Luis Collazo feels good about where he is in his career. There was a time when the former WBA welterweight champion had to travel to his opponent’s backyard for a title shot or a lucrative bout on television. When such a high profile fight was unavailable, the Brooklyn native sat on the shelf for months at a time waiting for a fight to be offered. In fact, Collazo (34-5, 17 KOs) did not see a squared circle unless he was a spectator for all of 2010 despite being injury-free.
A lot has changed since those days. Signed by Golden Boy Promotions in 2011, Collazo is now fighting for the fourth time in fifteen months. He is also headlining a main event on Thursday against a high profile opponent at the Barclays Center in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York.
“I feel good about where I’m at in my career,” says a grateful Collazo merely a week from the event, a Fox Sports 1 televised showdown against former WBC welterweight titlist “Vicious” Victor Ortiz. “This fight is like the biggest fight of my career because it opens up any door in the welterweight division to fight the big guys. I’m going to defend my WBA international title. I’m excited and I’m blessed. I thank God for the opportunities.”
In a career full of ups and downs, the crafty southpaw experienced the highs of winning a world title in 2005 against Jose Antonio Rivera in his opponent’s hometown of Worcester, MA, and the lows of losing close, controversial decisions against Ricky Hatton in 2006 and Andre Berto in 2009.
Disheartened by the close calls, many speculated that Collazo had lost interest in the sport or retired when he was unable to reach an agreement for a rematch with Berto and sat out from June 2009 until April 2011.
“Those decisions made me a better fighter,” states the Brooklynite of the tough losses. “They build character and it shows how much you really want it and whether you want it or not. I just took them as experiences. ”
Collazo points to a different reason as to why he was so inactive earlier in his career.
“My promoter had me on the shelf,” explains Collazo, who was promoted by Don King at the time. “A few people thought I retired, but I never announced anything, you know?”
To make ends meet, Collazo invested in a bread delivery company, a wise decision that allowed him to survive the period of inactivity and now provides him with the financial security to train full time.
“That’s literally my bread and butter,” jokes Collazo. “It pays my bills and now I can just focus on boxing, the sport I love. My wife gave me the idea to invest my money in something productive. I thought about for a bit and came up with bread. Everybody needs bread – it doesn’t matter how the economy is, everybody needs to eat, so I got into it. It’s been five years, and it’s still going.”
The investment kept Luis and his family afloat while he waited for his day job to take off.
“I was just waiting for the contract to be up, and once it was over I met up with Golden Boy and they gave me an opportunity that I’m grateful for.”
However, Collazo’s tenure with Golden Boy did not start as well as he would have liked. In his first fight under the contract (October 2011), the southpaw was dropped by a body shot in round eight and lost a unanimous decision against Freddy Hernandez at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“During the fight I felt something on my right shoulder,” explains Collazo of a shoulder injury that would keep him out of the ring for another long stretch. “It was a tough fight, my first fight [with Golden Boy] and fought at 154, and I found out after the fight I had a tear in my right shoulder. I had to get surgery and that’s why I was out for quite some time. I was out for six months during therapy, and then after that I was waiting for a fight. It was hard getting a fight – Golden Boy was having difficulty finding an opponent for me but eventually everything started going smooth and here I am.”
The shoulder fully recovered, the 32-year-old was finally able to show what he could do with the right amount of activity. Golden Boy wisely allowed the Brooklyn native to slowly work his way back into contention off television and mostly in his hometown.
Collazo began his current three fight winning streak with a unanimous decision victory over Steve Upsher Chambers in October 2012 followed by a fifth round TKO over Miguel Callist in April of last year, both at the Barclays Center. Shaking the rust and improving each time out, Collazo headlined a Fox Sports 1 show out of San Antonio last September, winning a unanimous decision over Alan Sanchez for the WBA International welterweight title.
With each win, Collazo felt that he was getting closer to his championship form.
Golden Boy then offered Collazo a fight against Victor Ortiz. To beat Ortiz (29-4, 22 KOs), Collazo must be at his best.
Ortiz is as enigmatic a fighter as one can find in the sport.
Gifted with speed and power, the southpaw appears to have all of the physical tools to be an elite fighter. However, the issue with the 26-year-old out of Oxnard via Garden City, Kansas, is that one never knows which Ortiz is going to show up mentally.
Will it be the Ortiz who traded knockdowns against Andre Berto and would not take ‘no’ for an answer, or the one who lost focus against Floyd Mayweather and decided not to continue in a firefight with Marcos Maidana?
Collazo believes it is Ortiz’s mental vulnerability that he needs to exploit to be successful on Thursday night, particularly because it is Ortiz who has been out of the ring since June 2012 after suffering a broken jaw in a technical knockout loss to Josesito Lopez.
“Definitely – I’m certain that in his head, he’s thinking about it,” states Collazo about Victor’s mindset going into a fight in an opponent’s backyard off an injury and after such a long layoff. “I think that when the fire gets hot, he can’t deal with it! He basically doesn’t want to deal with it. And it’s going to get hot come January 30th. It’s going to get flaming hot.”
Aside from his mental instability during fights, Collazo has a healthy respect for Ortiz as a fighter and particularly, as a puncher.
“Victor Ortiz is a pressure fighter. I’ve been fighting pressure fighters basically my whole career. He’s a big puncher, but what is a big puncher if he can’t hit the target? A lot of people underestimate my punching power, but we’ll see come January 30th. I just have to be smart and not fall into his game plan. Stay with my game plan, break him down mentally, and once I see the opening, just take it.”
Starrett City Boxing Family
Through Collazo’s ups and downs in his career, the one thing that stayed constant was his relationship with manager/trainer Nirmal Lorick and trainer Willie Vargas. In an age where fighters drop their trainers at the first hint of a setback, Collazo forged a bond with his team that is bigger than boxing.
“I started training with Nirmal when I was eleven,” states Collazo about Lorick, a former featherweight boxer who represented Trinidad & Tobago at the 1984 Olympics. “He is a mentor to me. If it wasn’t for him telling me ‘either come work out, or don’t come back,’ I wouldn’t be where I am today. I stuck with it and he’s been like a father figure to me. I also have my long-time trainer with me, Willie Vargas. He’s been with me since I was fourteen years old.”
Rounding out Team Collazo is co-manager Wilson Naranjo. The team trains out of Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn, which is experiencing a bit of a renaissance these days. In addition to Collazo, middleweight contenders Danny Jacobs and Curtis Stevens, junior middleweight prospects Frank Galarza and Sadam Ali, and super bantamweight prospect Rafael Vasquez call Starrett City home.
“We’re back to ground zero,” explains Collazo. “We all started there, so for all of us to come back and be part of the same team again is amazing. I’m like the grandpa of the crew [laughs]. The most important part is that we’re all part of a family and we all help each other out.”
It appears that the camaraderie and motivation these boxers provide one another is paying dividends, as Galarza scored a highlight reel knockout on January 17th on ShoBox and Stevens scored a first round knockout this weekend. Danny Jacobs has also looked spectacular in demolishing Giovanni Lorenzo last August and is closing in on a title shot. On Thursday, it will be Collazo and Vasquez’s turn to perform at the Barclays Center.
“We just put it together and just work hard, man,” says Collazo. “When it’s time to work, it’s work, and when it’s time to fool around, hey, enjoy life. I’m just excited, man. It’s awesome to be able to fight in my hometown and to see people that I hadn’t seen in many years. I want to give the fans a great night of boxing and make everybody proud.”
Collazo vs. Ortiz takes place this Thursday, January 30th from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The bout will be televised by Fox Sports 1 beginning at 9pm EST.
Follow the author @MannyBlanco.