MANILA, Philippines — For many foreigners, the signs of chronic poverty that plague the Philippines are difficult to digest. For Giovani Segura, it’s an all too familiar sight.
Growing up in Guerrero, Mexico, Segura and his siblings often went days without eating when food was scarce. His morning jogs around Manila’s Mall of Asia connect him with sights that could have been ripped straight from his childhood.
“There’s poor people around and that breaks my heart, but at the same time it encourages me because I was poor like that,’ said Segura (28-1-1, 24 knockouts), the WBO junior flyweight champ, rated No. 9 in THE RING’s pound for pound top 10. “It reminds me of where I’m coming from, and it keeps me humble and it just gives me that push. When you’re tired, you remember those things. I just thank God and pray for all of those people.”
The 29-year-old southpaw, who now resides in Bell, Calif., is in the Philippines for business, not pleasure, as he prepares to face WBO flyweight titleholder Brian Viloria (29-3, 16 KOs) of Waipahu, Hawaii, at the Yñares Sports Arena in Pasig City this Saturday night (Sunday morning in the Philippines).
Instead of being deterred by the strangeness of unfamiliar surroundings, Segura embraces the new culture, including a new favorite dish sinigang na isda, a Filipino fish soup with peppers and vegetables.
“I want to eat everything around me,” said Segura, who is moving up four pounds from the 108-pound division. “We go to the Mall of Asia and we’re just surrounded by food. We go to Pollo Loco and McDonalds and pass it and go ‘Oh what’s this? I want to eat this!'”
Segura arrived last Wednesday to help acclimate to the time and weather change, while Viloria arrived Saturday.
The time difference is nine hours ahead of California with temperatures routinely reaching into the 80s.The fight will take place at 9 a.m. Philippines time to accommodate U.S. and Mexican television commitments; it will be aired by Solar Sports and GMA 7 in the Philippines.
Segura took advantage of the early arrival to finish up sparring at the Planet Jupiter Boxing Club in Makati City, working with Southern California-based featherweight Walter Sarnoi (8-2, 5 KOs) and highly-regarded Filipino flyweight prospect Froilan “The Sniper” Saludar (13-0-1, 10 KO).
Sarnoi, who is four divisions larger than Segura, has served as a sparring partner for former bantamweight titleholder Yonnhy Perez and says that Segura is by far the hardest punching fighter he’s ever faced.
If Segura is surrounded by new experiences, the man across from him is no stranger. Viloria, 31, and Segura, 29, were long-time gym mates out of the Azteca Boxing Gym in Bell, Calif. Segura helped Viloria prepare for five of his fights, including the Eric Ortiz fight where Viloria won his first world title.
Viloria relocated to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., when word of this fight came about.
“Giovani got the better of it, by far,” Segura’s manager, Richard Mota, said of the sparring sessions. “I think Giovani has a psychological step on him because Viloria knows what he’s in for. It could work both ways. If Segura goes in there thinking ‘Oh, I beat him up in sparring, it’s going to be an easy fight for me,’ you’re in the wrong state of mind.”
Segura also holds knockout victories over Filipino contenders Sonny Boy Jaro and Juanito Rubillar, and has a decision win over Carlos Tamara, the last man to defeat Viloria.
“We know each other, our good and bad things,” said Segura. “We also know that there are no secrets between me and him. It’s no secret, he’s going to move around, he’s going to try to outbox me, I’m going to try to cut the ring.”
The fight being in the Philippines has another benefit for Segura; his trainer Javier Capetillo will be allowed to work the corner. Capetillo was banned from working corners in America for his part in the illegal hand wrapping scandal involving his former fighter Antonio Margarito prior to a 2009 fight with Shane Mosley, which he lost by knockout.
Segura doesn’t view it as that big of an advantage, however. Segura wasn’t allowed to have Capetillo in the corner prior to his first breakout victory over undefeated modern ring legend Ivan Calderon in Puerto Rico last year, and wound up winning by a knockout in the eighth. In a rematch earlier this year in Mexico, Segura had Capetillo in his corner and stopped him in the third round.
For all of the potential for fireworks that this fight has, it still remains a secret super fight. Segura blames it on a bias U.S. media and networks have against the lighter weight classes, particularly the sub-bantamweight divisions, and views that hurdle as a challenge he hopes to meet head-on in the ring.
“We’re in the little divisions, which the people and networks don’t care about,” said Segura. “We’ve got boring fighters who are winning millions of dollars, and sadly we don’t win that much money. This is our chance to prove what we’ve got and what we can do in these little divisions.
“The fans like to see their champions win, and why not win by knockout? Why not say, ‘Hey Brian, let’s knock each other out. Let’s give the crowd what they want.'”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.