Celina Salazar’s Costa Rican Getaway
Photo courtesy of Arturo Ramos

By David A. Avila

Celina Salazar almost magically changed tactics midway through a tense six round fight and it proved the winning strategy in defeating stubborn Maria Elena Villalobos.

An especially eager Salazar (6-1-2) accepted a bantamweight challenge against Mexico City’s ring hardened Villalobos (13-11-1) in ultra-green San Jose, Costa Rica last Saturday. Despite 10 days-notice, San Antonio’s Salazar took the match.

When Salazar accepted the bout, she had no knowledge whom she would be fighting. Villalobos, a well-known fighter in the female boxing world had previously battled against multiple world champions including Janeth Perez, Yazmin Rivas, Marcela Eliana Acuna, Alicia Ashley and Ana Julaton. She gave each one a tussle with several of those ending with split decisions.

Female boxing has entered a crossroads of sorts. Few women’s bouts are getting television exposure especially in the U.S. while other continents are enjoying a renaissance in South America, Asia and Europe. In North America the female prizefighters in Mexico are the only women fighting regularly and on TV.

Despite a 50/50 record, Villalobos, 41, is ranked in the top 10 among junior featherweights because of her competitiveness against the elite of her weight class. Salazar is ranked a few spots higher but is now fighting at the 118-pound bantamweight division.

Salazar was facing her third consecutive strong opponent. Last year she handed multi-world champion Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton a decisive defeat after 10 rounds. The win sent shockwaves in the female fight world. Many expected Julaton’s experience to be too much for Salazar, especially before a televised audience in a Mexican bull ring in Cancun. The Texas girl blasted away and did not let up to win every round. That win also scared away many opponents for the next 11 months.

A year earlier, Salazar was the only prizefighter willing to step in the ring against Las Vegas speedster Melinda “La Maravilla” Cooper a former world champion. A search to find an opponent for Cooper had stretched across continents until her management Arqangel Promotions found a web site that showed a photo of Salazar holding a small sign with writing that read “Will Fight For Food!” A quick call resulted in a yes and the match was held on a Golden Boy Promotions card at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Sept. 8, 2012.

After six back and forth rounds against the hard-hitting Cooper, the judges ruled it a majority decision win for Cooper who used her speed and movement to convince the judges and the outcome. So far it’s Salazar’s only loss. Cooper’s management team saw Salazar’s talent and the Texas girl signed with Arqangel Promotions a few months later. Cooper, Salazar and California’s Crystal Morales the current IFBA lightweight titlist are all under the same banner.

Winning a world title has been Salazar’s motivation and blocking her path was Villalobos in Costa Rica.

“She was very strong with her stance,” said Salazar, 25, in analyzing Mexico City’s rugged Villalobos. “I tried to move her backwards but she was strong.”

Despite an advantage in youth, Salazar needed to create a solution to provide distance. The two female prizefighters were banging away at each other in front of the Costa Rican fans. It got rough and Salazar may have crossed the boundary. A point was deducted from her.

“I still don’t know why I was deducted a point,” said Salazar who weighed in at 120 and Villalobos at 126. “She hit me with a punch and I turned things around and pushed her and began to hit her when the referee stopped it.”

The San Antonio prizefighter knew she needed to convince the judges in the close fight that she was the superior boxer.

“My trainer (Arturo Ramos) told me to change things and begin using the jab, it worked,” said Salazar who had not fought since August 17, 2013 when emerged victorious over Julaton in Cancun, Mexico on a Golden Boy Promotions card.

The change in strategy worked as Villalobos seemed too stationary and could not adapt to the jab. After six rounds one judge scored it 58-58 while the other two saw Salazar the clear-cut winner at 59-57 and 57-56.

According to her promoters Salazar will contend for the bantamweight world title perhaps as soon as next month.

“I really didn’t have much time to prepare for this fight,” said Salazar who can easily make 118 or fight at 122. “But for the title fight I’ll be ready for sure.”

It was Salazar’s first fight in Costa Rica and she looks forward to performing in the Central American paradise again.

“I really liked it,” Salazar said. “It was not what I expected. I needed more time to look around.”

Other fight chatter

WBA junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas (24-0, 9 Kos) makes his first world title defense against Anton Novikov (29-0, 10 Kos) on Saturday Aug. 2, at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Vargas, a former Los Angeles resident now living in Las Vegas, could be fighting Riverside’s Mauricio Herrera should he defeat Novikov. Herrera is ranked number one by the WBA.

Southern California’s Frankie Gomez (18-0, 13 Kos) remained undefeated with a decisive win over Vernon Paris (28-2, 16 Kos) on Friday at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. Paris was knocked down in the fourth round but was able to resume the battle. Gomez, 22, has been steadily moving up the junior welterweight rankings.  

A female contest between France’s Anne Sophie Mathis and Germany’s Christina Hammer was ruled a “no contest” days after Hammer was declared the winner by disqualification. Mathis originally knocked out Hammer with a blow to the head, but the referee ruled it was an illegal blow behind the head. A later review by the German Boxing Federation resulted in that organization nullifying the disqualification and that it was not an illegal blow.