Rudy Hernandez (left), here wrapping the hands of Urbano Antillon at the Maywood Boxing Club in Maywood, Calif., says the exciting lightweight contender is the hardest working fighter he's ever trained. Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
Of the 150 Bell High School students who took time from their lunch period to check out a courtyard pep rally in honor of Urbano Antillon last Friday, 30 or so formed a line to meet the shy but appreciative alumnus.
Few, if any of the curious kids who got an autograph or had their picture taken with Antillon knew that he’s an undefeated lightweight contender on the cusp of a world title bout and high-profile fights that would do his Bell, Calif.-based alma mater proud.
To them, Antillon is just a young man who went to their school and now boxes for a living. And that’s fine with the 26-year-old resident of nearby Maywood.
When Antillon began boxing at age 11, all he wanted was to be a professional fighter. His goal wasn’t to win an Olympic gold medal or a world championship. He didn’t dream about getting rich or famous. He never wanted to emulate Julio Cesar Chavez or Oscar De La Hoya.
Antillon just wanted to make an honest living by boxing, and maybe see a little bit of the world through the sport.
He’s done that, compiling an impressive record (26-0, 19 knockouts) since turning pro in late 2000 and twice traveling to Tokyo for fights — an experience he loved so much he’s vowed to move to Japan for at least one year after he retires.
However, Antillon has a lot of fighting and traveling ahead of him. The next phase of his boxing career begins this Saturday when he takes on Miguel Acosta in Tepic, Mexico. It should be good fight. Acosta (26-3-2, 19 KOs) is an experienced fighter from Venezuela who is on a 16-bout win streak that includes decisions over former titleholder Jose Alfaro and talented (and then-undefeated) Anges Adjaho.
Antillon-Acosta was originally the 10-round opening bout to Top Rank’s “Latin Fury 10” pay-per-view card that was to be co-headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and featherweight phenom Yuriorkis Gamboa. However, visa problems pulled Gamboa from the card and Chavez Jr. was scratched after suffering a training injury, which elevated Antillon’s bout to the main event.
If that didn’t add importance to Saturday’s headliner, the WBA recently sanctioning the fight as an “interim” title bout certainly did.
“When I followed my brother into the sport all those years ago, all I wanted was to be a pro,” Antillon told boxing writers after a recent media workout at the Maywood Boxing Club, “but when they told me the Acosta fight would be for the WBA interim title, I thought to myself ‘Finally! After nine years, it’s here.’”
The jury is still out as to whether Antillon, THE RING’s No. 10-rated lightweight, has the ability to defeat the elite fighters in the 135-pound division. However, his promotional company, Top Rank, believes it’s time to find out.
“Antillon has already fought in mid-level main events (televised on Telefutura and Azteca America) against mid-level opponents and he’s looked good,” said Bruce Trampler, head matchmaker for Top Rank, which has promoted Antillon since 2005. “Now it’s time to take the next step and see how he does at the world-title level.
“The significance of Saturday’s bout is that it’s for a WBA interim title, which puts him half a step away from fighting for their world title. If he wins — and that’s not a given because Acosta is a tough guy — he’s almost there. It’s a matter of positioning, but once he’s at that level, then we’ll see what he’s got.”
That should be interesting. Antillon is a gutsy, pressure fighter whose iron will, brutal body attack and crisp power punches not only make for entertaining fights but have resulted in nine consecutive knockouts.
However, that streak was compiled against journeymen and fringe contenders (at best), some of whom were junior lightweights.
The best of the lightweight division — which includes relentless sluggers like Juan Diaz, savvy vets like Joel Casamayor and perhaps the sport’s hardest puncher pound for pound, Edwin Valero — won’t fold so easily. In fact, most of the Top-10 lightweight contenders would be favored to beat Antillon if he were to fight them this year.
“How far can Urbano go? I don’t know,” Trampler said. “It depends on who he fights, but there aren’t any easy marks at 135 (pounds). Any division where you have a Valero is a tough division. Manny (Pacquiao) can still make lightweight. He weighed in at 138 pounds in his last fight.”
The lightweight division is indeed a tough weight class, but ask anyone who’s sparred with Antillon — which is pretty much every talented fighter from featherweight to junior middleweight who trains in Southern California — and they will tell you without hesitation that the Maywood fighter is the definition of “tough.“
“It doesn’t matter what you hit him with, he just keeps coming,” said Carlos Molina, an undefeated young lightweight prospect who recently sparred with Antillon. “He’s definitely the toughest guy I’ve ever sparred with.”
Antillon, who has gone tit for tat with both Valero and Manny Pacquiao in well-documented gym wars, says he’s eager to prove his mettle against the best.
He foresees an eventual clash with Valero, who once separated him from his senses in a sparring session that took place when both were prospects.
“I know there will be an Edwin Valero fight in my future,” Antillon said. “That’s a fight I’ve been looking forward to ever since we sparred years ago. We sparred some great rounds in the gym; now we can put on a great fight. We’re both undefeated, we’re both tough and we both like to come forward and bang. Fights like that are what motivate me because win, lose or draw I know I’ll give the fans their money's worth.”
If you had asked Antillon’s trainer, Rudy Hernandez, whether his fighter could beat Valero four or five years ago, he would have said no. However, the young man’s Spartan work ethic, which has led to marked improvement in recent years, has Hernandez believing that Antillon can beat any lightweight in the world on a good night.
“When I first started working with Urbano, his mother told me that when he was a baby he used to play until he literally dropped to the floor asleep where he stood,” said Hernandez, who has trained Antillon since he was 12. “That’s how he is now in the gym. He always gives 100 percent. He gives until he’s got nothing left, and then he somehow gives a little more.”
Hernandez, himself a former fighter, has trained numerous world-class boxers over the past two decades, most notably his brother Genaro, a former two-time junior lightweight champ. He says Antillon works harder and has more desire to improve than anyone he has ever worked with.
“It’s great to work with a fighter like Urbano, who wants to work hard and wants to succeed,” Hernandez said. “He’s the one fighter I’ve trained who wanted it more than I did. With my other fighters, even my brother Genaro, it always felt like I wanted to succeed more than they did. Not so with Urbano, and that’s why he’s special to me.”
Urbano’s work ethic has even rubbed off on Trampler, who usually avoids any sort of emotional attachment to the fighters he helps guide.
“Antillon is a great kid, a great person,” Trampler said. “When we do shows in Maywood, cards he’s not fighting on, he shows up to help us put up the ring and set up chairs. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.
“He’s the kind of guy you root for. I hope he has a bright future, not for us (Top Rank) but for him, because he deserves it.”
Only time will tell whether Antillon realizes his promoter’s hopes and his trainer’s expectations, but even if the Bell High grad doesn’t go on to win a world title or make a few big paydays, he has already done his alma mater proud by living up to its motto:
“Honor lies in honest toil.”
Doug Fischer’s column appear every Thursday. He can be reached at email@example.com