What does Arnold Barboza Jr. have to do to get the boxing world's respect?
The 140 lber is fighting undefeated Danielito Zorrilla as the main event of the ESPN telecast card on July 15th, at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, in Temecula, California. The winner should be next in line for a world title – the keyword should be.
Barboza's story has not been told yet, but soon that should change. A major point of focus is Barboza's father, Arnold Barboza Sr., and how close the two are. Barboza's father was a kickboxer but boxed a lot, as Barboza Jr. is always quick to point out in interviews. The two would fight on the same smoker shows when Barboza was a child between the ages of five and eight.
In fact, Barboza Jr. once had to fight a kickboxer in an exhibition bout, as he boxed all the other opponents prior. Barboza had to deal with his opponent throwing kicks while he stuck to a simple jab-cross. Yet, Barboza fell out of love with boxing by the end of middle school and was over the sport by the time high-school hit. Barboza was pushed hard as a child and was burnt out. Barboza recalls it as having a very limited childhood.
Waking up at 5 am to run, followed by eating a waffle, heading to school, back home to do homework, heading to the gym, getting home at 6 o'clock after he trained and his father trained other fighters, shower, and going to bed. It was a far cry from the after-school afternoons many of us, now 30-plus-year-olds, had of watching cartoons or playing outside casually.
Barboza finished school and realized that college wasn't in the cards for him. Multiple street fights in quick succession, a deep boxing pedigree, and frustration from working a dead-end job at a warehouse had Barboza Jr. thinking he'd try boxing for something to do. Keep in mind Barboza was close to 200 lbs as he was a football player during his high school years and now had to relegate his weight to the unforeseen weights of 140 lbs.
His father didn't believe he was serious when he returned to the gym. Probably a bit of heartache from his son leaving the sport, and wouldn't hold mitts for him for over a year until he saw he was serious about returning.
Barboza Jr. turned pro and was essentially a club fighter in the L.A. area until getting signed by Top Rank Inc. for the sparring he gave Mike Alvarado prior to Alvarado's fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. Alvarado relocated his camp to the L.A. area, and Barboza was credited with giving him vital sparring to help him put on a tremendous performance even in a losing effort against the Mexican legend.
Since signing with Top Rank, Barboza Jr. has been a company guy, easy to work with, and a true role model for an underdog looking to achieve in the sport. Barboza Jr. is the guy we all say we want fighters to be, but when they appear, a lot of people still flock to fighters doing bad things outside of the ring or more flamboyant things than Barboza, which is a shame.
I have always been drawn to Barboza as a fighter, for his talent, and his virtues as a person, as I have no issue in saying I will defend Arnold Barboza Jr because I know the type of person he is. He is a good one. I first met Barboza at a club show; he beat a very good regional fighter from Northern California who relocated to Southern California in Maximilliano Becerra at the Burbank Marriott, which I remember being across the street from the airport. It was a time in which a lot of Top Rank's developmental shows were on Spanish language television, Solo Boxeo, to be exact and good fights were not seen as regularly by the masses as they often aired on tape delay late at night.
Barboza would really make an impression on me when he fought my Northern California brethren, Jonathan Chicas. The two had a fight of the year-type bout that Barboza edged a close decision as Barboza dropped Chicas in round three, and Barboza would go down in round five. It was a great fight – but it went unnoticed. The type of fight that grooms a world champion is probably why matchmakers Brad Goodman and Bruce Trampler had Barboza in that fight at the time.
In what looked like Barboza's moment to go to the next level, Barboza fought Mike Reed at the StubHub Center. Jose Ramirez had just had a highlight-reel K.O. of Mike Reed in Fresno, California. That performance vaulted him into a world title fight against Amir Imam for the vacant WBC 140 lbs title that Terence Crawford had just vacated.
Seemingly a win here would get Barboza in the world title conversation – yet no.
I took a trip to L.A. to see the then-highly touted Jaime Munguia, a guy who the boxing world was curious to see if he was going to be a star. Munguia held an elaborate workout prior at the Westside Boxing Club in Los Angeles, California. After a bit of pad work, I left and went to a random unassuming fitness gym to meet Arnold Barboza Jr., who a mutual friend told me I should be in contact with.
Barboza stood out much more than Munguia. I think time and history is proving my perception to also be true. From his demeanor to his methodology to the words Barboza used. You could tell he wanted the most out of boxing, whereas Munguia looked like a big puncher, a Godzilla of a man, who didn't believe anyone could handle his power. One looked to be trying to get the most out of his mortality; the other looked to be someone whose life was going to be humbled.
