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You break it, you bought it: Ivan Calderon vs Giovani Segura

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One of the greatest installments of the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry went down in 2010.

Joel Perez/Puerto Rico Best Boxing

It’s fun to look back on The Ring’s pound-for-pound lists of yesteryear, to trace the ebbs and flows of the sport’s elite. In 2011, the year I started sportswriting, the “Bible of Boxing” produced the following:

  1. Manny Pacquiao
  2. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
  3. Sergio Gabriel Martinez
  4. Nonito Donaire
  5. Juan Manuel Marquez
  6. Wladimir Klitschko
  7. Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
  8. Timothy Bradley
  9. Giovani Segura
  10. Andre Ward

Fairly standard, for the most part; plenty of recognizable names, many of whom remained on or near this list for years to come. Then there’s #9, unified WBO/WBA “super” light flyweight champion Giovani Segura.

His presence was reasonable on paper. Between his successful of defenses and truly freakish knockout percentage for a man his size, the man arguably had a pound-for-pound résumé. It’s how he went about getting that résumé that’s utterly fascinating: he ripped that spot in the rankings from an all-time great through sheer bloody-mindedness.

It’s August 28th, 2010. “The Aztec Warrior” is five months removed from a non-title knockout of Ronald Ramos; he’d claimed the WBA belt in 2009 by avenging his lone career loss to Cesar Canchila and subsequently defended it thrice, including a knockout of future Pong-punisher Sonny Boy Jaro. In the other corner stands Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon, a pound-for-pound alumnus (in that same #9 slot) undefeated in nine years as a professional.

After 11 defenses as king of the minimumweights, 35-year-old Calderon has run the 108-pound division since 2007. He is every trainer’s dream, a razor-sharp counter-puncher with lovely footwork and defense sound enough to extend the traditionally paltry lifespan of an elite lower-weight boxer.

Segura, by contrast, started boxing at the age of 20, making up for his relative inexperience with an inhuman motor, inhuman grit, and inhuman punch. It’s almost farcical to watch him trudge out of his corner at the bell; the lower weights’ calling card is swiftness, and Giovani Segura is not swift. He lumbers after Calderon like a man twice his weight and half again his height, a 5’4” hulk tasked with cutting off nearly 600 square feet of ring. His lead hand never gets into position to protect his chin, too busy looping after the ephemeral boricua in ugly arcs.

He does not maintain his stance as he advances, at times straight-up power walking across the ring. Stepping into the pocket is a painfully telegraphed process, no jab in sight to ease the transition. And all the while, Calderon is dancing, filling the cavernous openings Segura leaves behind with clean jabs, crushing right hooks and straight lefts.

Every time Segura does manage to get forehead-to-forehead, though, he’s ramming punches into Calderon’s midsection with no thought to defense. Even as his lead hooks fall half a foot short and Calderon smothers his infighting with effective clinches, he never stops punching no matter how stupid “Iron Boy” makes him look.

By the fourth round, the snowball’s getting dangerously big. Whether hurt or worn down from his constant motion, Calderon willingly plants his feet against the ropes and Segura somehow finds another gear to unload about a minute of uninterrupted punches. The announcers praise Calderon’s defense and the lancing lefts for which he’s finding openings, declaring that Segura has to be exhausted after that sort of onslaught.

Except he’s not. Out he lumbers, feet as always in only the vaguest suggestion of a stance, and he just keeps punching. What should have been a knockdown is called a slip and still he comes; by now, Calderon’s shoes look like they’re full of lead. In the sixth, “Iron Boy” seems to have resigned himself to the fact that he can’t get away, knuckling down with booming counters far more fearsome than his single-digit knockout record would suggest.

There was an article I’d long meant to write about my favorite MMA fighter, the indestructible John Lineker, and how his complete lack of physical reaction to the punches he takes turns the gruesome spectacle of violence into cartoon slapstick. As Calderon blasts him with textbook shots, Segura is that same breed of juggernaut. He just keeps walking and he just keeps punching, perfectly executing the gameplan espoused by drunken bar patrons everywhere.

Though Calderon’s shift in tactics stemmed the bleeding, there’s only so much a man can take. He goes down to a knee early in the eighth and stays there, expression unmoving, until the referee counts 10.

Segura would ultimately fell Calderon again in far easier fashion before stepping up to 112 pounds to challenge Brian Viloria, who presented Segura with the prestigious Denis Lebedev “What the F*ck Happened to your Eye” Award. He ultimately found mixed success at the weight, demolishing prospect Jonathan “Bomba” Gonzalez and veteran “Tyson” Marquez among losses to Edgar Sosa and Juan Francisco Estrada, before hanging up the gloves in 2016.

Pound-for-pound lists are obviously entirely subjective and nobody seems to agree on what the definition should be, but making it into the sport’s premier publication is quite the feat. Doing so when your only tactic is “just chase him down and beat his ass” is one worth honoring.