The art of war
Few fighters embody the spirit of the Mexican warrior more than Orlando ‘Siri’ Salido. Chanelling his inner Aztec, the battle-grizzled 60-fight veteran has been fiercely campaigning at world title level for a war hungry 11-and-a-half years and grafted as a pro for an astonishing two decades. Yet the four-time world champion is showing no signs of slowing down ahead of his highly anticipated, all-Mexican clash against WBC 130lbs title-holder Francisco Vargas at the StubHub Center in California this Saturday night (4 June).
The fearless Salido (43-13-3, 30 KOs), a human buzzsaw in the ring, has mixed it freely against boxing’s elite, rarely taking a backward step, with fighters of the stature of Vasyl Lomachenko and Juanma Lopez among the roll call of his victims. Underestimate Salido at your peril.
“It has been a long time in the sport but not for me,” Salido told Boxing Monthly over the phone via translator Roberto Jimenez from Los Angeles. “I’ve had to work hard to stay on top and I’ve never really looked at my longevity in the sport. I just take one fight at a time and not think of anything else.
“Obviously, I’ve matured both as a fighter and as a person. I feel I’m a much better boxer and try to be a better man also. I can’t fight any other way, I grew up watching the great Mexican fighters and that is the only way I know how to fight.”
His forthcoming battle with WBC king Vargas has "fight of the year" scrawled all over it with Salido, like the rest of us, expecting nothing less than a mano y mano war. “I have no doubt that it will a great fight,” stressed Salido, a former IBF and (two-time) WBO 126lbs and ex-WBO 130lbs champion. “We both come forward, throw a lot punches and like to give the fans a great show. I am sure it’s going to be a war. Watching [Vargas’] fight live against Takashi Miura, I felt he was losing, but he never gave up and he was able to come out with the knockout and that says a lot about his perseverance. I never look for my opponent’s weakness in a fight. I think about my own strengths and how to maximize them.”
In Salido’s previous brawl, the Mexican appeared to outgut Roman Martinez in their rematch (scored a controversial draw) after a slow start had cost him his WBO 130lbs title in their first fight five months earlier. “In the first fight, the referee never let me do my fight,” Salido told BM. “He was always holding me or talking to me and kept getting in the way and it frustrated me. I know I won the second fight easy and, almost everyone who saw it, agrees with me. Martinez was very, very, very fortunate he got a draw.”
Upsetting amateur boxing legend Lomachenko via split decision down at featherweight probably stands out as Salido’s finest achievement of a long and distinguished career. With the WBO crown on the line, Salido missed the weight and was therefore naturally stronger and more bullish on the night, which some observers felt was a cynical strategy rather than a simple weight miscalculation. That Salido’s shots regularly sailed south of the border did little to shift that perception.
“My body had outgrown the featherweight division by the time, but I tried to get one more fight in and just couldn’t do it,” Salido said. “I tried to get to the weight and it made me weak for the fight. I think I was strong in the first part [of] the fight and a little less in the middle. The last couple of rounds were difficult but it was a great victory for me because no one expected me to win and you always savour this more.”
Salido has battled many of boxing’s elite fighters and picks out several marquee names among his toughest encounters. “There are actually three guys," he said.
"Juan Manuel Marquez, his skills and accuracy made him difficult. Yurokis Gamboa’s speed was troublesome and Juanma Lopez was very strong. The two Lopez fights were tough because of his power, but the first win over him took me to the next level as a boxer and as a champion. That was probably the biggest win of my career.”
Like most Mexican fighters of note, Salido had to circumnavigate a number of obstacles as a street youth growing up in Ciudad Obregon in the district of Sonora. “I came from a very poor family and we have always worked hard for everything,” Salido said. “I had to fend for myself at a very young age and was fortunate to find boxing as a teenager. It was my salvation.”
Seeking a better life, Salido arrived in the US as an illegal alien paying $3,000 for himself and his wife to cross the border. That life-changing experience sticks with him every day. “It was what I needed to do and I was willing to sacrifice everything to get here and start a new life. It was not easy but just like in boxing you have to [show heart] and sacrifice everything to get what you want.
“I have always worked hard to get what I want. All I want is a better life for my kids and this is the best way to provide that for them. I sacrifice a lot in boxing and now, thanks to boxing, my kids will be able to live much better lives.”
Yet when Salido turned pro aged 15 in March 1996 and lost by a fourth round TKO to 20-year-old Ivan Cazarez few would dream he would become a four-time and two-weight world champion, especially after tasting defeat in six of his first 15 contests.
