By Dean Berks – In the modern boxing world, where owning a glossy record is paramount to selling a prospect to a national television audience, Orlando Salido’s record of 43-13-4 with 30 ko’s doesn’t immediately catch the eye. But closer examination reveals why those in the business don’t concern themselves with figures and stats, but experience and reputation. Because if anyone thinks for one second that Salido’s thirteen losses mean he’s easily beatable, then they have absolutely no idea what desire, intensity, and gut check they have to go through to be privileged enough to add their name to that column. When your in the ring with this man, it becomes a baptism of fire.
Born on 18th November 1980 in Sonora, Mexico, Salido was just a fifteen year old teenager when he made his professional debut against Ivan Cazarez, unsurprisingly getting stopped in four. He continued learning his trade, whilst growing and maturing in to a man, over the next five years, winning and losing, but more essentially, developing and honing his technique. By that time, his record was an unimpressive 14-8-2 with 9 ko’s, but as previously stated, numbers can be misleading. A nine fight winning streak, including a win over former world champion Alfed Kotey, landed him his first title opportunity, against WBA “Super” & IBF featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. He took Marquez the full twelve rounds before losing a unanimous decision, but was now a name on the world scene and determined to land a world championship of his own.
He put together four wins before challenging Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero for the IBF title. Pressing forwards, he countered the slick boxing southpaw champion with right hands, before working him over on the inside with short hooks to the body and uppercuts to the head. It looked like Salido had realised his dream when he was awarded a unanimous decision, but joy turned to despair when he tested positive for anabolic steroid Nandrolone and was promptly stripped of the title and suspended. He vehemently denied foul play, and tests showed that this steroid could be produced by the body naturally in small amounts. A follow up test proved negative, and with his name cleared, he set his sights on regaining his former status.
Five wins set him up for a shot at the vacant IBF belt against Cristobal Cruz, but he finished empty handed as Cruz won a split decision. But three fights later he turned the tables, becoming world champion by claiming a unanimous decision. But his reign was brief. Paired with WBA “super” champion, the highly talented Yuriorkis Gamboa, the plan was to try and unify the titles whilst establishing who the true 9st king was. Salido had his moments, including dropping the unbeaten Cuban in round eight with an arching right hand, but the speed of Gamboa was too much to overcome. Gamboa won a unanimous decision, punctuated with a last round knockdown. It appeared Salido’s moment in the sun had come and gone, but his story was really just beginning.
Puerto Rican Juan Manuel Lopez was the reigning WBO champion, having previously held that organisations belt down at super-bantamweight. Unbeaten in 30 fights, 27 via the short route, he had burst on to the scene when he destroyed Daniel Ponce de Leon in the first round to win his first title. Five defences later, he stepped up to featherweight to capture the title there, retaining twice, and was viewed as an exciting puncher with a big future ahead of him. Going in to the fight with Salido, he was a heavy favourite to keep his crown.
However, Salido had very different ideas. The first four rounds were close but edged by Lopez who boxed cautiously from his southpaw stance, looking to keep the advancing bobbing and weaving Salido at bay. But in the fifth, Lopez started staying in front of Salido, exchanging punches. This allowed the Mexican to connect cleanly, tagging Lopez with regularity. And then as the round ticked down, a thumping right hand sent the champion hurtling to the floor. Lopez landed hard, clearly hurt. He got up and survived the round, but the tables had turned. Salido was on top now, pounding the resistance out of Lopez, until the referee finally stepped in to rescue the beaten Puerto Rican in round eight. Salido was champion once again.
Two defences followed, the first an eleventh round stoppage of Japan’s Kenichi Yamaguchi, the second a bruising rematch with Lopez. Salido survived a fifth round knockdown before, with both eyes swollen, eventually flooring and halting the former champion in the tenth. The back and forth action only added to Salido’s growing reputation as one of boxing’s toughest and most exciting fighters.
But his run came to an end when he went in with the unbeaten Mikey Garcia. Garcia, now a three-weight world champion, dominated from the start, forcing Salido to touchdown four times, before a clash of heads forced the fight to an eighth round technical decision. Garcia was awarded a wide points win and Salido’s title was gone. But not for long.
Garcia could no longer make the 9st limit and was forced to relinquish the title. So Salido was paired with boxing’s first openly gay fighter Orlando Cruz to fill the void, reclaiming his old belt via a seventh round knockout. But his next opponent would go on to be viewed by many as the best and most talented fighter on the planet.
