For those who are regular readers or participants in my weekly chats, here's where we are going with today's blog: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, the Love Child!"
It's pretty much make-or-break time for junior middleweight Joel "Love Child" Julio when he faces interim titlist Alfredo "Perro" Angulo on Saturday (HBO, 11:15 p.m. ET/PT) at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.
I know it, you know it, and most importantly, he knows it.
Julio and Angulo, two all-action fighters who are exciting inside the ring and endearing outside of it, meet on the undercard of the Cristobal Arreola-Tomasz Adamek heavyweight fight. It should be a helluva fight. I have to admit that even though I honestly don't care who wins most fights -- you have to divorce yourself from that emotion in this business -- I am really torn on this one. It will be a tough fight to watch, because I've arguably been the media member most closely associated with Julio's career while also developing great affection for Angulo over the past few years.
Whatever happens, happens. But at least Julio (35-3, 31 KOs) seems to be giving himself the best chance to win, because he appeared to be in tremendous condition when I saw him a couple of weeks ago in Sunrise, Fla., where I was covering the Andre Berto-Carlos Quintana welterweight title bout.
Julio, who trained in nearby Deerfield Beach, came over to say hello during the undercard. We chatted for a few minutes. He looked to be in great shape and admitted he was facing a must-win fight.
At the age of 25, Julio is essentially fighting for his career as a meaningful fighter.
When I named him the 2005 ESPN.com prospect of the year (and I was by no means the only one high on him), he had the look of a future star. He possessed two-fisted power, solid defense (especially for a young fighter) and a good amateur background (reportedly 85-0 in his native Colombia) to go with charisma and a massively crowd-pleasing style.
In mid-2006, he got a shot on HBO against the more experienced Quintana in a welterweight title eliminator. Julio dropped Quintana early in the fight but was then taken to school by the southpaw and lost a clear decision in a fight that came too soon for him.
Julio's handlers didn't really want that fight because they knew Quintana's tricky style was all wrong for him and they knew he wasn't ready. But they took a shot and paid the price.
Julio did rebound nicely. He won seven fights in a row and beat some pretty solid opponents along the way: Cosme Rivera, Cornelius "K9" Bundrage and Ishe Smith.
Those wins put Julio in position for a shot against junior middleweight titlist Sergei Dzinziruk in November 2008. Julio went to Germany and fought well. He hurt Dzinziruk early in the fight and appeared close to a knockout, but couldn't get it done. Dzinziruk got himself together and, using his southpaw style, outboxed Julio for a unanimous decision. It was another tough loss for the "Love Child."
In his next fight, Julio came in as the B-side to rising star James Kirkland, yet another southpaw, on HBO in March 2009. Kirkland ran him over for a sixth-round TKO.
Julio looked terrible in the fight. He never got his legs under him, and he fought the completely wrong fight against a ferocious fighter who was not going to be denied. You don't beat Kirkland if you back up the whole fight, and that's pretty much what Julio did.
After that loss, many wrote Julio off. I didn't. I still believed he had potential to be a factor, especially if he was matched properly -- which meant no more southpaws. That meant a fight with a right-hander who wasn't going to present him with too much technical ability or move too much. That's Angulo (17-1, 14 KOs), a straight-ahead banger, to a tee. So I am giving the LC a solid shot to score the upset. Julio seems to have at least given himself the best chance to win by getting in top shape.
"This has been a tough camp," he said. "It's been eight solid weeks of training. I can't compare it to any of my other training camps. That so-called training wasn't anywhere near as tough. It's also the longest I've been separated from my wife. But in spite of that, I am happy and relaxed."
Julio came to this camp with a new manager (Bob Perdiment) and, for the first time, a strength coach (Jeremy Fedoruk).
"You are going to see a noticeable difference in my body. I feel strong," Julio said. "I have a chiropractor working with me every day. He stretches me, he realigns my back, and he makes sure I stay loose. It's really made a difference in how I feel at the beginning and end of each day."
Julio's training days consisted of boxing work with trainer Anthony Hamm, plus three sessions of work with Fedoruk.
It's all in an effort to take advantage of his third opportunity on HBO -- and very likely his last without a victory.
"We know that [Angulo is] a strong fighter," Julio said. "We will keep him out of his comfort zone. We are not going to fool each other. We are both able to knock people out. We both have power in our punches. But if you look at my record, you'll see that I have 31 knockouts -- and it's not by coincidence. At any time in the 12 rounds, either one of us can go. I just don't think it's going to be me.
"I hope that Angulo has trained really, really, really hard, because if he hasn't, things are not going to go too well for him. I am ready, and I know for a fact that I am going to bring that belt home."
It's now or never for the "Love Child."