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Danny Roman defends title against Moises Flores, hopes for bigger and better things

Danny Roman makes the second defense of his junior featherweight title against Moises Flores. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Some fighters are tabbed for stardom from Day 1.

Take welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr., for example. He was widely considered the best professional prospect on the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team and expected to become a top fighter.

Sure enough, Spence has fulfilled that potential. Many view him as the No. 1 welterweight in the world and one of the best pound-for-pound combatants in the sport.

Spence (23-0, 20 KOs) has ascended to main event status and will defend his title in for the second time in a homecoming fight when he meets Mexican mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs) on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at the Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys' training facility, in Frisco, Texas.

But in the co-feature of the tripleheader will be a junior featherweight world titleholder the virtual opposite of Spence.

"I have a target on my back. Everyone wants the world title, but my mind is more focused than ever. I have to be at my best every fight because every challenger is going to bring it. That's the hard part, knowing that everyone wants what you have." Danny Roman

There were no expectations for Danny Roman when he turned pro in anonymity in 2010 under the guidance of promoter Thompson Boxing, a Southern California outfit that has been around for 18 years and runs one of the nation's most notable club shows at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California.

From those cards, Thompson Boxing has developed five world titleholders: Timothy Bradley Jr., Darleys Perez, Yonnhy Perez, Jhonatan Romero and Roman.

Roman, who will make a mandatory defense against interim titlist Moises Flores in the Showtime co-feature, might be the most surprising of them all.

He won his debut by first-round knockout but then was held to a four-round draw. Two fights later, he lost a four-round split decision. He was an inauspicious 2-1-1 and going nowhere fast, so to get where he is now?

"It's a huge thing for a kid like Danny to be in this position," said Thompson Boxing's Alex Camponovo. "He's a kid who started from the bottom, had a couple of rough fights at beginning of his career. He wasn't doing very well and we released him after the loss. His defense was very poor. He was all action, 100 percent action, but no defense."

Camponovo kept tabs on him, however, and saw him begin to develop.

"He looked so much better and we re-signed him," he said. "For a kid that started that way, every one of his fights he showed some progress. He started moving up the ladder, took some difficult challenges, so it's extremely rewarding for us to see where Danny has gotten because he's such a dedicated guy.

"He 100 percent concentrates on the sport. He's a very loyal kid, lives with his father. He's a humble, humble kid. I could tell him he has to fight King Kong and he would say OK. There is zero trouble from him. He's a religious kid. He's one of those kids you dream to have. Listens to his coach (and manager) Eddie Gonzalez."

In 2017, Roman (24-2-1, 9 KOs), 28, of Los Angeles, got a shot to face then-undefeated Adam Lopez on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation" series in a junior featherweight title eliminator. Roman stopped Lopez in the ninth round in his first notable bout and television exposure .

That victory earned Roman a trip to Japan to challenge then-unbeaten 122-pound world titlist Shun Kubo. Roman pulled the upset, stopping Kubo in the ninth round to claim the belt in September. His first defense in February was also in Japan, where he outpointed Ryo Matsumoto.

And now comes his American close-up in his second defense against Flores (25-0, 17 KOs), 31, of Mexico.

"I'm ready for battle," Roman said. "I know what I need to do against Flores. I'll be going back home to Los Angeles with my WBA belt. I'm glad I'm back in the U.S. fighting in familiar territory."

Flores has not fought since last June 17. That is when he faced then-full titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux in Las Vegas on the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev II undercard and got knocked out at the end of the first round. However, since the fight-ending shot from Rigondeaux landed after the bell ended the round, the Nevada State Athletic Commission later declared the fight a no contest and Flores preserved his interim belt and perfect record.

Despite getting knocked out, by a foul or not, Roman said he is not overlooking Flores even though Camponovo talks openly about future bouts.

"(Flores is) tall so he'll have that reach," the 5-foot-5 Roman said of the 5-9 Flores. "He'll be ready for the big fight. I'm sure he's going to come at me with everything that he's got. I was once the challenger so I know how hungry he'll be. All those Mexican fighters come to fight so he's going to try to take my belt, but I'm not going to let him."

To prepare, Roman sparred with bigger fighters such as junior lightweight Michael Dutchover, lightweight Ruben Torres and tall junior featherweight Brandon Valdez.

"It was great going up against bigger guys. They're young too so they bring a lot of energy," Roman said. "I'm fortunate that I saw a lot of different styles. They say that fights are won in training camp. I know I got the best possible preparation for my fight against Flores."

Camponovo said he would not hesitate to match Roman with any of the junior featherweight titleholders: Isaac Dogboe, Rey Vargas and Ryosuke Iwasa.

"I don't think Danny is looking anywhere but at Flores. It's my job to look ahead," Camponovo said. "Flores is a very tough challenger. It's not going to be an easy task and it shouldn't be. It's a world title fight but Danny is confident and should do very well.

"If we put him up against the other champions he would do well with every one of them. We want to unify the titles after Moises Flores. I've had conversations with Golden Boy about a unification fight with Vargas. We just couldn't make a deal with HBO and the timing wasn't right for us. We're talking to Top Rank about unifying with Dogboe after his optional defense in August. That would be an awesome fight. That might happen down the line. There are a lot of options.

"We're doing this mandatory so we have leeway. We want Danny to fight at least once more this year after this fight and maybe we'll go back to Asia if necessary. But there are options."

Roman doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself. He will let Camponovo talk about the future while he concentrates on Flores.

"I have a target on my back. Everyone wants the world title, but my mind is more focused than ever," Roman said. "I have to be at my best every fight because every challenger is going to bring it. That's the hard part, knowing that everyone wants what you have.

"I can't get too focused on (the future) because I know what Flores is capable of. I need to take care of business first before anything else can happen. But if all goes as planned, I would love to fight the rest of the champions. The fans want to see the best fighting the best and I'm all about that."