Viloria proud to be a part of old-time boxing


POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

A forgotten man in a forgotten sport?


Brian Viloria fights for a world title in two weeks.

And boxing, according to the 28-year-old light flyweight from Waipahu, isn't down for the count yet. He says there's room for the sweet science and mixed martial arts to co-exist, and thrive.

“;I'm a boxer at heart because it's such a purist sport,”; says Viloria, who arrives in Manila today, site of his fight against Ulises Solis for his IBF belt. “;I enjoy MMA and love the sport, all the technique. I think it'll have its own platform, alongside boxing.

“;Boxing is sewn into the fabric of our society. It's always going to be there.”;

Hard to believe it's been nearly 10 years since Viloria—now 24-2 as a pro—was a golden boy headed to the Sydney Olympics, a head-to-toe gilty pleasure in Sports Illustrated's pre-Games photo spread. Turned out to be pyrite, as Viloria lost in the second round.

But he's mostly thrived as a pro ... when he can find suitable fights, that is. Last year was a busy one, with five wins helping him come back from his only pro defeats.

He's had just two pro bouts here, and the MMA explosion allowed B.J. Penn and lesser lights to eclipse him in mass popularity locally, especially among younger fans of combat sports.

His only losses as a pro coincided with the MMA boom, and cost him his WBC world title. But Viloria remains among the planet's most dangerous men at around 100 pounds. He says he's approaching his physical peak.

A kid learned the hard way a couple of weeks ago not to mistake Viloria's geniality for lack of seriousness. The former world champ steamed while waiting an hour for the day's sparring partner. When the hapless punching bag finally arrived, it wasn't pretty.

“;Like I told them, I don't pay them for making me wait. I can't be waiting for an hour to start my session,”; Viloria wrote in Twitter dispatches a few minutes after dispensing the lesson in punctuality. “;I don't think he's coming back. And I need to throw away the shirt he bloodied up.”;

He's still one of the best interviews around, dropping sharp insight as easily as tardy practice palookas.

Viloria says he completed the best training camp of his career yesterday, at La Colonia gym in Oxnard, Calif. He commuted there weekly from his home in Los Angeles.

“;It's an old stinky, dingy, raw, pictures-peeling-off-the-wall kind of place,”; he says. “;I love it. I don't see fancy new places developing world champions.”;

Fighters are usually overjoyed to break camp.

“;I felt kind of sad it was the last day,”; Viloria says. “;I even enjoyed and looked forward to the running.”;

He fidgeted at LAX yesterday, waiting for his 16-hour flight to Manila (no HNL layover). He thought a lot about his grandfather, Oscar Viloria.

“;He passed away in 2006 in the Philippines, three days after my world title,”; Viloria says. “;I got there in time so he could see my belt.”;

Viloria was born in Honolulu, but spent most of his first five years in the Philippines. He remembers lots of time with Oscar.

Filipino fight fans—and they are legion—consider Viloria their own, nearly as much as his good friend, Manny Pacquiao. This is Viloria's first fight there, and the crowd will be fully behind him.

Hopefully the plane from L.A. lands here next time, for a title defense.

Brian Viloria was born way too late for Hawaii's golden era of boxing, not in time for the sport's peak worldwide, either. But he has plenty of years left to augment an already impressive body of work, starting April 19 in Manila—a place where they still appreciate the fight game.