It wasn’t until I was 16 that he agreed.”

Even then, it took some convincing. But the younger Sanchez showed ability, and the owners of the neighborhood gym in Los Mochis, Mexico, told the old man the kid had a future in the sport.

“I would have preferred he play soccer,” Zurdo Sanchez said. “But once he started training and winning fights, I supported him. You want your kids to be happy.”

Sanchez Jr. (15-1-1, eight knockouts) won the title Feb. 11, 2012, with a 12-round unanimous decision over Rodrigo Guerrero. He successfully defended the belt against former IBF junior bantamweight champ Juan Alberto Rosas three months later in a unanimous decision. In his most recent fight, he knocked out former WBC junior flyweight champ Rodel Mayol in the seventh round on Sept. 22.

Now, he faces Sosa (24-0, 14 KOs), a 28-year-old from Argentina who hits hard and never stops coming at his opponents.

“For me, the key is never being satisfied,” Sanchez Jr. said. “I have the attitude that I am the challenger and I have to prove it. You have to be hungrier than the other guy is.”

Like most champions, Sanchez Jr. said defending the title is harder than winning it.

“Everyone wants what you want, and when you are the champion, there are high expectations,” he said. “There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the title, so I am constantly working on my skills, trying to get better.

“For this fight, we’ve been working on my speed and throwing a lot of punches because I know he’s going to try to pressure me.”

Sosa said he will have to deal with fighting a southpaw who has quick hands and has proven he can take a punch and go the distance.

“It is a great challenge, fighting for a title, especially here in Las Vegas,” Sosa said through an interpreter. “It’s all about sacrifices. You work so hard to get to this point. You don’t want to waste the opportunity.”

Sanchez did a little trash talking, saying he will retain his belt and end Sosa’s undefeated reign.

“I know he wants what I have,” Sanchez said. “But they say somebody’s 0 (zero) has got to go, and his will go.”

Sosa laughed when told of Sanchez’s comments.

“He said that?” Sosa said. “Let’s get in the ring, and we’ll settle it there.”

Also on the card, Las Vegan Jessie Magdaleno (14-0, 10 KOs) will meet Henry Maldonado (16-2, 11 KOs) in an eight-round super bantamweight fight.

The first bell is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tickets are priced at $25 and $50.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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