The tragectory of a world champion’s career tends to follow a standard path. He shows promise in the amateur ranks and attracts a supportive teams of trainers, managers and promoters who make sure his career is handled carefully. At first he fights four rounders against opponents who barely belong in the same ring with him. He graduates from there to experienced trial horses who have the experience to test him but lack the natural ability to truly threaten him.
From there, it’s the sort of journeymen and fringe contenders who could potentially send the prospect tumbling back to reality. If he gets by them, he’ll finally face other true contenders.
This is hardly an easy road to follow. But certain stars, like Orlando Salido, still follow a far tougher course.
Salido turned professional at age 15, in 1996. He lost by TKO. After his first 20 fights, his record was 11-7-2. Still, he hung tough and his true talent slowly emerged. He became a contender. In 2004, he fought for his first world title, losing to WBA featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, one of the great fighters of his generation.
In 2006, Salido beat Guerrero for the IBF title at 126 pounds, before the verdict was over turned when Salido tested positive for steroids.
Salido finally became a world champion when he defeated Cristobal Cruz in 2010. He lost that belt in his very next fight, in a unification bout with WBA champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.
At the time, Gamboa vs. undefeated Puerto Rican slugger Juan Manuel Lopez was viewed as one of the sport’s most promising bouts. But Salido derailed that by stopping Lopez in Round 8 in April 2011, to capture the WBO featherweight belt. He knocked Lopez out a second time in the rematch.
Lopez has been one of this generation’s most exciting fighters. In September 2014 he won the WBO super featherweight belt in one of the year’s best bouts, a seven-knockdown shootout with Terdsak Kotkietgym. He dropped that belt to Roman Martinez in another terrific bout in April 2015. Their September 2015 rematch was even better, with Martinez retaining his title on a draw that really should have gone for Salido.
Lopez has a very tough bout in front of him this weekend, when he faces WBC super featherweight champion Francisco Vargas. Vargas is an all-action fighter himself, having captured his title from Takashi Miura in last year’s Fight of the Year. Vargas showed tremendous cougage to come back and knock Mirua out with one eye swelling shut.
Salido vs. Vargas could very well be this year’s Fight of the Year.