At the tender age of 21, Randy Caballero, of Coachella, Calif., has been perfect in a two-and-a-half-year pro career. He’s rarely lost a round while going 15-0 with eight knockouts, and already has attained a world rating. The talented bantamweight looks to have a bright future, but he will get his toughest test to date when he meets Manny Roman (15-1-3, 6 KOs), of Paramount, Calif., in what is expected to be a hard-fought 10-round main event this Friday at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif.
In a companion 10-round fight, Michael “The Artist’’ Perez (16-1-1, 10 KOs), of Newark, N.J., will be opposed by hard-hitting southpaw Fidel Maldonado (13-1, 11 KOs), of Albuquerque, N.M., in a key match-up of lightweight prospects.
These are risky assignments for the four fighters. While a defeat might not necessarily be detrimental to their careers, none of them wants to take a step backward. Maldonado, like Caballero, is 21-years-old. Perez is 22, Roman 24.
“This is an interesting doubleheader,” ShoBox expert analyst Steve Farhood said. “We have a prototypical ShoBox prospect in Caballero, who’s young, unbeaten and had a strong amateur career facing a fighter, Roman, who has had a lot of starts and stops in his career, but has only one loss, and it came on a split decision, so he could be easily undefeated, too. This is definitely a step up for Caballero.
“The co-feature is also intriguing. Perez had the same kind of background as Caballero, but he lost on ShoBox in January (two fights ago to unbeaten Omar Figueroa). We’re a long way from it happening, of course, but Perez will be trying to become the ninth fighter on ShoBox who lost on the show and then went on to become a world champion (Robert Guerrero and Cornelius Bundrage were two of the others).
“Maldonado was also a top-notch prospect, but he is coming off a shocking knockout loss, so he is in the same position as Perez.”
Caballero turned pro in March 2010 after an outstanding amateur career. He fought six times in 2010 and eight times in 2011. This fight will be the third outing of this year for the fighting pride of the Coachella Valley, who is coming off of a fifth-round knockout over Jamal Parram on June 23. Caballero won his ShoBox and 10-round debut, as well as the North American Boxing Organization (NABO) bantamweight title, with a tougher-than-expected unanimous 10-round decision over Jose Araiza last March 16 at Fantasy Springs. A Fantasy Springs favorite, Caballero is making his 10th start at the venue.
The baby-faced Caballero outpointed Araiza by the scores of 98-92 twice and 97-93, but after a fast start, the hometown hero had to withstand a second-half Araiza rally to get the decision. It was anything but a career-best performance by Caballero, who got hit with right hands in the later rounds, but it was an excellent learning experience.
“That was a tough fight,” Caballero said, “but a good fight for me. I know the fights will be tougher as I continue to step up. It’s what I take away from fights like that that will help me down the line.”
A speedy, quick-handed boxer with good skills and movement, the World Boxing Organization (WBO) No. 6-rated 118-pound contender feels forcing the issue may be key against Roman. “I’ve been working on trying to pick up a different way to walk Roman down,” Caballero said. “I’ll be trying to put a little more pressure on in this fight and break him down.
“Roman’s a tough fighter, I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s 15-1. (But) he’s never been 10 rounds. I’ll probably just break him down, and hopefully finish him off in the early rounds. He probably won’t end up lasting all of the 10 rounds. The more pressure I put, the harder it’s going to be for him.”
Roman, who turned pro in Mexico at 16 in June 2004, also had an extensive amateur career. After campaigning mostly as a flyweight early in his pro career, he has boxed at or around 118 in three of his last four outings. This will be his second fight in 2012, making it the first time since 2008 he has fought more than once in a year. Despite the inactivity, look for Roman to give a solid account of himself.
“This is like a world title fight for him,” said Roman’s manager Frank Espinoza. “He knows he’s the underdog and that fans will be for the hometown guy, but we took the fight because we believe Manny can win and for the great opportunity he has to make a statement.”
Roman took off a week after he registered a third-round TKO over Christian Aguilar last June 15 in Mexicali, Mex., but has been in the gym since.
“Caballero is good and I respect him as a fighter,” said Roman, who was decked in his only loss, an eight-round split decision to underdog Anthony Villareal in April 2009. “I just plan to test him out in the first round, then we’ll see if I keep on counterpunching him or if I’m going to go after him.”
For Perez and Maldonado, both accomplished amateurs whose pro double-digit winning streaks have ended, this is a fight they must win if they hope to stay on track and advance from prospects to contenders. This is Perez’ second start since losing, the first for Maldonado.
Perez, who won his last outing with a second-round TKO over Erick Cruz on June 30, made several changes after the loss to Figueroa. .
“There was most definitely a positive side to my loss,’’ said Perez, a pro since October 2008. “You try to analyze what went wrong and what you could improve on, how you can change to make it better and what you need to bring your career to that next level. There were a lot of things I wasn’t doing as a pro that I should have been doing. That’s why we made a whole bunch of moves. I’ve got a strength trainer, a nutritionist, a new trainer, Raul Rivas, and I went to my first training camp. I just switched my whole vibe, my whole atmosphere and my team.
“Now I feel great and we’re just pushing forward. That loss, I needed it. I feel it was something that I needed to really open my eyes and see what I needed to do to improve myself, and it happened.”
An excellent body puncher with good power, Perez owns a win over Maldonado in the amateurs. “I outboxed Maldonado in the Golden Gloves,” Perez said, “but I’m not taking anything away from him. I’m ready for 10 hard rounds. I’m looking at him like he’s a world champ.”
A two-year pro, the soft-spoken Maldonado suffered a broken jaw en route to losing by second-round TKO to Fernando Carcamo in a bout he was favored to win on April 28.
“We learned from our mistakes,’’ the boxer’s trainer-father, Fidel Sr., said. “He’s ready to go. He’s training hard. This is one of the best camps we’ve had. It (his last fight) humbled him and made him hungrier. Perez beat us on a decision in the amateurs, but he ran from us. He didn’t want to fight. He tasted our power and he ran. In our hearts, we beat him. This should be an interesting fight with the little gloves on.”
Maldonado, who went down twice in the stunning setback to Carcamo, also fought Erick Cruz, winning a unanimous eight-round decision over him on Oct. 21, 2011.
Future Hall of Famer, the legendary Bernard Hopkins, will host a meet and greet before the Showtime-televised card. Hopkins will be on hand to sign autographs and take pictures from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. inside the Fantasy Springs Special Events Center. The meet and greet is open to the public with the purchase of a ticket to the fight card.