- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Unfortunately, there is nothing unusual about a top fighter taking a year off between fights these days, but in the case of junior middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo, there is nothing normal about his year off.
"Perro," one of boxing's most consistently exciting fighters, gets back in the ring on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT) on a triple-header headlined by junior featherweight titlist Abner Mares' defense against bantamweight titleholder Anselmo Moreno, who is moving up in weight.
Angulo (20-2, 17 KOs) will face Raul Casarez (19-2, 9 KOs) in a scheduled 12-round bout in his first action since his all-out brawl with James Kirkland last November. Angulo lost that fight by sixth-round knockout, but it was a sensational action fight, which included the 2011 ESPN.com round of the year: a chaotic first in which both men were knocked down.
Ideally, Angulo would have shaken off the loss and been back in action a few months later. But it was not that simple.
Angulo, 30, is from Mexico, and although the specifics of his problems are a bit murky, the bottom line is that he had immigration issues that were so severe he spent seven months in an Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center in El Centro, Calif., trying to get things resolved. What he and his team thought would be only a few days or maybe a few weeks turned into a very lengthy ordeal.
Angulo, who had been in the country illegally at times and had previous run-ins with INS, said he was told at one point early in his stay by one of the officers there that he would never get out.
"I had no idea when I was going to get out," Angulo said through translator and Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez. "I was told it was going to be a short time and obviously that didn't happen. So I just kept focusing on staying strong, just to get out of there.
"I kept thinking about my daughter, which is very important to me. And also I kept thinking about helping other detainees that were in the same situation as I was. The last thing was being able to get back in the ring and fighting in the United States again."
Angulo -- who is now working with reigning trainer of the year Virgil Hunter -- said he was not allowed to train while detained in what amounted to a prison-like existence. He could not even get a pair of sneakers, even though other detainees were allowed to have them, in a timely fashion. He felt like he was being singled out.
"A simple thing like having tennis shoes, it took me two months," Angulo said. "They didn't allow me to use or have tennis shoes for two months. The rules stipulate that it's a three-day process, but for some reason it took me two months to get tennis shoes. The only thing I ever did to stay physically fit and in shape was play handball and I did that every day for two hours a day."
After a long legal process, Angulo said his immigration issues have been taken care of and he is in the United States legally. He lives in Los Angeles now.
"I'm here legally. Everything is fine," he said. "The process is behind me. All I have to do now is just think about the future and move forward.
"I'm back in my town and it feels great. I've worked hard for this and I'm ready to get back in the ring. This is going to be a really good fight for the fans. I'm just grateful to get this opportunity after everything I've been through. ... I always knew that one day I would be free to fight again, the question was always when."
Angulo is thrilled to be able to get back to work -- and a couple of wins in a loaded division could set him up for something big -- but while he was on the sidelines he tried to make the best of a bad situation. He has been learning English. He talked about trying to help fellow detainees.
He also grew his hair out, a big change from the closely cropped look he used to have. It will wind up helping others.
"I've always believed that for every bad thing that happens in life, something good would come out of it," he said. "My hair was getting long anyway and one day I got on the Internet and did some research and found out about Locks of Love."
Locks of Love is an organization that takes hair from others and uses it to help make wigs for sick children who have lost their own hair.
"I never planned to do anything for charity until I read about it," Angulo said. "You need to donate at least 10 inches of your hair. I haven't had a real haircut in a while and I still have a little ways to go, but once it is long enough, that's where my hair is going."
The hair will go to those sick kids. Angulo will go back to where he belongs: the ring.
After spending seven months in an immigration detention center, Alfredo Angulo is ready to return to the ring and reclaim his place as one of the most exciting fighters in boxing.