His frame is better suited for a jockey than a prizefighter. Ivan Calderon, all 5-foot, 108 pounds of him, is not built for pugilistic superstardom, not in this neck of the woods, anyway.
Calderon (33-0-1), who holds the WBO light flyweight (108 pounds or under) title, and defends it on Saturday night at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, isn't dripping with contempt or overflowing with frustration that his superlative skill set hasn't catapulted him to the top of the pound-for pound lists, and packed his bank account with massive piles of green.
The boxer, who turned pro in 2001, understands his place in the game. He knows that in the U.S., bigger is better. We like our fast food meal deals, our televisions and our prizefighters XXL. Sure, we'll make an exception for a compact dynamo like Manny Pacquiao, but if the current class of heavyweights weren't so woeful, you can rest assured more eyes would be glued to the big boys.
At the Garden on Thursday to hype his defense against Mexico's Jesus Iribe, the 35-year-old Calderon came off as a humble athlete who comprehends his role in the sports world. Sporting a 17-0-1 record in title fights, Calderon is a heavy draw in his native Puerto Rico, which is why Bob Arum has him headlining at MSG the day before New York's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade.
"This is a big main event," Calderon told ESPNNewYork.com. "Having my people here, being behind me, it will be like I'm fighting in Puerto Rico. They'll be screaming, 'Ivan, Ivan!'"
The little lefty can make a foe look like a buffoon when he slips punches. He'll dip, and rip, and vacate the premises before getting touched by a counter. The champ's legs have slowed a bit in the past couple of years, so Iribe might have some success in targeting scar tissue on Calderon's forehead and right eye. But Iribe should be careful, Calderon's straight left is dangerous. It's not a KO punch, but it has more than enough zip to let anyone know he's got more pop than a jockey.
The fact he doesn't have classic KO power is one reason given for Calderon's inability to draw interest fom network suits. He admits to being frustrated that the execs at HBO and Showtime haven't shown much interest in him and his weight class. Fighters that don't come off as fearsome on the tube simply aren't able to nail down TV dates like the boxers in higher weight classes.
"Guys like me, we have to work hard, give a good fight, give more action," he said. "Do I think I should be paid more money? Not the same as [fellow Puerto Rican] Miguel Cotto and them, but more than they pay us now, yes. I get a little angry sometimes. But I know how to save money, that why I don't get too worried."
Calderon says he might be even more popular in Puerto Rico than Cotto, who is more known among fight fans. "Because of my personality, I'm more friendly, I talk," Calderon said. "But he's been fighting good names, that makes him more popular than me."
Because of his stature, however, that popularity doesn't translate into bigger piles of loot. Still, he's not consumed by the size-bias in fight fans.
Cotto, the current WBA 154-pound champion who lifted that crown from Yuri Foreman in the Bronx last week, usually gets the pre-parade honors, but this year the timing didn't work for Arum. He decided on Plan B, Calderon, back in February, when he figured that Cotto was going to be otherwise detained at Yankee Stadium the week before the parade. The promoter couldn't sweet talk the Yankees into going on the road the day before the parade -- they play at home versus the Houston Astros -- so he's making do with Calderon and The Theater instead of Cotto and the big room.
"This fight is big because it's the main event," Calderon said. "But I don't care if it's at Madison Square Garden, and I'm not the headliner. I just want to be on TV, I don't care if it's the second or third fight. When I headline, it's more pressure to fill up the arena. That's good and bad. If you don't fill it up, then people can say, 'That's why we don't pay you the big money!'"
The Theater will be set up for about 4,700, and Arum isn't expecting a sellout. It's one reason the fight will be on Fox Sports and not popular boxing networks, Showtime or HBO
"Ivan has limited utility," Arum said. "He's pretty good in the Hispanic market, with Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, but he's an impossible sell in the U.S. There will be enough Puerto Ricans here for the parade that we'll get credible attendance."
Arum is asked if these flyweights buzz at him angrily for their lack of revenue generation. "These lighter weight fighters, they piss and moan," Arum said, "but not at me. At the fate that made them smaller."