By Thomas Gerbasi
If all goes well against Alberto Machado this Saturday in Indio, Andrew Cancio could wake up on Monday morning as a world champion. Then it will be off to work for the Southern California Gas Company, because that’s what this working man and single father of two children does.
That might not be the case if we’re talking to the 2012 version of “El Chango.”
Back then, Cancio was a 23-year-old prospect who was attacking the sport with a unique ferocity after a two-year layoff that kept him out of action from 2009 to 2011. When he returned, he won four in a row, including a decision victory over Rocky Juarez that lifted his record to 13-1-2, and the future was bright. He wasn’t working with the gas company then, but if he was and then received an offer for a world title fight, he wouldn’t have hesitated to give his two weeks’ notice.
“I would have left for sure,” Cancio said. “I was young and I had this vision in my mind where I thought I’d be at. I thought all along it was going to be boxing and I was going to be one of the mainstream guys, a world champion making good money and being able to do it full-time. So yeah, I would have definitely quit the day job, for sure.”
Cancio didn’t have to worry about such dilemmas. Three months after the win over Juarez, he was upset by Roger Gonzalez, and while he beat Jerry Belmontes, he then lost a third time in 2014, dropping a decision to Ronny Rios.
After more than a year away, Cancio returned with a pair of wins, but a TKO loss to Joseph Diaz in 2016 left the Californian’s boxing future in limbo. He ultimately walked away, deciding to pay the bills with a steady gig that didn’t involve getting punched in the face.
There would be a call for him to return, as there always is in this game, and in April of last year, he stunned previously unbeaten Aidar Sharibayev, stopping his foe in ten rounds. The win led to a contract with Golden Boy Promotions, and all of a sudden Cancio was back in the boxing business. His brother warned him that it would be impossible to pull double duty, but fighters are stubborn by nature.
“My brother works for the gas company as well, and he told me I can’t be a full-time gas company guy and a full-time boxer because our line of work is physical,” Cancio said. “We break the pavement and we dig holes all day long. We do all-nighters on big leaks and he told me it would be very hard to do both. And here I am. Is it hard sometimes? Yes, it is. Do I feel tired sometimes? Yeah, of course. But it comes with the territory.”
What also comes with the territory is dealing with the recent California wildfires and mudslides, and Cancio and his co-workers were out there on the front lines with first responders working to handle the Thomas Fire and the Montecito mudslides.
“We saw firefighters carry bodies out,” said Cancio. “We were in the exact area, and that was mindblowing for sure. I live in Oxnard, so I was around all that. The places that burned down are routes that I used to have as a meter reader. So when I was out there after it was all said and done, we were out in the streets breaking and cutting and abandoning the old service, and I remember these routes as clear as day. I read the meters every month for two years. And to see these houses gone…Mother Nature doesn’t care.”
Before the fires hit in December, Cancio was in the ring looking to follow up the win over Sharibayev, and in August, he did just that, winning a hard-fought decision over Dardan Zenunaj. He expected to make his run for a belt at featherweight, but then the call came for a shot at Machado’s 130-pound crown. It was a surprise, but a good one, and Cancio accepted the fight.
“I didn’t think it was gonna come this quickly,” he admits. “I know I gave two great performances – one with the undefeated Russian and the other one was a war against Dardan – but I was surprised that it came this quick. I thought maybe one or two more fights and then a title shot, but it came and it’s here and I’m excited to be fighting for the world and I’m doing everything I can do to get ready for it.”
And when he’s not training, the 30-year-old is out in the field, still clocking in to work every day. So no, a world title shot didn’t prompt Cancio to leave the gas company.
“I’ve got kids, I’m a single dad and I need the medical insurance for them, the dental, the vision, retirement,” he said. “Plus, you never know what’s gonna happen in boxing. From the beginning, that’s all I did and I went through some tough times financially trying to chase this dream and here I am, chasing my dream still, but with a full-time job and now things are finally starting to click into place. I’m thankful for my job and the group of guys that I work for, my supervisors that allow me to continue doing what I do. I have my co-workers that cover my on-calls whenever I’m training, so I don’t have to worry about getting called out.”
Cancio is on call this week, the week culminating in the biggest fight of his career. One of his co-workers is covering him, and “Chango” appreciates that act of kindness because now he’s got other business on his mind. He’s waited a long time for this opportunity, and while he’s the underdog against a highly-touted champion who has shown plenty of proof of the nickname “El Explosivo,” Cancio is confident that life in and out of the ring has prepared him for Saturday night.
“I feel like I’m a way better fighter than I was five, eight, ten years ago, so I feel like everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m 30, I’m mature now, I’ve been in there with a lot of tough competition, and I feel that night, it’s gonna show. I don’t think Machado has been in there with the caliber of fighter like me. I’m strong, durable, I’ve been tested numerous times, I’ve been in deep water numerous times. I’ve been dropped, I’ve gotten up, I’ve been through tough battles before and when it goes into the deeper waters, it’s gonna show. I think it’s gonna be the first time that he’s actually been tested and I’m gonna try to be in his face for the whole 12 rounds and that’s the fight I like to fight.”