Photo: Will Hart
By Diego Morilla
Argentine boxers grow accustomed to the idea that they need to become road warriors if they really want to achieve anything as professional prizefighters. They know they need to leave their homeland to even have a chance to start their careers in earnest. And a handful of them have never looked back.
Luis Carlos Abregú (36-1, 29 KO) epitomizes that group. And the lessons learned along his nine-year journey have taken him to a place he has dreamed about since childhood.
“I always liked boxing,” says Abregú, recalling his lifelong wish to become a fighter. “My grandfather (Adolfo, a former amateur boxer himself) always encouraged me. When I was 4 or 5 he would put up the palms of his hands and dare me to punch them. I grew up wishing I could become a fighter."
It took him a while to get his wish to become a reality. Born and raised in the province of Tucuman (the country’s smallest, and one of the poorest), he had to move to the neighboring province of Salta to start his amateur career at the age of 16, a relatively late age in boxing. But that was merely the beginning of a career that so far has given him a record and a set of accomplishments that make his name stand out even among the most illustrious class of 147-ish fighters his country has ever produced.
And that’s because in terms of KO percentage, victories against unbeaten opponents, ability to overcome the odds and willingness to give it his all in the ring, Abregu’s name can easily be paired with those of current stellar welterweights Marcos Maidana, Lucas Matthysse, Diego Chaves and even former middleweight titlist Sergio Martinez. In his next fight this coming Saturday against Sadam Ali (20-0, 12 KO), he’ll have yet another long-awaited chance to show that he belongs in their name recognition bracket as well.
“It seems like every fighter in my division is avoiding me,” said Abregú, who indicates that he was Manny Pacquiao’s chosen opponent for a fight that ended up going to Chris Algieri next November. According to Abregú’s manager Pablo Martinez, everything was right on track until members of Pacquiao’s team, including Freddie Roach and Michael Koncz, studied Abregú and advised against it. Nothing new, apparently, for a fighter that has routinely been named among the most avoided opponents in the division.
And whenever he does get a chance, it is always under the assumption that he will not be ready for the challenge he’s being offered. Something that, unfortunately, proved to be the case in one glaring example.
“I was already having problems in my hand," said Abregú, in relation to his fight against Timothy Bradley in July of 2010, which remains his only loss to date. “The fight approached more and more and I still had problems with my left hand. But there was no turning back. My hand was reinjured in the first punch I threw. But even so I had a great fight. If my right hand had been fine I am sure I would have knocked him out.”
Regardless of the negative result, Abregú left a very positive impression, and he would be called back to the US for additional challenges. In one of them, he had a chance to prove that those who feared facing him were right in their appreciation of his power.
“I was offered as a sacrificial lamb,” says Abregú about his career-defining fight against then-unbeaten Puerto Rican sensation Thomas Dulorme in October 2012. “I was coming off a surgery on my right hand, and they must have thought I was inactive, I was not training or something like that. I knew that I had to win that fight. It was a make or break fight for me. It could have been the fight that catapulted me to the top or the one that sank me down. And it worked great. They were in for a surprise.”
In this case, ‘they’ includes most boxing observers, who were counting on Dulorme to pass his most difficult test to date. The fact that he did not, coupled with the fact that Abregú passed his own test with flying colors after scoring two knockdowns en route to a shocking seventh round stoppage, put the welterweight region of the boxing world on notice: “El Potro” (Spanish for "The Colt") was merely beginning to trot his way to a title bout and beyond.
His next step was a big fight in his homeland, which he got it in the co-main event in Sergio Martinez’s triumphant homecoming in April of 2013, where he defeated once-beaten Canadian contender Antonin Decarie.
And then, the phone began to not ring. Again.
“I am a big welterweight,” says Abregú, exploring the possible reasons behind his recent inactivity. “When I fight with other welterweights I am the bigger one. I make an effort but I always make weight. I am not going to say it’s easy for me, because it’s not so. But I am always fine come fight time. This is the category that has the most talent and this is where we want to be."
But one can only wait so much. Tired of waiting for a top welterweight to take his challenge, Abregu took his act even closer to home, taking on previously unbeaten Jean Carlos Prada of Venezuela to end a one-year ring hiatus in front of 10,000 paying customers in Salta (something unheard of in any other part of Latin America, where half-empty small arenas are routinely seen in televised fights). He hit the canvas once before scoring an eight-round stoppage to cap a 7-0 streak since his defeat at the hands of Bradley—with two unbeaten and one once-beaten fighters among his victims.
And in his eternally positive spirit, Abregú counts the Bradley fight as a moral victory that outshines the gloom of his first defeat.
“Bradley beat me in the same year in which he beat Pacquiao and Marquez, so that put me in the conversation,” says Abregú. “But even so, what I want most is a rematch. If I had to fight Bradley again, I’d even do it for free. If I ever win that (rematch), things would change for me.”
Strong words for a fighter that has not been known for making changes in his career. He has had the same trainer, Nestor Jaime, and manager since his earliest days, and he counts this as one of his strongest virtues.
“My team has always cared for me. We all work seriously on my team,” says Abregú. “But because we were far [from the center of attention in Buenos Aires] we had to work harder. We weren’t as lucky as the other champions. They had all the support, but we always had it tough.
Still, a change in his leaky defense—his most glaring fault in an otherwise solid, bread-and-butter style—could be a welcome addition to his game. But it’s hard to argue with the results so far.
Of course, his terrific confidence took a while to build up. Earlier on in his career, Abregú turned down a challenge or two, claiming that he was offered fights against the likes of Vernon Forrest and Andre Berto as early as 2009, which he rejected for not being ready at that moment. But those years are long gone, and he now feels himself on the other side of the predicament: now, it is the rest of the pool of fighters in his weight class the ones who are not ready for him.
“If we were ready for Pacquiao, I doubt that we are not ready for any surprises,” says Abregú, to illustrate his point. “We were going to take the fight with Pacquiao convinced that we could beat him. Or anyone else, for that matter.”
And if that fight ever happens, we can always be sure that Abregú will once again be fighting it on foreign turf. That would probably suit him just fine.