Viloria's love of boxing almost wasn't enough


POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brian Viloria loves boxing. Everything about it, not just the fact that he's a world champion, 25-2 with 14 knockouts. Not just the bright lights, money, fame and perks that come with it. Not just the idea of defending his title Saturday at the Blaisdell, his first fight in his hometown since 2003.

He also loves the smell of the gym, the hard work of training, the feel of the sweat and the burn in his legs and chest when he runs. He loves his fellow fighters, even his sparring partners, as long as they show up on time (if they don't, he gives them a bloody lesson about punctuality). He loves the history of the sport, he loves its combination of brutal simplicity and thinking-person's intricacy.

He plans to fight a few more years and then continue in the sport as a journalist, manager or both, perhaps continuing to help make its history while also chronicling it.

So I was surprised this week to learn from Viloria himself that he thought about quitting a couple of years ago, after his only pro defeats, in 2006 and 2007. He considered just giving up on boxing, the love of his life from the time he was a little kid and first walked into the gym in Waipahu.

He had lost his WBC light flyweight world title in his second defense. Perhaps this was it, perhaps he was done at 26.

Viloria could no longer find the love.

BUT HIS MANAGER, Gary Gittelsohn, came up with a plan. Viloria—a former Olympian, world champion and major venue headliner—would become a sideshow. He would fight at a level that would make an intermediate school shoving match look like Frazier vs. Ali.

“;Gary told me we're starting our way from nothing.”;

It was at the Alameda Swap Meet in L.A., January 2007. Rain pouring sideways, 45 degrees, the ring covered by a tarp. Viloria had to be carried from his spartan dressing room to the ring to keep his shoes out of 2 inches of water. The crowd? You couldn't really call it one.

“;It was like fighting in the parking lot behind a Safeway or something. I'd fought at the Staples Center, Madison Square Garden, the Olympic Stadium in Sydney,”; Viloria says. “;And here I am, cold in the rain. People just wandering around ... 'Oh, there's a fight. Who's that?' “;

He won, by decision over Jose Garcia Bernal. Viloria felt alive, and he was in love again.

“;It gave me that gladiator feel for the sport. I went back to the nitty gritty. The goal was to not forget about the basic things.

“;This time I was doing it for me. I felt like I had to get my love for boxing back.”;

IT WAS the beginning of a comeback trail of six fights in 16 months—the busiest span of his pro career—culminating in Manila last April with Viloria's 11th-round knockout of Ulises Solis for the IBF belt. Now, Saturday's first defense against Jesus Iribe. Viloria vows to cherish and protect his crown better this time.

“;I'm more mature, I know how hard it is to keep the world title,”; Viloria says. “;It's very fragile.”;

He plans to hold on to it longer than six months—and unify it.

“;Losing those two didn't seem the right way to fade out from the sport,”; he says.