Alex Saucedo grew up in Oklahoma, which isn’t known as a boxing hotbed. He was 9 years old when he first gave it a try, and though it took him several years to realize his potential, he was willing to do anything and everything to improve.
He was 14 when the idea first passed through his head that he was good enough to be a professional world champion, but his life really turned a year or so earlier.
He was 13 and hadn’t filled out as quickly as the other boys his age. He had yet to win a significant amateur tournament. There weren’t many serious boxers around that he could spar with to help him improve. So his father decided to take a dramatic step, one that some would see as an unnecessary risk. But to Saucedo, it was the perfect move at the perfect time. His father matched him with some of the professional boxers who lived around him. One of those was Carson Jones, a 21-year-old who was 20 fights into his pro career.
It put Saucedo on the path toward a championship, he believes. By the time he was 14, he began winning amateur tournaments and felt a world championship was in the offing. And if he beats Maurice Hooker on Friday when they fight for Hooker’s WBO super lightweight title on ESPN+ in Oklahoma City, he’ll fulfill his prophecy of a decade earlier.
The 24-year-old Saucedo said those lessons were valuable, and that he was never intimidated despite being far less physically mature, or experienced, than those he was sparring.
“When I was 14, I started winning some big tournaments and I started knocking some guys out in the amateurs,” said Saucedo, whose grit in the fourth round in a fight in June with Lenny Zappavigna led to that being a leading candidate for Round of the Year. “I was winning tournaments and started seeing better things. I could feel myself getting stronger and I told myself, ‘You keep doing this, you could go all the way.’
“I would spar a lot of the professional fighters who were in Oklahoma at the time. When I was 14, I’d do pretty good and I remember saying, ‘Wow, I’m better than them.’ I was able to stand up to them and that I think really led me to believe if I did the right thing, I could do some big things in this sport.”
If he can cross the finish line and defeat Hooker to become a champion, he has the chance to become an attraction, because he fights with a crowd-pleasing style.
He’s not a face-first brawler by any means, but he’s the kind of fighter who won’t shy away if he’s required to punch his way out of difficulty.
He teamed with trainer Abel Sanchez two years ago, and said it was one of the best moves he’s made. Sanchez, who is a demanding coach, made a few adjustments in his stance and Saucedo has looked vastly better since.
“When I first took him on, it was easier for us because he had a style I liked and so that made it simpler to push the buttons I needed to push and correct the things I had to correct,” Sanchez said. “There wasn’t that much I had to change, to be honest with you. But he’s a very mentally tough guy and he’s serious about his career. He wants to be as good as he can be and if you see him over time, he’s on an upward trajectory.”
Sanchez praised Hooker as a talented fighter with a good jab, but said, “It’s going to be hard for [Hooker] to stand up to the tenaciousness of this pit bull who is going to be coming at him.”
Saucedo, though, isn’t as impressed by Hooker. He said he received messages from fans all around the world about his performance against Zappavigna, and noted that many said it was the best fight they’d seen since Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward nearly 20 years ago.
But he’s not expecting that kind of fight with Hooker.
“I don’t think he has the heart to go like that,” Saucedo said of the champion. “He doesn’t have heart. I saw him quit in the gym, a couple of times, to be honest. Once a quitter, always a quitter. I’m never going to quit, ever. That’s how I’m made. As long as there is time in the fight, I’m going to keep coming and keep throwing punches and trying to get that knockout.
“I saw him in Big Bear and he couldn’t last three rounds with a 135-pounder. I’m just talking from what I have seen. We’ll see if he can hang, but I don’t think he can.”
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