“When I went into boxing it was about money, [not] championships or fame. It was just a means to an end,” Salido told BM. “I never saw it as a career but as an opportunity to earn money. It was much later that I felt there was a possibility this could be my career as it turned out to be.
“If there is something I know about boxing it’s that you are going to win some and lose some. And you are only as good as your last fight. I give the fans great fights and give them entertainment. So, for me, this is more about giving the fans what they want regardless of the outcome.”
After 10 years’ service as a pro, Salido appeared to win his first world crown in November 2006, but after clinching the IBF featherweight title over Robert Guerrero, a unanimous decision triumph was changed to a no contest after the steroid Nandrolone was found in the Mexican’s system. Salido has always maintained his innocence with a blood test the following day proving negative to support his claims. How does he look back on those events? “Water under the bridge and there is no sense in trying to rewrite history,” he shrugged. “I know I did nothing wrong.”
That near miss made winning the same IBF title against Cristobal Cruz (W12) in Salido’s fourth world title shot in May 2010 all the more sweeter. “I was very happy to become a world champion and finally put a belt around my waist,” he said. “But it’s never been about being a world champion or being famous, it’s about giving the fans a great fight and something they will always remember.”
After forfeiting his IBF title in a unification fight with WBA champion Yuriorkis Gamboa, Salido upset unbeaten Juanma Lopez in Puerto Rico to win this second world crown [WBO 126lbs] in the first of two shoot-outs (TKO8 and TKO10). As one might expect, knocking out a celebrated Puerto Rican champion in his backyard proved a source of great satisfaction for a proud Mexican.
“In the first fight, I was once again a big underdog but came out with a huge victory in his own home,” recalled Salido. “Both fights were tough and Lopez is a huge puncher but he really was not ready for me in the first fight. In the second he was much better, had me down and hurt, but I got up, I never gave up, and knocked him out again. Two of my best and favourite wins.”
For many, the 35-year-old Salido is the epitome of a Mexican warmonger, respected for his iron will and persistence under fire. Handed few favours in life or a boxing ring, Salido has seized the opportunities missed by others with more natural gifts. Perhaps his legacy will only be truly appreciated with time.
“I want to be remembered as a warrior,” mused Salido. “As a fighter, who gave my all in the ring and that I always gave fans what they wanted. I hope that when they mention my name they will say, ‘Now that’s one tough Mexican.’”
HARD WORK REWARDED
In years to come, Orlando Salido will probably be regarded as one of the great warriors of his era, but his achievements had almost slipped under the radar until recently. Only now, after 20 years of service, is the Sonora warlord finally receiving overdue acclaim for his accomplishments. Long-time manager Sean Gibbons, however, always believed.
“Myself and Orlando are family. I admire Orlando in so many ways,” Gibbons told BM. “He is a great example of what hard work can bring you. I first met Orlando when I was the matchmaker at Top Rank. I booked Orlando in his first fight in the United States. It was on 23 March, 2001. He fought William Abelyan in Owensboro, Kentucky. The funny thing is he lost that fight, but you could see he had skills to be good so I started doing his fights.
“Orlando is cut from pure Mexico, pure Sonora DNA. Ever since Orlando was a young boy, nothing has come easy to him. He was in the streets hustling at the age of seven. So his fights are like his life, it has never been easy. Everything Orlando has gotten he fought for. The reason he is able to fight the wars he has had is because of his clean living outside of the ring. He always maintains his weight and lives 24-7 in taking care of his body. All year around, Orlando stays in shape. He is a true professional, a very hard working and family orientated person. He does what he does in boxing for the love of his family and to give them a better life than he had.”
Like most of us, Gibbons sees little danger of tactics breaking out in Salido’s challenge against WBC 130lbs champion Vargas. “I see the fight as a tremendous will of aggression,” Gibbons told BM. “But the difference in the fight is the experience of Orlando. People don’t give him credit for his natural boxing skills. He does things in the ring that you just don't teach.
“I think when Orlando does finally hang up the gloves, one day, people will look back at his career and put him right up there with the great Mexican fighters. You have a fighter who is a four-time world champion in two weight divisions, who has fought the best of the best at 126 and 130. He is the Mexican version of Freddie Pendleton.
“In my 25 years in the boxing business, I am most proud of my association with Orlando Salido,” continued Gibbons. “What he has done in boxing is great. I am most impressed with the man Orlando has become after all these years and how he has changed his family’s life, giving them the things he never had. Also, this year, Orlando and his lovely wife Mayra became U.S. residents. They received official status in January 2016. Orlando is the greatest example of what you can do with hard work and determination to make a better life.”