MANILA, Philippines - IBF lightflyweight champion Brian Viloria is engaged to be married to long-time girlfriend Erika Navarro late this year but even as he’s floating on air in Cloud 9, the “Hawaiian Punch” is sharply focused on his fight against Colombian challenger Carlos Tamara at the Cuneta Astrodome this Saturday.
“Tamara’s a dangerous opponent and he’s as determined as me to win,” said Viloria. “He’s slightly taller and I expect him to use his reach advantage. He’s got respectable power. I’ll try to get inside his defense, work the body and slow him down. He’ll run and box so I’ve got to stay on top of him, put a lot of pressure. I’ll adjust as the fight goes on, depending on what he brings to the table. I don’t know if it’s going the distance but you can be sure I’ll be in there loading up and throwing bombs.”
Viloria, making the second defense of the IBF crown he wrested from Ulises Solis here last April, promised an explosive display of fireworks.
“The old Brian is back,” he said. “I remember firing a thousand punches a round and being very aggressive when I started out. That’s what you’ll see against Tamara. Anything can happen in a fight like this. So I’ve got to take the initiative. I now know what it’s like being down, to be in a slump. I don’t ever want that to happen to me again. That’s my motivation. It’s so easy to lose, to fall off. And it’s so hard to get to the top. Now that I’m back as a world champion, I’m making sure I stay a world champion.”
A celebrated Sydney Olympian, Viloria won his first title, the WBC 108-pound crown, on a sensational one-round knockout over Mexico’s Eric Ortiz in 2005. Then he lost the title in his second defense to Omar Niño Romero. A rematch with Romero ended in a majority draw that was later declared a no-contest after the Mexican tested positive for drugs. Viloria failed to regain the crown, losing by majority decision to Edgar Sosa for the vacant throne after Romero was stripped of the title for drug use. He rebuilt his career by winning five in a row in small-time arenas before facing Solis last April.
It was after attending midnight Mass last Christmas when Viloria popped the question during an exchange of gifts with friends in Los Angeles.
“I got Brian’s present and it was a DVD with a note stuck on it, saying play me,” recalled Navarro, a full-blooded Filipina born and raised in Hawaii - she’s in town with Viloria. “It was a video showing pictures and film clips of us together, our trips, our happy moments. At the end of the slide show, there was this letter that read: ‘I want to continue on this journey with you not as my girlfriend but as my wife.’ Then, Brian got on his knees and asked, ‘will you marry me?’ I was in tears. I never expected it. He’d been in training six days a week and I couldn’t imagine him doing this video. It was really sweet of Brian, something that came from the heart.”
Viloria’s other surprise was giving Navarro a two-karat canary yellow diamond engagement ring.
“Whenever Erika and I would pass by this jewelry store in L. A., she’d look at the ring - she must have looked at it in about eight different trips to the mall,” said Viloria. “When I finally went to the store to buy it without her knowing of course, the ring was gone. Someone had put it on hold for three months. I offered to buy it right there and then. At first, it was difficult to convince the storekeeper I was for real. I just came from training. I was in a sweat suit. The guys in the store all wore suits. I looked like a bum from the streets. But I got it. I understand a canary yellow diamond ring is rare - I think it’s the same kind of diamond Ben Affleck gave to Jennifer Lopez.”
Producing the video was another task. Viloria had to squeeze in the time during camp.
“We plan to get married in Hawaii in November or December,” said Viloria. “Maybe, we’ll honeymoon in the Philippines.”
Navarro, 28, is a University of Hawaii nursing graduate and traces her roots to Cabugao, Ilocos Sur. Viloria and Navarro have known each other since their school days but began dating seriously only five years ago.
But first things first. Viloria has Tamara to hurdle and his mindset is to take Navarro to the altar as a world champion.
“Tamara’s more like a Jesus Iribe (his second challenger whom he outpointed) than a Solis,” said Viloria. “He’s a former Olympian like me. I can’t take him lightly. I’m not looking beyond Tamara although it’s tempting to talk about a unification with Ivan Calderon. I just want to make sure Tamara is over and done with before thinking about future plans.”
Tamara, 26, is ranked No. 7 by the IBF and has won his last three outings. His record is 20-4, with 14 KOs, and he holds a win over Alejandro Hernandez, the rugged Mexican who battled Marvin Sonsona to a draw in Ontario last November.
Viloria, 29, has not lost in his last seven outings. His record is 26-2, with 15 KOs.
Fighting in Manila is special for Viloria but it really doesn’t make a difference where he performs.
“It’s the same ring wherever I fight,” said Viloria. “Of course, it’s special for me to fight in Manila just like it’s special for me to fight before my family in Hawaii. It was in Manila where I won my IBF title in a very emotional victory. But I also remember fighting in an open-air makeshift arena in a bad part of LA once under pouring rain. I had to be carried into the ring because my guys didn’t want my feet to get wet with three inches of rain on the ground. That was when I was down in the dumps and trying to pick up the pieces. That was also special for me. I don’t really care where I fight. I just want to put on an exciting show for the fans and prove that the old Brian is back for good.”