Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, September 1, 1999


Viloria no
lightweight in boxing

The Waipahu High School
graduate will become the first
Olympic fighter from
Hawaii in 43 years

By Pat Bigold


It finally can be said.

Brian Viloria has made his breakthrough, and is on his way to becoming the first Olympic boxer from this state since 1956.

In fact, if the Olympic final in the light flyweight or flyweight divisions were held tomorrow in Sydney, Viloria would be the gold medal favorite.

The 18-year-old Waipahu High product laid claim to that distinction with a startling performance Thursday in Houston at the World Amateur Boxing Championships.

He used a relentlessly aggressive strategy to overwhelm 1996 Olympic flyweight gold medalist Maikro Romero of Cuba in the light flyweight final.

Romero, who had moved down from his Olympic weight class, was also the Goodwill Games gold medalist and the defending amateur world champion. He had eight years and a three-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-4 Viloria.

"Brian is the best I've ever seen from Hawaii," said Eiichi Jumawan, a former two-time AAU champion.

"He is just a natural talent with a will to win that I haven't seen in anybody since Sugar Ray Leonard."

This has been the most extraordinary year of the extraordinary teen-ager's career, and there's nothing in the Hawaii sports record books to compare with it.

In the past several months, he has captured American titles in the National Golden Gloves, the National Amateur Boxing Championships and the U.S. Challenge.

Internationally, he won the Multi-Nation Festival of Amateur Boxing (Liverpool, England), in which he defeated China's national champion, and the world amateur championship.

At age 15 in 1995, Viloria became the first Hawaii fighter to win the U.S. Junior Olympics crown, a feat he accomplished twice. He was also the first from the islands to win a World Junior Olympics title (1996). It goes without saying that he's the first to win the world amateur championship.

Viloria has only lost four times in his amateur career, and each of those losses has come at the higher levels of national or international competition.

One of those defeats came at hands of Romero (11-3) in the 1998 Goodwill Games quarterfinals in New York.

"That made me train harder and study harder," he said.

He concentrated on videotapes of Romero's fights with the same diligence that has often earned him academic honors. Breaking down the Cuban's moves became Viloria's quest.

"I gave him too much credit the first time," said Viloria. "I knew who he was, that he was the gold medalist and that he came from Cuba, the best boxing country in the world."

Asked what Romero was able to do in New York that he wasn't able to do in Houston, Viloria said, "take control of the fight."

"He knew how to move around the ring, scoring whenever he threw a punch," said Viloria.

"This time I took the fight away. I pressured him more, stayed on him. My coach said to get rid of that respect I had for him and just jump on him."

Viloria, who has been competing internationally for only three years, said he was surprised at the way Romero reacted.

"He was just backing up the whole time," he said. "I guess he thought I was going to lay back and let him come to me."

Viloria trains on the campus of Northern Michigan at the USA Boxing Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich.

In the gym, he studies boxing under the best mentor he could find: Al Mitchell, coach of the 1996 U.S. Olympic boxing team. In the classroom, he's a college sophomore studying for a career beyond boxing in broadcast journalism.

Jumawan said it's easy to sense that Viloria fears no one, yet his confidence is a cool, controlled one.

"And the other thing about him that's really impressive is how he sacrifices in the gym," said Jumawan. "While most guys will do 100 pushups, Brian will do 200 in the middle of training. I have seen him do handstands for fun, or do backflips in the ring. He's an amazingly strong athlete."

Not that he needs it to attract attention these days, but Viloria finishes off his ring victories with his version of the hula. It's become his trademark.

"I started doing it last year and the crowds loved it," said Viloria. "People ask for it now."

To reach the Olympics, Viloria must compete in a box-off early next year. But since he will be facing boxers he's beaten before, the odds are heavily in his favor.

Hawaii has had a boxer in the Olympics only once, when flyweight Ray Perez and bantamweight Choken Maekawa went to the Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia, 43 years ago.

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