By Thomas Gerbasi
The morning after was rough for Alex Saucedo. Rough, yet glorious.
“I was sore and happy the next morning,” said the 140-pound contender of the aftermath of his seventh-round stoppage of Lenny Zappavigna in June. “My knuckles were sore from hitting him so much, my face was sore too because I had five stitches on my right eye. But with the soreness was happiness that I was able to survive and get through it in front of all my people.”
Fighting at home in Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saucedo was supposed to walk through the veteran Zappavigna, and when he bloodied his foe and dropped him in the third round, things were going according to plan.
Then came the fourth round, and a right hand from Lenny Z that almost changed everything.
The looks on the faces of those at ringside said it all. Even Carl Moretti of Saucedo’s promoter, Top Rank, had his hand over his mouth as Saucedo staggered and nearly saw his 27-0 record become 27-1.
“That’s one of the first things I look at when I look at the videos, just the people in the background going nuts,” said Saucedo, who took a barrage of shots from Zappavigna and was bloodied himself before he roared back and made it out of the round.
Looking back, the 24-year-old doesn’t deny what happened, didn’t say he was playing possum. Just look at the tape, you might say, but remember that this is boxing, where some fighters get knocked out and later say they deserved a draw.
Saucedo isn’t one of those folks.
Instead, he’s an honest fighter, and on that summer night against another honest fighter, he dug deep and got back to business in the fifth round. At 2:31 of round seven, the fight was over and Saucedo had his 28th win and 18th knockout. He also earned the opportunity to challenge Maurice Hooker for the WBO junior welterweight title on November 16, again in Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity,” Saucedo said of his first world title shot. “I’m very thankful to Top Rank for winning the purse bid to be able to take it to Oklahoma City. My last fight had a great turnout and it’s still down for Fight of the Year, so maybe that did it. I’m very excited about it, very motivated, and training hard.”
When we spoke on October 22, Saucedo has already been in training camp with coach Abel Sanchez for six weeks, and while the snow hadn’t arrived in Big Bear yet, it was 25 degrees already, giving “El Cholo” that Rocky IV feel as he prepares for his meeting with Texas rival Hooker.
“I keep an eye on all the guys that are around my weight,” Saucedo said. “It’s not that I study them, but I know that one day I’m gonna face them, and that’s the case with Maurice Hooker. Before he was a champion, I’ve been wanting that fight because there’s just this rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma, between me and him, and I’ve been wanting to prove something. And now that I have it here, I’ve been training hard and getting ready for it.”
The work ethic was evident against Zappavigna, and while Saucedo has largely been the hammer in his pro career, for some dicey moments in the fourth round, he was the nail. It showed everyone outside the ring what he’s got in the basement, but the ability to handle adversity was no surprise to the man with the gloves on.
“I’ve always known what I have and what I’ve worked for,” he said. “I know I have a big heart, I love boxing and I just couldn’t go out like that. I was really hurt in that fourth round, but the people in my city and my heart, all the hard training and hours in the gym just came to my mind at that moment. You can’t go out like that. You worked so hard for this moment. You can’t go out that easy. I got hurt and I believe that everybody shouting my name and ‘OKC’ kind of woke me up and I got back to it.”
If you haven’t picked up on this already, Saucedo’s adopted hometown means a lot to him, and the city – which hasn’t had a world boxing champion since Sean O’Grady became the first and only titlist from OKC – has responded in kind. And if Top Rank’s willingness to put the all-action battler in headliners there is any indication, this could be another love affair like the one Omaha has with Terence Crawford.
“Oklahoma City is my home,” Saucedo said. “I got here when I was eight years old from Mexico and it’s my home now. It’s where I have my family, that’s where I live, that’s where I’m raising my kids, so it means a lot to me. Ever since I started boxing in Oklahoma, I had a dream of becoming a world champion. I knew that there was only one champion before, so it motivates me to train harder because I love Oklahoma and it’s been a dream for me to become the second world champion from there. And now that I have the opportunity to do it, I’m very motivated to make that happen.”
And if he’s got to walk through fire, blood and right hands to do it, so be it.
“We know what we got into,” he said. “This is our job. It’s a tough sport, but it pays off. You’re able to help your family and you’re able to take care of everyone better than doing other things.”
That’s the fighter’s life, and Alex Saucedo is a fighter. So right now, all he’s thinking about is gold.
“Every day it goes through my mind,” he said of winning a world title. “I wake up very motivated. I have 28 fights and none of my fights have been boring. And now imagine that I’m this motivated and working this hard? Expect the best from me November 16th, and I’m gonna come out victorious.”