A perfect example of Arnold Barboza Jr. was when the pandemic hit, Barboza bought a treadmill for his house to train and not endanger others. That type of compassion is rarely seen in this sport. Three years later, I feel confident I made the right choice leaving the Munguia media workout ten minutes in to spend an afternoon with Arnold Barboza.
Based on Barboza's amateur career, he shouldn't be at the top of the sport. Still, Barboza is a testament to a high-character individual who worked hard and has created his own destiny—just doing everything he can to be great. Not to say he didn't have amateur fights, but because of his break, he never competed against the best at nationals, and different tiers as a growing child, not unlike most of the top pros today.
Meeting Barboza at this fitness gym was like meeting a long-time friend. Barboza is just a really nice person, reasonable, and understanding. A true professional more akin to an NFL player than a boxer, as in the middle of shooting his workout, another media member also began filming his workout, even though it was just a random weekday workout for Barboza.
Barboza would have a grudge match with Manuel Lopez that went under the radar but made him have to quail his emotions. He would face the man who gave him his biggest break in the sport, Mike Alvarado, as he stopped the former world champion. He would have a fight of the year contender with Alex Saucedo, the last fight of Saucedo's career before he had to Saucedo to retire.
Barboza has done everything asked of him, and even more so, he is tired of explaining it as well. Barboza just wants respect in a boxing world that seemingly only calls two-to-three fighters per division good, which isn't right.
So now we get to the present, Barboza Jr., who could be a doppelgänger for Rodney Dangerfield at this point in terms of the amount of respect he is being given in boxing for the tough road he has traveled, will face Miguel Cotto Promotions' Danielito Zorrilla, a fighter who people have had high hopes for, but let's be honest is underachieving.
It is an overachiever versus an underachiever, if we put it bluntly.
This truly is Barboza's moment, as he will be fighting at the Pechanga Resort, a venue that saw Devin Haney fight on ShoBox not long before his ascent in the sport; Barboza will look to not just win here but get into the mix for some form of a world title – and if not that a big name.
The sleeping giant of this story is the 140 lbs division, which is a real division. Some divisions are top-heavy, like say, light heavyweight, junior middleweight or cruiserweight, 140 lbs, is a division in which you look at the names of the guys who are there from, Josh Taylor, Regis Prograis, Jose Ramirez, Jose Zepeda, and even Teofimo Lopez.
At the top of this division, you don't have much room to be a fraud or protected. This is why I have so much respect for Josh Taylor and also why I think Taylor doesn't have much left in his career as a pro, as he has fought a grueling schedule that took a lot out of him. Guys who often fight at 140 lbs are destined to get burnt out.
Barboza Jr.'s team also has a new edition in power broker and manager Rick Mirigian, who is known for working with Jose Ramirez and Vergil Ortiz Jr.
The big question now is, can Barboza land a Teofimo Lopez fight or a world title fight. With all four belts being in the hands of Josh Taylor and Taylor not moving up to welterweight anymore, it is up to the sanctioning bodies to mandate him as a #1 contender or strip Taylor of a belt. Add to the fact that Taylor and Jack Catterall seem to be looking to a rematch, meaning the WBC 140 lbs belt will now be determined by Jose “Chon” Zepeda vs. Jose Ramirez, a date to be determined.
Barboza recently got frustrated and mad when Junior Lopez, the father of Teofimo Lopez, downplayed Barboza Jr. as a tune-up type fight for his son, Teofimo Lopez. The anger, at least to me, comes from years of not getting a chance and not getting his respect for being a legitimate top-5 140 lbs fighter in the division, and still having to introduce himself to most people in the room, as a lot of fight fans don't know who he is just yet.
Barboza wants his shot at greatness, but when looking at the fighter in the top ten of the sanctioning bodies, Arnold Barboza Jr. is the only fighter at 140 lbs who has not had a shot at a world title.
I find it hard not to root for Arnold Barboza Jr. If you have ever had to earn something, come up a grueling path, or felt hopeless yet talented, Arnold Barboza is your guy. If anything, he is such a class act he gets punished by our circus sport of boxing for being such a good role model of class, dignity, and respect. Not being classless or a jerk has seemingly punished Barboza, which is a shame.
Barboza, who spent well over a month at the Top Rank Inc Boxing Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada, in preparation, is now at the top of the bill as Barboza has worked his way from the first fight on the card all the way to a headliner outlasting seemingly all the other prospects signed in his era.
No matter what happens or how Barboza's story ends, the story itself is a testament to one's own self-belief and conviction in their words and actions towards a goal.