No love lost between California sluggers

LOS ANGELES -- Dominic Salcido thinks he has Vicente Escobedo all figured out.

"It's going to be a tough fight," Salcido said of Friday's lightweight main event against Escobedo at Morongo Casino in Cabazon, Calif. "But I've followed him through his whole career, and I know what he is capable of and I know what he does. He has a real good jab, but I think I'll beat him to the punch every time. I'm faster than him."

Escobedo sees things a little differently.

"We were up in Big Bear helping Marco Antonio Barrera spar for his fight against Mzonke Fana [in April 2005]," Escobedo said. "He's been saying he's faster than me, that he has seen me spar. He's saying that about when I had two fights.

"I'm fast, too, and with power. I just don't think he has faced anyone like me, looking at the opponents he's fought. If he's real confident, that's good. I'm full of confidence, too."

A built-in aspect of tension and rivalry exists between the West Coast fighters as well. Salcido, 24, is from Southern California. Escobedo, 26, is from Northern California.

Add to that the fact that Escobedo's own promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, is courting the upstart Salcido, and you just might have the makings of a classic.

An Olympian at the 2004 Games in Athens, Escobedo is in the fourth year of a five-year promotional contract with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. Salcido, meanwhile, is promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions. If he beats Escobedo, all indications are that Golden Boy will buy a piece of the rights to promote Salcido.

"This is a risky fight for Vicente, [but it's also] a very important [one]," said Eric Gomez, Golden Boy matchmaker. "We have invested a lot of time, money and energy in Vicente. When you put him in a risky fight like this, you have to protect yourself."

Gomez said that talks have taken place between Golden Boy and Thompson Boxing for the future rights to Salcido. Gomez said that if Escobedo demolishes his opponent, however, Golden Boy's interest in Salcido could evaporate. But if the fight is close or Salcido wins, Golden Boy likely would enter into a deal in which Golden Boy and Thompson Boxing would co-promote Salcido.

Golden Boy has had its eye on Salcido since before the fight with Escobedo was announced.

"Dominic has been doing very well. He's a good fighter," Gomez said. "I've known him since he was a kid, when his sister [Marilyn] used to fight for us. We've had some interest in him for a while."

Salcido is 16-0 with eight knockouts, but he's faced troubles along the way. He's had two 11-month layoffs after injuries and the death of his first trainer, Bob Davidson, who passed away in July '04.

More recently, Salcido broke his hand during a fight with Odilon Rivera in March 2006.

Salcido was sidelined for 11 months, came back in February 2007 and has since gone 8-0 with three knockouts.

He almost didn't come back at all.

"Definitely, I was discouraged," Salcido said. "It was bad. I just wanted to give it all up."

Salcido stuck it out. According to Thompson Boxing matchmaker Alex Camponovo, Salcido is better than ever both physically and mentally. Gone is Salcido's flamboyant style in the ring, something that Camponovo believes was impeding his fighter's terrific foot and hand speed.

Salcido wasn't able to take full advantage of that hand speed because, according to Camponovo, he was dancing and moving too much.

Consequently, Salcido wasn't powerful enough because he didn't stay in one place long enough to get enough lift on his punches. Since ditching the showboat antics, Salcido has stopped three of his past six opponents -- two in the first round.

"He is now able to use his power and sit down on his punches a little bit more," Camponovo said.

Not lost in transition, however, is Salcido's cockiness. He promises not only to beat Escobedo but also to become a world champion by the end of next year.

A loss on Friday would dash those dreams and put his aspirations of boxing grandeur in jeopardy.

The same could be said about Escobedo. Although their professional records match up competitively (Escobedo is 18-1 with 11 KOs, compared to Salcido's 16-0 record and 8 KOs), Escobedo has had a much better amateur career than Salcido, and more always has been expected of him in the pro ranks. But even he knows he has to be better than he has been if he wants his career to progress in a positive manner.

"I have heard from my corner that I need to be a little more aggressive," said Escobedo, who is trained by Nacho Beristain in Mexico City. "I'm winning my fights, but I think I need to be more impressive. I've been holding back, but in this fight I'm not going to hold back."

Salcido didn't sound worried when asked whether Escobedo might be his most unyielding opponent to date.

"I think the last guy I fought was tougher than Escobedo," Salcido said of Luis Antonio Arceo. Salcido defeated Arceo on June 27.

Escobedo prefers to let his fists do the talking.

"It doesn't matter, he can say whatever he wants," Escobedo said. "It's going to come down to what we do in the ring. That's where I'll do my talking."

Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.