World Boxing Organization (WBO) flyweight champ Brian Viloria will be facing a familiar foe when he steps into the ring on Sunday for the second defense of his belt. And it's not just any other former opponent. It's the one person who took away the very first world title he ever won — the WBC lightflyweight belt — and hacked out a majority draw in a rematch three months later.
For the third time, Viloria will mix it up with Omar Nino Romero, the tough Mexican whom he couldn't beat in two fights in six years ago. Romero dethroned the Hawaiian Punch in August 2006 via a unanimous decision. The two fought again in November of the same year, and while Romero retained his crown, he was stripped of it for failing a drug test, and the fight was declared a no-contest.
On Sunday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig, in an event dubbed "Island Assault IV", Romero will try to reassert his mastery over Viloria, who is hoping that the third time will finally prove to be a charm. The two, of course, are no longer the same fighters they were six years ago, and Viloria in particular is in perhaps the best shape of his career.
"I learned a lot the last couple of years, and I think I'm gonna be using that in this fight," Viloria said. "I'm not gonna really say anything more than that. Omar, I hope you're ready. It's gonna be a great fight, and I'm gonna put my best foot forward and we'll show the fans a great fight."
Viloria (30-3, 17 KOs) is coming off a sensational first defense, stopping highly-touted Giovani Segura in the eighth round last December also at Ynares. At the time, Segura was ranked ninth in the world pound-for-pound list of best fighters, and had a reputation as a fearsome knockout artist, but he ended up with a lump on his temple the size of a small fist thanks to Viloria's pinpoint punching.
Viloria won the WBO belt in July last year by outpointing Julio Cesar Miranda in Hawaii and he has looked very comfortable at 112 pounds. But for all of his recent success, Romero (30-4-2, 12 KOs) represents an itch in his career that needs to be scratched, and Sunday's fight is an opportunity to get back at the man who took away the first title he ever won in what was considered a huge upset at the time.
"I trained really hard for this fight," he says. "(Trainer) Ruben (Gomez) can tell you we put in the hours, we put in the road work needed to prepare ourselves for this type of fight. I'm already on weight. I can weigh in right now and I'll be on weight. So that kind of shows you how well I took my training camp and how well I prepared myself and there shouldn't be any surprises come Sunday."
Gomez, the amiable Mexican-American trainer, is also not taking Romero lightly.
"When you get to this level, you have a target on your back and your front. They're gonna come at you from every direction. You always have to be at your very best. In this particular case, we have nothing but respect for Omar. We know he's a great fighter and a good champion. He is a true Mexican warrior so we expect nothing short of a war.
"There's no secrets between us. They've gone 24 rounds. And Brian wins with his resources, not with the opponent's."
Viloria refused to predict the outcome of the fight, and was even more tight-lipped when asked about possible future opponents in the flyweight class, which is teeming with quality Filipino fighters.
"In this type of fight, I don't like predictions, I don't like having to say what round. It puts a lot of pressure on me. So I'm just gonna say, expect a great fight. We've already put in 24 rounds. What's another 12 rounds?
"I'm not looking past Omar Nino. He's the only one in my mind right now and everybody else is just in the background."
Romero will be going up in weight and will be fighting at 112 pounds for the first time. He'll also be entering the ring for just the second time in the last 15 months, but he's not worried about ring rust. Yet he also knows this is not the same Viloria from 2006.
"Brian has turned into a great champion," he said through an interpreter. "He really has perfected his craft, and you have seen it in his previous fights, especially against Segura. So he has evolved and has changed in a positive way."
The main appetizer features two fighters who have gone up against Viloria and Romero. Miranda, whom Viloria dethroned last year, will face Filipino Rodel Mayol, who has fought Romero twice, salvaging a technical draw and then dropping a unanimous decision.
Miranda (37-6-1, 29 KOs) is coming off a unanimous decision over Cecilio Santos while Mayol, who is 30-5 with 22 KOs and is now based in Los Angeles, has won four straight since his loss to Romero. Both fighters are still in the thick of things in the flyweight division, but they also know a loss on Sunday could very well derail their championship bids.