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Early nights for a late bloomer
On a KO streak, Magdaleno takes on Perez on ShoBox

Story and photos by Chris Cozzone

Here’s what we used to hear at ringside:

“Diego Magdaleno’s fighting tonight? Krist, can you spell ‘distance?’ It’s ‘D-I-E-G-O.’”

Here’s what we hear now: “Diego’s fighting? Nice. Shoot quick.”

Before last year, no one expected to go home early on a card carrying the Las Vegas fancy dancer, who had just three kayos on a strong of 15 wins. But after four straight wins, cut short at the halfway mark, or less, the kid with the biggest local fan base in Sin City has earned himself a new nickname: “I’m a K.O.”

Dig a little deeper and you’ll hear the debate: “Ya can’t get a knockout punch overnight,” says one camp. “Must be Top Rank’s matchmakers – dem boys, Bruce and Brad, are geniuses.”

While no one in Magdaleno’s camp disputes the plan Top Rank has in store for their fighters, both, Diego and younger brother, Jessie, trainer Pat Barry says there is a perfectly good reason his late bloomer has started ending his fights early.

“It didn’t just come out of nowhere,” Barry said this week after a training session with Magdaleno. “It’s been there along but wasn’t being shown, or utilized.”

What changed, then?

“Early on, it was about going from amateur to pro,” says Barry. “We were going four, then six, then eight . . . I think, subconsciously, there was some concern about going the distance. Once he started doing that, he started to listen to what his corner was telling him – to open up.”

Magdaleno gestures to his head, not his fists, when explaining his newfound knack for the knockout.

“It’s always been about being comfortable in the ring,” he says. “And using the strongest muscle you have in your body – your head. Once I had the focus, it was easy to do the rest.”

Magdaleno, rated No. 11 in the WBC and No. 6 by the WBA, will have the chance to score the biggest knockout of his life Friday night, when he steps into the ring on the 10th Anniversary of ShoBox Friday night at Texas Station Casino in Las Vegas. Magdaleno, 19-0, 7 KOs, will be up against his toughest foe to date in Alejandro Perez, 15-2, 10 KOs, of Salinas, Calif.

Perez has never been stopped and is coming off the biggest win of his career, an upset KO-in-one over former contender Antonio Escalante. It’ll be Perez’s second fight at 130 pounds – a weight Magdaleno has been at for his entire career.

“There’s more at stake with every fight I have,” says Magdaleno, who will be defending his NABF strap. “But I’m motivated by pressure. I know Perez is tough – he’s durable – but he’s coming up to my weight class. We’ll see how that’s going to effect him.”

Trainer Barry discounts the move up in weight for Perez.

“We know he’s trained for this and he’s ready,” says Barry. “Perez is saying this is his natural weight and he’ll be stronger – none of that matters. None of that will change his style and that’s what we capitalize on.”

“Will he be my toughest opponent?” asks Magdaleno. “I’ll determine that after.”

Passing on calling out anyone at 130 pounds, Magdaleno says he’s fine with letting Top Rank pick the next victim, should he get by Perez.

Barry, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem:

“If they got a belt,” he says, “we want ‘em.”


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