Saturday, January 10, 2009

For Luis Collazo, It's Now Or Never

Luis Collazo is hoping for a change in luck on Saturday night in Biloxi, Mississippi.

You won't find his name on any of boxing's pound-for-pound lists. When the big fights are hashed out and put together by the big promoters in the back rooms at the television networks, his name is rarely mentioned.

Many are of the opinion that he beat Ricky Hatton but got robbed of the decision by three blind mice in Boston. Others are of the mind that had he not broken the thumb on his left hand in the second round against Shane Mosley, that he may very well have pulled off a major upset.

So as he prepares to meet up with World Boxing Council welterweight king Andre Berto on Saturday night at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, there is a certain belief that for Luis Collazo to continue on as a 'going concern' in this business they call boxing - that it's now or never for him.

It's not that Luis Collazo hasn't had the chances to do big things. He did, after all, enjoy a 13-month run as the World Boxing Association welterweight champion before losing the belt to Hatton by a close decision.

After he was floored in the first round by 'The Hitman' he arose from the deck and went tooth and nail with Ricky on a night in Boston that seemed as though it may have been a good idea to begin building another version of Noah's Ark.

There was some success on that night. Collazo won nearly as many rounds as he lost and in the last frame he drilled Hatton in such a manner that Ricky was hanging on, teetering on wobbly legs and peering through an eye that was mostly black and closed. Things were so uncertain that Ray and Carol and Matthew all looked very concerned for their son and brother before he was finally announced as the winner.

Collazo gave as good as he got against England's Ricky Hatton, but the judges called him the loser.

There was of course, too, the fight against Mosley. The punch that Collazo landed in the second round broke his thumb and damaged the tendons so severely that he was laid up for nearly a year. But even with the intense pain, Luis hung in there for another half- an- hour with Mosley, a hall of fame fighter if there ever was one, who was trying to take his head off. Rendered a one-handed gimp, Collazo remained semi-competitive but ceded a lopsided decision.

And it's not as though Luis Collazo has been fighting in the dark as his fights have been televised by both HBO and Showtime. He is hyped by 'the world's greatest promoter' the high-haired Don King and he is rated highly by most of the alphabet soup organizations. The esteemed Ring magazine has him occupying their # 8 slot at 147-pounds.

But Luis Collazo's story has mostly been one long stretch of bad luck and bad breaks that make you think that Saturday night could be his lucky night, the night that things finally turn around and the night that the dice which have come up snake eyes for so long, will finally roll his way.

"This will be a great fight for me," said the polite and clear-spoken Collazo who was born 27 years ago in Brooklyn, New York, of Saturday's meeting with Berto.

"I think it's a fan friendly fight and a fight that I think the fans will enjoy. This is a fight that I have really wanted and I'm the number-one contender in the WBC, so I think I deserve this fight."

Deserving or not, the bookies and those that like to put money on such sporting events of chance are beginning to scratch their heads at the long odds against Collazo. He has been installed as an overwhelming underdog against an undefeated titlist in Berto who is largely untested and unproven.

The long and the short of it is that Luis Collazo has only ever lost three fights in a nine-year professional career that saw him make his debut on a card at Yonkers Raceway way back in 2000.

His first 'loss' came against Edwin Cassiani in 2002, but that was mostly Jay Nady's fault. Nady, a Nevada referee of ill-repute with a quick trigger finger, has stopped many a fight too soon. When he stepped in on Collazo's dance against Cassiani on that hot April afternoon on Fremont Street in Las Vegas, it was a travesty that would forever mar Collazo's fight record. To be sure, the then novice Collazo was buzzed, but only for a split-second and he was not down or in any danger of going down before Nady, a nervous ninny when he dons a blue shirt and bow-tie, decided that Collazo's afternoon was over.

There are some New York City fans of Collazo's that will vociferously argue with you that their man has really ever only lost one fight - the one against Mosley - fought in front of a half-empty arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on a chilly and blustery February evening in 2007.

They call him Luis (pronounced Loo-ee) and on the wet and foggy night the judges said he lost to Hatton at the TD Banknorth Garden, they crowed in disapproval with their heavy Puerto Rican accents, "Luis was robbed, man! Ain't no way that English boy beat him! That sucks! Luis deserves a rematch!"

Whatever the case, their pleas fell on deaf ears and the Hatton rematch never materialized. Ricky Hatton's career later blasted into boxing's stratosphere - while Collazo's was one that mostly stagnated.

But now the 5'9" tall Collazo, a slick southpaw spattered with so many tattoos that even he doesn't know the number, has a wonderful opportunity in front of him on Saturday night down on the 'Redneck Riviera' in Biloxi.

A broken thumb - and Shane Mosley - proved too much to overcome in February 2007.

An unlikely place for a prizefight involving a New York City fighter, Biloxi is located in the middle of Hurricane alley, literally built on the sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. The casino where the fight will take place is normally home to entertainers such as country music stars like Clint Black and LeAnn Rimes who will appear there after boxing's traveling road show packs up its tent and the carnival finds another home.

But no matter the locale, Luis Collazo seems to know that if he is to make his move, if this career he has dedicated this much of his life to is going to move forward, if he is going to be ranked alongside the very top welterweights on the planet - he has to put it all together and win on Saturday night.

"Andre Berto hasn't fought nobody - except maybe Stevie Forbes," says Collazo when asked for his thoughts on what will happen on the beach when he and Berto throw down.

"And when you think about it, Stevie Forbes was the smaller fighter. Andre Berto is considering himself the best, but he really hasn't even fought no one yet. Berto is telling everyone he's the best so I say let's go then, let's fight."

Collazo, who has been around this game they call boxing long enough to know that Berto brings some relatively serious credentials to the table, knows, too, that he is not a fighter to be taken lightly. While he is slightly larger than Berto, there is no question that with 19 knockouts in 23 fights, Berto packs a bigger wallop and that he always shows up in supreme physical condition.

"He brings a lot," admits Collazo. "He's young, he's fast, he's got punchin' power. But he don't bring nuthin' that I ain't never seen before. I've experienced everything there is. I went through this game the hard way. They say I lost to Ricky Hatton, but they gave him the fight. In the fight with Shane - I lost - I broke my thumb in the second round. I'm gonna' come out a winner on Saturday night, you wait and see. I'm gonna' get a belt back and just take it from there."

And one thing is for sure, Luis Collazo knows it's now or never.

January 2009

1 comment:

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