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Kalani Simpson

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Kalani Simpson

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Leon took Viloria’s
punishment ... and kept
coming up for more


HE kept coming back. He kept getting up. Valentin Leon kept his promise. He kept coming. He traded punches, 2-for-1. He stood in there with Brian Viloria, taking tags, hard, solid ones, the kind you feel in the first row.

Thump!, again and again, but Leon kept coming.

He'd talked about this, Leon had, talked about not running, talked about looking the great Viloria in the eye. Great? No, Leon had scoffed at that, through his interpreter, before the fight. And on the canvas, he stuck to his word, round after round.

Viloria had talked, too, before the fight. About how opponents were always trying to make him look bad along his climb to boxing glory.

Valentin did.

Viloria won, but as he'd said earlier, winning is no longer enough. Viloria was impressive last night, clearly in control, clearly the better fighter, clearly in another class.

But Valentin Leon did the impossible last night. He stole the crowd from the new Hawaiian Punch, stole it in Viloria's own backyard.

He was bleeding, and sweating, and he was a mess. But he was a composed mess, and every time Leon went to the canvas -- which was often -- he seemed to get stronger.

He seemed to draw strength.

Viloria cut him off. Viloria pounded him, thumped him, put him down. It was almost ugly. But Leon smiled. He'd go to a knee, strategically, getting up at an 8- or 9-count.

He wasn't going away.

In the second round Leon was staggered. Viloria backed off. Leon tagged him, and Viloria responded with an angry flurry, and it was on.

In the fourth, Leon crossed himself, and seconds later was all but lifted off his feet by a Viloria uppercut.

Later, Viloria leapt atop the ropes in premature celebration.

"What's he doing?!" the crowd yelled.

But Leon kept getting up.

In the corner, heading into the sixth round, Leon was smiling. Viloria floored him again. Seven-eight-nine! And Leon was up, shaking his head:

Oh, no, he was saying. Oh, no. It's not going to be that easy.

In the seventh, he went down again. Dr. Wayne K. F. Lee halted the action, but referee Abe Pacheco said fight on.

Leon looked to his corner, and almost winked.

He went down again, waited. Then jumped to his feet before "10," pumped his fist in triumph. Ringside, they went nuts.

They yelled for him.

He nodded at his new fans.

"Hey Doc!" someone yelled. "The kid's courageous."

Lee agreed that he was.

Then in the eighth, he went down again. This time, Pacheco jumped in. He'd seen enough.

Viloria ran to the edge of the ring, and pounded the ropes.

Leon shook his head, and wagged his glove in triumph.

There were two celebrations.

Viloria had won the fight.

"I did what I had to do," he would say.

Leon had won the crowd.

He was carried by his corner. He, too, jumped up on the ropes.

He'd won the fight.

He had.



Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

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