For any boxer, professional or amateur, the act of sparring is one of the most intricate but equally important facets of their training. By it, a fighter can work on various techniques as well as acclimate themselves to a specific style or stance. Often, a fighter faces a former sparring partner when it counts the most, in either a professional or amateur bout and that is when things can get interesting because of the familiarity of the fighters with each other. Such is the case for Tijuana warrior Juan Carlos “Mini” Burgos (28-1, 19KOs) when he defends for the first time his newly acquired WBC Silver super featherweight title versus former world champ Cristobal “Lacandon” Cruz (39-12-3, 23KOs) in a scheduled twelve round bout on Friday, February 24th. The main event will be televised live by ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” from the Dover Down Hotel and Casino in Dover, Delaware, after initially it was announced that it would take place on the USC campus in Los Angeles, California.
Cruz, originally of Chiapas but living in Tijuana, trains a mere six miles from the Azteca Gym located in the Colonia Independencia where Burgos does his daily grind. Because of the proximity of their weights and gyms, Burgos says they are no strangers inside and outside the ring. “We actually have sparred each other numerous times. I know how to fight him, I know what punches hurt him. I paid attention to that because I had a feeling that we were going to face each other someday. Just like I know him, he knows me. As far as I am concerned, there won’t be a problem in beating him.”
“I think it’s a good thing because that way we can get to know each other,” Burgos says regarding the idea of sparring a future opponent. “We can which punches affect us, what punches hurt us, what weaknesses we might have. I think that any fighter would benefit from sparring with another fighter that they might face in the future, I think it really helps.”
The twenty-four year old Burgos, the nephew of former IBF minimum weight champ Victor Burgos, is an eight year veteran who after fighting in Tijuana for a couple of years made the coveted jump to the north side of the border when he signed a promotional contract with Thompson Boxing. Since then, Burgos has steadily climbing the charts and after perching himself on top of the 126 lbs. WBC rankings, traveled to the land of the rising sun in late 2010 and gave a good showing of himself in a losing effort versus Hozumi Hasegawa for the then vacant WBC strap. Since then Burgos, originally from the southern state of Puebla but living in Tijuana since the age of five, has strung together three convincing wins, all in 2011. After knocking out Frankie Archuleta in two back in February, Burgos earned a ten round unanimous decision over Gilberto Sanchez Leon and in November, a majority decision over Puerto Rican Luis Cruz on the PPV televised portion of Pacquiao-Marquez III.
“We knew that we had the resources to beat Luis Cruz. I also knew that the fight wasn’t going to be easy but we had enough resources to beat him,” Burgos says of the ten round bout which was for the vacant WBC silver and WBO Latino 130 lbs. straps. “We had seen a video of his against Martin Honorio and I noticed that he wasn’t the super fighter like everybody made him out to be. My team also saw the video and we knew that we could beat him. We fought an intelligent fight and based on our preparation we were able to pull off the win.”
Knowing the score when facing a house fighter on the biggest event of the year, Burgos was conscious that the cards were stacked against him. “We began to pressure in the first rounds because we knew that it was going to be difficult to win a decision since he was the house fighter. He had everything in his favor and we had everything against us. We began to fight hard from the first round, wining each round. I think that in the fifth round I started to notice that his punches weren’t affecting me, that he didn’t have anything left to hurt me. From the fifth round on I tried to knock him out but he took a lot of punishment and I wasn’t able to do it. I think I won the fight very clearly.”
With the win Burgos not only captured the titles but also was able to perform on the biggest platform boxing had to offer in 2011, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the quiet Burgos. “It was a very satisfying feeling to fight on such a big event, such a big fight card like the one on November 12th. Being on the same stage as such great fighters like Pacquiao and Marquez is a great feeling. Winning on such a big stage is very motivating and only makes me work harder so that I can get another opportunity like that which is what I want and to get another opportunity for a world title.”
Despite campaigning at featherweight for the majority of his career, Burgos has found that he has been forced to climb up the four pounds to the 130 lbs. division for more high profile opportunities such as his bout with the Boricua Cruz and now his upcoming first defense of his title versus the Mexican “Lacandon”.
“I felt good, I felt strong and quick. I felt I had good conditioning and didn’t get tired at all,” Burgos explained. “I think we took that fight at super featherweight because we knew we had the ability to beat Luis Cruz but my natural weight class is super featherweight. I think that if I get an opportunity for a world title at super featherweight, I would take advantage of it because I looked good in that weight class, I looked strong and quick so if we get the opportunity, we are going to take it.”
Now Burgos will face Tijuana’s “Lacandon” Cruz, former IBF featherweight champion, who is known for his great conditioning, high work rate and very awkward style. “Without a doubt it is not going to be an easy fight since Cristobal is very difficult, very complicated because of his style. My team and I are confident because of the preparation for the fight we have done. We know that we are going to win as long as I use the game plan that we have prepared. Not to get desperate, to go in the ring calm and take things calmly. He has a difficult style, a strange one. I wouldn’t want there to be a cut from a clash of heads. I am going to fight an intelligent fight and if I win by decision, that is ok, the knock out will come if it does but there is no doubt that I am going to win.”
Another facet of the match up that Burgos is confident of is that the friendship between the two fighters will not affect how he feels once inside the ring and that for him, it is business as usual.
“I think that outside of the ring we are friends but once we are in the ring, there has to be a winner, this is a sport and the best must win,” Burgos said with a smile. “Outside of the ring we are friends, we are colleagues and that is how I see it. Both of us want to advance in our careers but outside of it, I am his friend if he wishes for me to be.”
Burgos has found himself in a similar situation before. Back in ’09, Burgos stopped Omar “Calilla” Lizarraga in two rounds. Lizarraga, now retired, trained with former two-time world champ Raul “Jibaro” Perez in the Zona Norte of Tijuana in gym even closer to Burgos’ than his next opponent. “With him I didn’t have a friendship. We would see each other and acknowledge each other but that was it, it was a different situation. Fortunately I ended the fight early because he was an older fighter and I didn’t want to punish him anymore that I did by stopping him in two rounds.”
Like a hunter that puts its victim out of its misery with a shot square between its eyes, Burgos sees an early finish a more compassionate ending than longing out the punishment for his opponent, especially on like “Lacandon” who he knows.
“If I have the opportunity to knock him out in the early rounds, that would be better because I wouldn’t punish him as much,” he said. “If the fight goes to ten rounds, I am going to win clearly but for me it would be better to win by knock out because as I see it, I would punish him less. It would be a way to win in spectacular fashion, to impress the fans and the network which is what I want to do.”
With that kind of win, it would only be a matter of time until Burgos, ranked high in several organizations, gets another shot at a world title, the end game for most if not all professional fighters. “First of all I have to win this difficult test I have against Cristobal Cruz and then we will talk to my representatives and my promoters. I would like to challenge for the world title by mid-year but at the end, they are the ones that make that decision. We are going to wait the time necessary to get another opportunity for a world title and take advantage of it.
As the current WBC Silver champ, Burgos does have the right to call some shots until he gets that desired world title opportunity. One fight he wouldn’t mind to make will be against former super bantamweight champion Daniel Ponce de Leon who after his convincing win earlier this year over another Tijuana fighter, Omar Estrella, called out Burgos for the green and in this case, silver, WBC belt.
“I am ready to face any fighter who wants to face me, I want to fight the biggest names in the division,” Burgos said of the Ponce de Leon challenge. “If his promoters can come to an agreement with mine and they make the fight, I would be more than happy to face him. Besides, it would give me the chance to avenge my friend’s loss.”