Much has changed for Giovani Segura since his first fight with Ivan Calderon, which he won by eighth-round stoppage.
Segura, who will face Calderon in an anticipated rematch on Saturday, unified two alphabet belts and lifted THE RING’s junior flyweight title from the aging master boxer last August. However, Segura’s “champion” status in the 108-pound division was only one of the rewards he earned by upsetting Calderon, who was unbeaten in 35 consecutive bouts.
His hard-fought victory was THE RING magazine’s Fight of the Year for 2010. And earlier this year, the 29-year-old puncher cracked THE RING’s Pound-for-Pound ratings at No. 10.
The past six months have been like a dream to Segura, who didn’t lace on a pair of boxing gloves until his late teens and only had a dozen or so amateur bouts before turning pro in 2003.
“I can’t believe what’s happened,” said Segura, whose rematch with Calderon takes place in Mexicali, Mexico, on an Integrated Sports Pay-Per-View broadcast. “I used to stop by a newsstand near a park where I did my road work just to read THE RING. I didn’t have any money to buy it, I would be standing there in my sweats looking out for the security guard. Every time a new magazine came out I had to stop by the newsstand so I could flip through the rankings pages to see if was ranked yet.
“I used to do this all the time when I first turned pro. It seems like yesterday. Now I’m the champ and I’m rated No. 10 (pound for pound). It all happened so fast that it gets to the point where I can’t think about it because I get so emotional, so excited.”
There are fans and boxing writers who question Segura’s placement anywhere near the pound-for-pound Top 10. Let’s face it, he doesn’t remind anyone of Michael Carbajal or Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez in terms of skill. Describing his style as “raw” is being kind to the Southern Californian.
Segura doesn‘t try to hide that fact.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a good fighter,” he said. “I can‘t box at all, but being ranked where I am now pushes me to work harder and try to improve my skills in the gym.”
Segura is sincere in his intentions, but he knows that he’ll never come close to achieving the fluid ring generalship of someone like Calderon. That’s OK. Segura (26-1-1, 22 knockouts) makes up for his lack of technique, defense and footwork with his fierce fighting heart, relentless pressure-fighting style and bone-jarring punching power.
Hardcore fans can expect the southpaw slugger to pit his warrior wares against the best fighters from junior flyweight to bantamweight now that he‘s a well-regarded champ. There may be more deserving boxers for that No. 10 spot on THE RING’s Pound-for-Pound list but it’s safe to say that no other fighter in any of the various mythical ratings are as grateful as Segura is to be considered an elite fighter.
As soon as he received the honor he began to think of ways to justify it and even advance his placement.
“Friends ask me how can I top what I did last year,” Segura said. “It’s easy to answer. Let’s just do the fights people want to see. People tell me they want to see me against ‘Chocolatito’ [WBA 108-pound beltholder Roman Gonzalez]. Everybody’s talking about that fight. I have no problem fighting fighters like that. I’m here to fight the best.”
Gonzalez certainly counts as quality opposition. The 23-year-old Nicaraguan was THE RING’s No. 1-rated strawweight for two years until he recently entered the junior flyweight division and won a major belt. Gonzalez is a powerful and well-schooled technician whose impressive record (28-0, 23 KOs) commands respect from casual fans who couldn't care less that he was a protégé of the late, great Alexis Arguello.
“I struggle to make 108 (pounds), but if the people want that fight, if they’re asking for it, why not give it to them?” Segura said.
Segura, a self-described hardcore fan, believes a showdown with Gonzalez could be the highest-profile and most-exciting 108-pound title bout since the first Carbajal-Gonzalez fight back in 1993.
“I think we have the style and the knockouts to make an even better fight than they did back in the day,” he said. “We’ve got the opportunity to make some money, too. Carbajal and Gonzalez fought for a million dollars. That’s why I would tell Roman, ‘Don’t be dumb, don’t be stupid. This is the time. Let’s do it.’
“Let’s make a great fight. That fight will definitely go to a knockout. I will confidently say that I will brutally knockout Chocolatito if it happens.”
Segura plans do to the same thing to Calderon, who he must defeat on Saturday before he can really focus on any other future dream fights.
“I have to beat Calderon up worse than I did last time because this rematch is in Mexico,” said Segura, who was born and raised in Altamirano, Guerrero, Mexico, until he was 14 years old. “This is my home country. The fans know me there. They know what to expect. They want a hardcore fight, and they want a brutal knockout, and I have to give (them) that.
“I have to find a way to please the crowd. I have to find a way to represent the Mexican fans and represent what I have become, a true warrior who is going to go out and destroy my opponents.”
“Destroying” Calderon won’t be an easy task for Segura even though the classy veteran was stopped in their first fight and he’s 36 years old. Next to Floyd Mayweather Jr., the proud Puerto Rican was the sport’s best pure boxer of the last 10 years. He has the experience and ability to outbox Segura over 12 rounds given the right circumstances.
Calderon (34-1-1, 6 KOs) is banking on Segura’s well-documented struggle to make the junior flyweight limit to give him the edge he needs to avenge his only defeat. Calderon might be able to outmaneuver Segura if the bantamweight-sized champ drains himself to boil his body down to 108 pounds.
Don’t bet on that happening, says Segura.
“It’s true, I used to battle the scale, but not anymore,” he said. “The last fight was a nightmare. I would wake up in the middle of the night crying, desperate to eat, desperate to drink water.”
Most world-class boxers would hire a nutritional specialist or add a conditioning coach to their team, but Segura went to his family with his weight problems and found an unexpected ally in his battle to remain a junior flyweight.
“My mom stepped up and said, ‘I’m going to make sure you don’t have to go through that again,’” Segura said. “She’s staying at my house with me, cooking all of my meals, making sure I eat right. And she’s the worst bully I ever had. Every time I walk near the kitchen she’s behind me asking ‘Can I help you, Mijo? What are you looking for?’
“My mom’s been the toughest one in this camp. She doesn’t have the mom’s heart anymore. She’s like ‘I’m sorry but I’m going to do my job.’”
She’s done her job well, according to Richard Mota, Segura’s manager.
“He’s had a way better camp for this fight than he did for the first fight,” Mota said. “Two weeks before the first fight he was at junior featherweight (122 pounds) or featherweight (126 pounds). He was down around 115, 114 (pounds) two weeks before the rematch.”
Mota says Segura has looked sharper in sparring during this camp. If his controlled weight and better focus leads to a repeat victory over Calderon on Saturday, perhaps hardcore fans can begin to beat the drums for a Gonzalez showdown in earnest.
Segura says fans can start clamoring for a number of intriguing matchups.
“Let’s go to THE RING magazine and check out the ratings,” he said. “We’ve got the man from Thailand [RING flyweight champ Pongsaklek Wonjongkam]. We have the Kameda brothers [Koki, a bantamweight titleholder, and Daiki, a flyweight beltholder]. We have Hugo Cazares [THE RING’s No. 1-rated junior bantamweight].
"We got a bunch of fighters who can make for great fights. It’s all about making it happen.”