Vasyl Lomachenko was arguably the greatest amateur boxer in history. Compiling a 396-1 record, the Ukrainian was twice Olympic and world champion, and now he was trying to become world champion in just his second professional fight.
And he very nearly did, losing a very tight split decision. However, the title was only on the line for him as Salido failed to make weight, forfeiting the title on the scales. Using his vast experience, and extra weight, Salido roughed up Lomachenko throughout. But Lomachenko responded well, coming on strong in the later rounds. But it wasn’t enough as Salido added a hugely impressive scalp to his record.
But making the featherweight limit had become to much for him and the inevitable rise up a division saw him fight for the interim WBO strap against Thailand’s Terdsak Kokietgym. The first round set the blueprint for a thrilling fight when Salido was sent down from a sharp left hand from southpaw Kokietgym. Salido got up and continued his assault. It was then Kokietgym’s turn to test the canvas when what initially appeared to be a body shot sent him over (replays showed the punch to be south of the border). Salido was knocked down again in round two but evened things up when a legit body punch sent Kokietgym to the mat for his second visit in the fourth. Unbelievably, Salido was then dropped again in the fifth. Although never really hurt from each knockdown, Salido was getting caught and dropping behind on the cards. But from the sixth round his swarming pressure was beginning to pay off. Kokietgym was starting to feel the pace and he was down again in the seventh from a barrage of punches. He bravely fought on, but Salido was in the driving seat now, chopping away at Kokietgym’s body, before bringing things to a conclusion with a vicious left uppercut straight right combination in round eleven.
But once again, his reign was brief. Now upgraded to full champion, he put the title on the line against former holder Roman Martinez. Salido had his successes early, rocking the Puerto Rican in the second. But he was sent down by a right hand in the third as Martinez worked his way back in. And Martinez really warmed to the task when he put Salido down again in the fifth. From there Salido struggled to pin Martinez down, with the challenger using movement and flurries to keep Salido off balance. After twelve rounds Martinez had done enough, taking Salido’s title by unanimous decision.
A rematch was arranged and this time Salido was more than ready to overturn the result of the previous fight. He jumped on Martinez from the start, his hands moving in perpetual motion. A right hand sent Martinez reeling in the third, the ropes preventing him from hitting the canvas. A count was issued, but a right from the champion sent Salido down later in the same round. The intensity in the fight was building. Both were rocked in an exciting round four and the action swayed back and forth as the rounds flew by. Salido finished the stronger, slamming right hands in to the head of Martinez, as yet another war went to the scorecards. It was felt that Salido had done enough to reclaim his title, but the judges decided it was a split draw, with Martinez retaining the title. Salido was unhappy with the decision, feeling he had more than done enough. He had thrown over a thousand punches, and even though Martinez had thrown less, the connection rate between the two was adjuged to have been the same.
It didn’t take long for another title shot to come his way though, this time against newly crowned WBC champion Francisco Vargas. Vargas had won the title in astonishing fashion, being knocked down and behind on points when he rallied to knock out Japan’s Takashi Miura in the 2015 Fight of the Year. That he opted to make his maiden defence against Salido showed the bravery of the unbeaten Mexican.
Be careful what you wish for is a phrase that has been thrust on many a fighter looking to make a name for himself. Add Vargas to that list. In a thrilling battle, the pair engaged in a punchathon, round after round of give and take action. Round five was one of the best rounds of any year, and it was no surprise at all when the fight swept up awards for the Fight of the Year for 2016. But yet again, Salido came up short, the fight being declared a majority draw, although the result was roundly viewed as a fair one.
Salido pushed for a rematch, but Vargas opted to defend against another countryman Miguel Berchelt, whom promptly ripped the title away from Vargas with an eleventh round win. Whether Berchelt will risk his laurels against Salido at any time soon remains to be seen.
What does appear clear though is that after a twenty year career, Salido actually appears to be getting better. His engine for a thirty six year old, especially on top of all the wars he has been involved in, is mightily impressive. It seems a matter of when, not if, that he will soon have another title belt strapped around his waist. It is not inconceivable either that Salido may even try his luck up at lightweight, chasing a title in a third division, such is the fighting spirit of the man.
For now though, he will have to be patient as he awaits his next opportunity. He is scheduled to return on the 29th April against a yet unnamed opponent, and will then choose his direction after this.
But for any champion looking to make a name for themselves, the name Orlando Salido is one that should be chosen with the upmost caution. Because their reign may well end up being a short one as this Mexican terror takes them to a place they will never forget.