Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, April 26, 2001


Olympic boxer Brian Viloria of Waipahu, right, was part
of a TV hook-up press conference along with Jesus Salud
at the Verizon Building on Bishop Street yesterday. Viloria
will make his pro debut on May 15, the same night Salud
fights Bobby Velardez at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Viloria, Salud
happy together

Olympic boxer to fight at the
Convention Center -- and on ESPN
-- on the same night as his hero

By Paul Arnett

Brian Viloria's eyes grew wide the moment Jesus Salud slipped into the room.

Some 2,500 miles away in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Viloria dutifully responded to the question of what it meant to make his professional debut on the same card as Salud. As a kid growing up ringside, Viloria watched Salud's bouts with intensity, absorbing every feint of the head or straight right to the body.

Only in dreams did he see Salud showing him the ropes.

"I've grown up watching Jesus," Viloria said of the former Nanakuli resident's rise to fame during yesterday's televised press conference telephone call, which was reminiscent of interviews from the space shuttle.

"I admired him a lot, his professional talents in the ring. Just to be on the same card as him, fighting in Hawaii, I guess that's one of my wildest dreams. I didn't know it was going to come true. I thought about it, growing up. It sure would be nice if Jesus Salud and some of the great boxing champions from Hawaii would be on the same card."

At that moment, Salud tried to duck in unnoticed, but even a closed-circuit picture doesn't blink. As soon as the former world champion faced the camera, Viloria stopped midsentence.

"Hey Jesus!" the Olympic boxer shouted, the most animated he was all day. "He zoomed right past."

These days, it's Viloria who's zooming to the top. True, local promoter Tom Moffatt gave Salud his due, allowing him to top the five-bout card set for May 15 at the Hawaii Convention Center. But it's Viloria's four-round professional debut that's the headline act.

He's the reason ESPN wants to kick off its boxing series, "2001 Tuesday Night Fights" in Hawaii. Having Salud fight up-and-comer Fernando "Bobby Boy" Velardez in a 10-round match is a great way to close the show, a symbolic passing of the torch.

"Jesus is a proven draw in Hawaii," Moffatt said. "He's fighting a guy ranked in the top 10 who knocked out (local boxer) Dustin Kim in the first round. We're excited about this opportunity and if it does well, we have a chance to host more fights with ESPN."

If Viloria is feeling the pressure of reviving local boxing, he doesn't show it. Thanks to careful planning by Team Viloria, his debut will have a stage all its own. Earlier this year, several Olympic boxers began their pro careers as part of an HBO show at Madison Square Garden. Pretty heady stuff, something Viloria would never forget.

Instead, he returns to where boxing can begin again if success hitches a ride. There's little questioning Viloria's ability. When he steps into the ring to spar, champions past and present stand in awe.

Even at yesterday's workout in California, former champ James Toney raved at the power this young man packs on his light flyweight frame. Can Viloria pick up where Salud left off and do even more?

Those in his corner think so.

"It gives me a great push to do well in this sport," Viloria said. "A lot of people here are always asking when I will fight next. Most of my family will be there. It's going to be very exciting."

As of yesterday, Viloria still didn't have an opponent. That's not a problem for Salud, who will be stepping into the ring for the 73rd time. He is 62-10, with 37 wins by knockout. Half of his losses were world title events, including the sixth-round TKO scored by World Boxing Organization champ Marco Antonio Barrera last December in Las Vegas.

Viloria will be fortunate to last as long. That was part of the reason he opted not to continue as an amateur. As he put it, "This is a dangerous sport." As Salud put it, "I'm still talking straight." That's the way Viloria wants it to be once his days are numbered.

As for Salud, the ride is still fun. He began his pro career in Hawaii on a hot June evening in 1983, when he scored a third-round knockout of Cesar Zulueta. Salud enjoys the training, the time spent on the road and in the ring.

Once that passion dies, he will put up the gloves. For now, he prepares for another dangerous up-and-comer, the kind who can send a career in the wrong direction.

"He's a real tough guy," Salud said. "He's ranked ninth in the world. He's had some impressive wins. It should be an exciting fight. Brian being on the undercard is really something.

"I knew him when he was a little kid growing up and watching him develop like that. My opinion, he's going to do good in the pros because he can punch. He has all the tools to be a world champion."

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