By Robert Coster
When he dominated then-unbeaten IBF Jr Featherweight Champion Steve Molitor last November, WBA Super-Champion Celestino”Pelenchin” Caballero became only the second boxer from Panama -since Roberto Duran- to unify titles. Prior to the Molitor fight, an underdog Celestino had travelled to Thailand to win the WBA crown with an explosive knockout. But the lanky monarch hasn’t let his success go to his head and he is back in the gym training as hard as ever for the first defense of his unified crown against Jeffrey Mathebula of South Africa. Celestino is one champion that knows too well that you just cannot rest upon your laurels and that defeat can be as sudden as victory. As an unbeaten boxer, he suffered a dramatic kayo loss to Jose Rojas of Venezuela in front of his fans. Yet, four months after, “Pelenchin” showed his metal by stepping back into the ring. Caballero was also the victim of a near fatal car accident. Many predicted he would never fight again, not counting on Celestino’s iron will and grit. Taking time off from his training, the always gracious “Pelenchin” answered a few pointed questions by Fightnews.
Q: So, is your title defense vs Jeffrey Mathebula on?
A: Definitely. We fight on April 30th at the Roberto Duran Arena in Panama City.
Q: What do you know about your opponent?
A: Very little actually. We’re the same height and he is said to be a skilled boxer. I haven’t had a chance to see a video of him to see what is his style.
Q: After the big victory over Steve Molitor, has it been difficult to get back to earth, so to speak, get back to the gym? A lot of boxers become complacent after a big victory.
A: No. I got where I am through hard work. I never let my guard down. I don’t know about what others do but I know that as a champion I have to train. I know that, as easily as you win, you may lose. So be ready.
Q:If everything goes well against Mathebula, what are your plans?
A: I definitely would like the unify all the titles. If not, I may have to step up to featherweight.
Q: What do you think of the surprising loss of your countryman Ricardo Cordoba?
A: Ricardo knows that he has the talent. He just has to overcome what happened to him. His biggest opponent now may be in his head. I overcame a big kayo loss to Jose “Cheo” Rojas. That is what being a champion is all about. You go back to the drawing board, understand what you did wrong and start again. Four months after laying unconscious on my back, I was back into the ring.
Q; As WBA super champion, would you be willing to fight Cordoba’s victor, WBA champ Bernard Dunne?
A: Sure I’d fight Dunne. It’s my job. If the offer is good, I have no problem with fighting him.
Q: Otherwise, what are the boxers you’d like to fight ?
A: The Mexicans, Israel Vasquez or Rafael Marquez. They are well known in this part of the world and beating them would be really big.
Q:You have known ups and downs in your life: a terrible car accident that almost ended your boxing career, a traumatic KO loss to Cheo Rojas. You want to talk about these difficult times.
A: Sure, in life you go through hard times. But when have a goal, you pursue it. You don’t give up. When things looked really bleak for me, I kept my sight on trying to achieve my goals. God helped me through the worst and I never had the tought of quitting, of giving up. Never.
Q: After the hard times, the good times. What was your greatest triumph in the ring?
A: Unifying the title against Molitor, of course! I am the second boxer from Panama, after Robert Duran, to unify a title with two organizations
Q: One last question. What do you need to become a champion?
A: You need the talent , of course , but it’s not enough. You have to want it more than anything else in life. And then, hard work. Hard work-everyday day, all the time.