By Jake Donovan
Juan Carlos Payano knew his night was over the moment Naoya Inoue crashed home a right hand flush on his chin in their World Boxing Super Series quarterfinals last October.
He also sensed many would believe his career to be through as well, which in an odd way would finally make it easier to land more meaningful fights.
“It’s never been easy landing the type of opponents I knew would elevate my career,” Payano (21-2, 9KOs) told BoxingScene.com of a pro run which has included a major title reign, but also marred by inactivity. “(Enduring) a knockout loss obviously was never a goal of ours, but it’s interesting that our phone hasn’t stopped ringing ever since.”
The two-time Dominican Republic Olympian and former bantamweight titlist—who now lives and trains in Miami, Fla.—is now in the peak stretch of training camp for a July 20 showdown versus Luis Nery. The battle of bantamweight southpaws takes place on the Fox Sports Pay-Per-View undercard topped by the welterweight clash between unbeaten titlist Keith Thurman and former eight-division title claimant Manny Pacquiao.
Payano—dubbed “Baby Pacquaio” early in his career—seeks his second straight win following that fateful night in Japan last fall. His number was called for a crossroads showdown versus unbeaten prospect Damien Vazquez this past March. At first, his team couldn’t believe the young bantamweight—whose older brother is former World 122-pound champion Israel Vazquez—wanted the fight, until the motivating factor became clear.
“Look, Inoue is a terrific fighter and it’s going to take a great fighter like that to land the perfect combination he did on Payano,” Herman Caicedo, Payano’s career-long head trainer said of the knockout sequence, a classic one-two which put his charge flat on his back. “So other bantamweights see the knockout, they see that my guy is now 35 years old and suddenly everyone who couldn’t even pronounce his name before now wants to fight him.
“Well, we say bring it on. We showed (Vazquez) the mistake his team made by throwing him to the wolves, and now Nery is about to learn the same lesson.”
Of course, there is a massive disparity in skill level between Vazquez—a rising prospect who bit off more than he can chew—and Nery, an unbeaten former titlist whom is still regarded by most as among the best bantamweights in the world today.
The southpaw knockout artist from Tijuana, Mexico briefly enjoyed a title reign which was marred in controversy, having failed a drug test and subsequently missing weight in his pair of fights with former champ Shinsuke Yamanaka. Three wins have followed since his return last October following a suspension, including a 4th round knockout of former 115-pound titlist McJoe Arroyo this past March, also on a Fox Sports PPV undercard.
The winner of their bout will be in a favorable position to land another title fight, or even the winner of the WBSS bantamweight tournament with Inoue due to face Nonito Donaire later this year in the finals. Most experts believe it will be Nery in such position to challenge the division’s best once the dust settles, which is fine with his upcoming opponent.
“We want everything to believe that I’m done, that I’m just a name opponent at this point,” insists Payano. “We know that’s what Nery and his people were thinking when they called us. I can’t wait to make him pay on July 20, he doesn’t know what’s coming. Luis Nery is in for the worst beating of his career.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox