Star-Bulletin Sports

Monday, May 14, 2001


Viloria leads comeback
for boxing in Hawaii

Local boxing expert says the
Olympian is worthy of the hype

By Dave Reardon

Bobby Lee has seen it all in boxing.

Lee, 80, has been an administrator in the sport for more than 50 years and an active participant and avid observer of the local and international fight game for even longer.

The Aiea resident has never been one to hype a hometown boy just because he's from Hawaii. Lee takes a wide view of the boxing game, and that is why he is respected throughout the world.

So when Lee -- currently a vice president of the World Boxing Council -- says Waipahu's Brian Viloria is the real deal and can revive the sport in Hawaii, he is worth listening to.

Lee said the buzz among the local boxing community over Viloria's professional debut tomorrow at the Hawaii Convention Center is palpable and unprecedented.

"This is something different in the history of Hawaii boxing. There have been other Olympians, but not with the anticipation and hope that this young man brings," Lee said. "This is something different."

Viloria's flyweight bout against Ben Jun Escobia (13-13-3) at 3 p.m. is actually just one of five preliminary fights to a main event featuring another local boy: Former world champion Jesus Salud, who comes from the same Waipahu Boxing Club as Viloria.

Salud (62-10-0) fights Fernando "Bobby Boy" Velardez (17-4-1). He has never lost in Hawaii and has been a worthy representative of the islands when away for nearly 20 years. But Salud doesn't have the cachet of Viloria now, if he ever did.

"When you fight in the Olympics, things are accelerated for you," Salud said, without bitterness. "I had to move up the hard way."

Never has a four-round, undercard fight brought so much attention and apprehension.

Lee was right in the center of Hawaii's rich boxing past, which includes a bevy of champions, including Bobo Olson, Dado Marino and Andy Ganigan. He's also seen that legacy fade over the past several decades to the point where pro boxing is all but dead here.

He said Viloria, an articulate 20-year-old, is a key to reviving the state's fight game.

"There are a lot of trainers and preliminary fighters who are hoping if Brian prospers it will give them a chance," Lee said. "Hawaii is still a good boxing town. It's been down for a while, but I think Hawaii is hungry and the state's looking for a new star. They're hoping against hope that this is the man who will bring boxing back in Hawaii."

Viloria -- who has always been as precocious in attitude as he is in punching power -- said he feels no added pressure in being The Great Hawaii Hope.

"I'm just focused on the next fight," he said.

The closest thing to a controversy surrounding Viloria was the length of time he took to turn pro. While the assumption may have been financial leveraging, Viloria said he just wanted to take his time and select the right handlers. Plus, after losing in the second round of the Olympics, he needed time to decide whether to go for the gold in 2004.

Those who know him well say the only baggage Viloria carries goes into the overhead compartment.

"He's extremely low-maintenance," said trainer Freddie Roach. "He makes my job easy -- almost too easy."

The word is that Viloria will be an even better pro than amateur (the ranks from which he became a world champion).

Roach said the reason is that the pro game will make his punching power -- particularly to the body -- more valuable. Also, his exquisite vision will come into play more without the hindrance of headgear.

The biggest question mark regarding Viloria's pro potential also concerns the lack of headgear. How will Viloria, whose high cheekbones make him look vulnerable, take being cut?

"And it will happen," Roach said. "He's quick, but there will be headbutts, that kind of stuff. We're working on improving on his passive defense. As an amateur, he could just slap punches away. As a pro, he will have to counter more."

Call Escobia what you want. A tomato can. A designated loser. But a pro fighter with an equal number of professional wins and losses above 10 is guaranteed to be two things: Experienced and tough.

And he won't care that Brian Viloria is supposed to save boxing in Hawaii.


What: ESPN Tuesday Night Fights

Where: Hawaii Convention Center

When: Tomorrow, 3 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m.

Main event: Jesus Salud vs. Fernando "Bobby Boy" Velardez

Prelims: Brian Viloria vs. Ben Jun Escobia, Jose Navarro vs. Carlos Zambrano, Ann Wolfe vs. Vienna Williams, Trena Drotar vs. Roberta Baldeagle, John Lopez vs. Anthony Simpkins.

Ticket prices: $25-$100, available at Blaisdell box office, Ticket Plus Outlets. Also, charge by phone at 526-4400. Available at Hawaii Convention Center 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Information: Tom Moffatt Productions, 593-8333.

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