Something dawned on Orlando Salido while getting drubbed by Juan Manuel Marquez: I can fight. I can actually make a living doing this.
On Sept. 18, 2004, Salido met Marquez in the co-main event of a pay-per-view show at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas that was headlined by Oscar De La Hoya against Bernard Hopkins.
Salido was all but totally ignored in the pre-fight buildup and, truth be told, didn't give himself much of a chance. He didn't really believe he could win and went out and fought that way.
"I gave him way, way too much respect," Salido says now.
The bout was Marquez's first since a thrilling draw against Manny Pacquiao earlier that year. Salido was little more than a warm body thrown in because commission regulations required two fighters in the ring at all times.
Judges called the fight by a wide margin for Marquez, with two of them giving him nine of the 12 rounds and the third giving him 10 of 12.
But as time on the clock wound down, Salido realized he was good enough to compete with the best in the business.
"It was during that fight that I realized that I could be elite," said Salido, who more than eight years later is still campaigning at featherweight and will defend his WBO belt on Saturday in an HBO-televised card in New York against highly regarded unbeaten prospect Mikey Garcia.
Garcia has the talent and the charisma to become one of the sport's next big stars and there has been much speculation about his next move.
That's all well and good with Salido and manager Sean Gibbons, who got a kick out of the fact that it wasn't all that long ago he was being totally written off against Juan Manuel Lopez.
Lopez defended his belt against Salido for the first time on April 16, 2011, in Puerto Rico. The bout was one designed to allow Lopez to look good as plans were made for a major featherweight unification bout with Yuriorkis Gamboa.
But Salido went into Lopez's hometown and handed him his first loss, stopping him in the eighth round of a sensational battle.
Then, on March 10, as if to prove it was no fluke, Salido returned to Puerto Rico and did it again. He wore Lopez down and stopped him in the 10th round of a yet another great fight.
Gibbons, who used to work for Top Rank, thought his former employers would have learned a lesson and wouldn't be looking past Salido again. But he said it's exactly what's occurring.
"All I'm hearing is, 'Mikey this and Mikey that,' " Gibbons said. "I'm like, 'That's OK. I love it.' Let them look past Salido again."
Anyone who looks solely at records might make the same mistake. Garcia is 30-0 with 26 knockouts and owns the kind of physical gifts that promoter Bob Arum says "could make him a big, big star."
Salido is 32, but looks at least five years older. He's 39-11-2 and has been knocked out five times in his 11 losses.
Salido, though, has faced far better competition – in addition to Marquez, he's fought Lopez, Gamboa, Robert Guerrero and Alejandro "Cobrita" Gonzalez, among many others – and is keenly aware of what it takes to win at the sport's highest level.
He started to box when he was 15, not long after his mother abandoned the family following his father's death. He knew from the beginning of his career that it would take hard work, and plenty of it, to get to the top.
"That was a very depressing time," Salido said. "I was 15 and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. Boxing was my savior. It pulled me out of depression and it allowed me to make some money."
He's on the verge of making some serious money. He's expressed an interest in meeting Nonito Donaire in his next fight and a bout like that would bring the kind of payday that would allow him to give his children a life he never had.
Though it took him many years before he realized how good he could be, he never stopped competing.
And, he vowed, no matter how things are going early on with Garcia, he'll never make the mistake he made against Marquez and doubt himself again.
"I do believe he's an excellent fighter," Salido said of Garcia. "But so am I. I've gotten incredible support from Sean Gibbons and he put me with all the right people. Now, I can focus on my job and know that I have the best people around me.
"I've matured as a person and I've learned as a professional and I'm prepared to show that to the world on Saturday."
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