It is not unusual to learn that a fighter’s toughness is forged on the anvil of adversity. Hardship is the leitmotif that rings like a bell through generations of boxers. But the case of lightweight contender Fernando Angulo seems dire, even by boxing’s standards.
According to a Showtime press release, and the fighter’s own admission on a national media conference call, Angulo left his home at the age of seven. By the time he was 11, he was living alone in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. He spent 18 months in the wild, surviving only by hunting for food. His diet consisted of plants, bugs, worms, snakes or anything else he could catch. The only thing he refused to eat were frogs.
Before you ask, yes, Don King is promoting the card, but no, he is not Angulo’s promoter. Not yet, anyway.
Angulo (18-3) challenges WBA lightweight champion Juan Diaz (30-0) on Saturday’s installment of Showtime Championship Boxing. It is the co-feature to the WBO heavyweight championship fight between Sergei Liakhovich (23-1) and Shannon Briggs (47-4-1).
Then, of course, there is the story of Briggs. He grew up, was yanked up really, amid the grinding poverty of Brownsville, Brooklyn . He walked the same streets as Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe and, decades before, Floyd Patterson. That’s not a bad lineage of heavyweights. The story of Briggs has been documented before but on the eve of his title fight, it is worth reminding people of the depths from which he has risen.
“I was an only child, but I was pretty much like a homeless kid,” Briggs said. “My mom became sick and had a drug problem. I was in the streets. I would stay with relatives sometimes, friends, sometimes a train station. I would go from place to place, but I always made a way. I am a survivor.”
Briggs and Angulo both credit boxing with saving their lives.
“It got me off of the street,” said Briggs. “It gave me a place to go. It was not my own home, but it was a safe place where I found some type of structure. I was around people and not just running the streets and getting into trouble.”
Ask Briggs and he will tell you that you don’t have to sleep in a rain forest to know what living in a jungle was like. His was of the concrete variety.
While the environment was different, the dangers for both of these fighters were very real.
“I am from a town that is right at the edge of the jungle, so I grew up very much accustomed to a jungle,” said Angulo, during the conference call. “When I would go into the very inner parts, I was alone. The times that I would come out, people would help me. I would have to beg for food on the street. I would be walking around with just some shorts, a tee shirt, barefoot, and in the cold. Sometimes I would sleep in the street in the city alone. Sometimes people would give me a home. Sometimes when I went into the jungle, I would sleep there alone and survive on my own natural instincts and what I knew from growing up.
“My childhood is what I would consider a bit embarrassing,” he also said. “When I was approximately seven years of age, I had to leave my parents. They were abusive. I would stay away for a period of two years in the jungle and then come back to my hometown and stay there for about three months. During the time that I would return I would stay with people in the town. They were always very hospitable and very generous and would allow me to stay in their homes. In return for food and a roof over my head, I would do small jobs of picking coffee or picking cacao. So my beginnings were very humble and very difficult.”
It’s fine if you think Angulo is a huge underdog against the unbeaten Diaz. His camp is used to it. Angulo is managed by Javier Zapata, who also manages Carlos “Tata” Baldomir, the 16-to-1 underdog who shocked Zab Judah and then Arturo “Thunder” Gatti.
“Both fighters (Angulo and Baldomir) come from the type of poverty where they are used to fighting for their lives,” Zapata said. “The only difference between the two is that one grew up in the streets and the other had to survive in the jungle.”
Angulo, 25, was born in Sucumbíos, Ecuador and started boxing at the age of 16. He turned pro in 1999, just three days after his 19th birthday. His career began to turn around when he was spotted by trainers Fernando Montanez and Ramon Cotua while fighting in Venezuela in 2001. He has won 13 in a row – 10 by knockout – since getting stopped in the 11th round by Robert Rojas in 2002. His biggest victory was a points win over former world featherweight champion Eloy Rojas in 2004.
“I have been in many difficult fights,” Angulo said. “On paper, this is my first world title fight, but Diaz will just be another difficult opponent for me.”
Both fighters are entering the ring with confidence, because, really, what do they have to lose? A fight? That seems trivial compared to what they have already endured.
“I have respect for Juan Diaz, as a man and as a champion,” Angulo said. “But I feel I'm a champion, too. I look at him and I know I can win this fight. This is what I have lived for.”
Briggs has had his opportunities to grab the brass ring. He decisioned George Foreman in 1997 and claimed the linear heavyweight title. Four months later he challenged Lennox Lewis for the WBC belt and was stopped in five rounds. Each time Briggs seemed poised for another run at the throne, he’d suffer a setback. First came a loss to Sedreck Fields and then another to Jameel McCline.
At 34, he knows there may not be many chances left.
“My day is coming, and I am going to give my all,” said Briggs, the WBO No. 3 contender. “I respect Liakhovich. He is the man. I regard him as the true champion because he beat Lamon Brewster, who beat Wladimir Klitschko. I am in a tough fight but I am going in there to knock Liakhovich out.”