American flyweight champion Brian Viloria looking to strike a blow for the little guys

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
American flyweight champion Brian Viloria looking to strike a blow for the little guys
American flyweight champion Brian Viloria looking to strike a blow for the little guys

Brian Viloria is a 32-year-old American, a former Olympian and a pro's pro. He's had three stints as a world champion covering two divisions. He's one of the most fun fighters in the world to watch.

Yet, he's never fought live on either of the major boxing networks in the U.S. – HBO or Showtime. On Saturday, he'll defend his WBA/WBO flyweight title against Juan Francisco Estrada as part of Top Rank's first foray into the Chinese market at the Venetian in Macau.

The fight card will go live Saturday in Macau at 6:30 a.m. ET, but will be televised on same-day tape delay on HBO2 at 2 p.m. ET/PT, marking Viloria's big-time debut in many ways.

That it took Viloria well over a decade to get to this point is baffling. The major U.S. promoters haven't put the kind of time and money into the classes below featherweight that they have into the middle- and upper-tier classes, and, as a result, the fighters' image suffers.

The television networks haven't been eager to gamble on them, either. When current HBO Sports president Ken Hershman was running the boxing programming at Showtime, he made the choice to air lighter weight fighters.

At the time Hershman agreed to broadcast the first Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez super bantamweight title fight in 2007. It was extremely rare that 122-pounders would be featured as a main event.

He was rewarded with two Fights of the Year and one of the greatest rivalries in modern boxing history.

It would have seemed to teach all of those in boxing a lesson, but sadly, it did not. More than six years have passed since that electric night in Carson, Calif., when Vazquez and Marquez first tangled, and still, it's rare that fighters under 122 are featured on the premium cable networks.

Viloria, whom many regarded as the best fighter in 2012, has no explanation for the lack of recognition smaller fighters receive in the U.S. He's only fought once in the continental U.S. in more than four years, preferring to go to where the smaller fighters are appreciated.

"I don't get it; I was hoping you could tell me [why Americans don't seem interested in smaller fighters]," Viloria said. "My last four or five fights, I feel, have been HBO-worthy, and I'm glad they're taking notice now."

Last month, HBO announced that it would no longer do business with fighters promoted by Golden Boy. That was seen as an opportunity for promoters who weren't getting many dates on the network.

Hopefully, though, part of what comes of the HBO-Golden Boy split will be opportunities for fighters like Viloria.

For those who catch a break and gain the notice of a significant promoter or one of the television networks, boxing is a wonderful sport filled with great opportunities. It's a vicious, difficult road filled with heartache, hurt and low pay, though, for those who haven't broken through.

Some fighters can't take it, especially after giving the greater part of their lives to chasing stardom. And Viloria had his moments in which he pondered whether it was time to move on to the next phase of his life.

"I'd be lying if I said that it didn't cross my mind [to give up the dream]," Viloria said. "But at the same time, I still have the passion for it. I love doing this. I've been doing this since I was very young. I tend to not look at things in a negative light and think about what hasn't gotten right or what hasn't worked. I tend to enjoy it and be thankful for what it has given me.

"At this stage of my career, I don't have a lot of time left. But I feel like I have a lot of great fights still to give, so I want to take advantage of that."

His last outing, a win in November over Tyson Marquez, was one of the runners-up for the 2012 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year. The bout Saturday with Estrada could be more of the same.

[Also: Texas activists seek pardon for late boxer Jack Johnson]

Estrada, who is coming off a loss to the highly regarded Roman Gonzalez, is an energetic fighter who will push Viloria.

Viloria, though, showed he has what it takes to win that kind of fight when he handled Marquez.

If he puts on a show Saturday against Estrada, and odds are that he will, hopefully he'll have proven he deserves a regular spot in HBO's rotation.

And even more significantly, hopefully Viloria on Saturday and Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux on April 13 can convince the HBO brass that the lighter weight fighters are more than worth showcasing.

A great fight is a great fight, no matter the class, and the lower-weight fighters tend to put on a higher percentage of great fights than any other.

What to Read Next