The lush history of Argentine boxing has been replete with almost uninterrupted achievements since the early ’70s, but there is a noticeable group of blank pages in very recent memory, at least in the male championship scene.
It seems like it was yesterday that Sergio Martinez was among the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world and that Marcos Maidana was facing the best fighter in the world twice within a year in two lucrative and highly anticipated bouts. With Lucas Matthysse, poised to make a big jump, and Jesus Cuellar and Cesar Cuenca lurking in the background with titles in hand, Argentine boxing seemed to have enough talent to uphold its boxing tradition for many years to come.
But then it all came to a screeching halt.
Martinez’s predictable retirement after losing to Miguel Cotto, Maidana’s not-so-expected retirement after a long period of suspense, and Matthysse’s unforeseen long hiatus after his loss to Viktor Postol left a void and the losses of both Cuellar and Cuenca abroad only added to the general feeling of despair. To this we must add the virtual disappearance of Diego Chaves, a tough and talented welterweight who ended up being inactive for a long period of time after holding Timothy Bradley to a draw in Las Vegas.
Jorge Sebastian Heiland’s hollow performance vs. Jarmall Charlo at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on July 29 was salt in the wound, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and for this Argentine fight fans can thank Marcos “Chino“ Maidana and his advisor Sebastian Contursi. Maidana left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of boxing fans worldwide and now carries the banner for another group of fighters with serious chances of adding new achievements to the country’s already profuse trophy case.
Chaves (26-2-1, 22 KOs) had reasons to stay away from boxing while he worked out his contractual problems with his previous promoters, but now that he is liberated from those shackles he is getting ready to charge once again towards territories once considered conquered, but which he will now have to regain inch by inch, this time under the banner Team Maidana.
And it is under that impression left by Maidana in his last few bouts that Team Maidana gets ready to give Argentina another group of fighters with serious chances of adding new achievements to the country’s already profuse trophy case.
“Evidently, Maidana has been the symbol of this team, because of his achievements and his fighting philosophy,” says Contursi from his home in Los Angeles, where he has settled to continue handling his fighters in the US. “‘Chino’ is our reference, and he is an advisor too. Soon enough he may be promoting cards as well.”
This “fighting philosophy” that gave his followers so many reasons to rejoice and that earned him an extraordinary win over Adrien Broner as well as two back-to-back fights against Mayweather is what constitutes the founding principle of a team that hopes to continue his legacy as well as benefit from the image that Maidana has left behind.
As an ex-writer for ESPN.com and thanks to his close relationship with the WBA’s Gilberto Mendoza Jr., Contursi is quite familiar with the difficult path that leads a fighter towards his dream championship bout, and it was thanks to his knowledge of boxing politics that he was able to get close to Maidana back in the day in order to offer him a better road ahead, abandoning his career as a writer in order to guide Maidana’s career, with considerable success.
To the name of Jesus Cuellar, the now former WBA featherweight titlist who reached championship status under Contursi’s guidance, we can also add the name of recently crowned super welterweight titlist Brian Castaño, once one of the most promising talents out of the Argentine national team and the WSB’s Condors, who was coming off a severe dehydration that threatened his career and even his life.
But under the tutelage of Team Maidana, Castaño (pictured) restarted his career in the US and notched a trio of important victories in televised cards, to then return to his homeland to be crowned WBA interim world champion after defeating Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel De Jesus and defending that belt recently against Ivory Coast native Michel Soro in France.
Castaño’s signing and his move to the US in order to further his career there generated criticism among fans and press alike, who always prefer to witness the development of a fighter closer to home, but it turned out being the right move at the right time for the fighter, who found the challenges he needed to make a jump in quality against more experienced fighters, and the results are evident. With only 12 fights under his belt, Castaño is already holding a modest bargaining chip in his interim belt, which, as worthless as it may be, will put his name on more than a few negotiation tables.
According to Contursi, the strategy used with Castaño is not cast in stone.
“For now, most of our fighters train in Argentina, and sometimes they put the finishing touches in the US. But at some point we may choose to train in the US,” said Contursi, who once managed to recruit Freddie Roach to train Cuellar in California, and who has routinely been engaged in hiring new trainers for his fighters – sometimes a bit too often.
The case of Diego Chaves, who is not officially part of Team Maidana, is quite illustrative. The interest on him by the big American networks is still there after his excellent bouts against boxers such as Keith Thurman, Timothy Bradley and Brandon Rios, but the San Miguel native is still trying to find his path, and it will not be unthinkable to expect that certain circumstances may bring him closer to Team Maidana in the near future.
A lot has been speculated about Chaves’ appearances in a few shows promoted by The Rodriguez Team, another Argentine company that has been putting together a few decent cards with young local prospects as well as other local veterans. The presence of several Team Maidana members in these cards is an indication of a strategic alliance between the companies.
“Fighters such as Chaves are always in high demand, and logically we would love to work with guys like him,” said Contursi. “Inexplicably, in the best moment of his career, Chaves became inactive for almost two years, which led to the cancellation of his contract with his former handlers. This opened the posibility for him to start fighting again and he has demonstrated that he continues fighting at the best level. For now, I understand that he is a free agent, and I hope one day he’ll be able to work with us.”
Besides Castano, there is one fighter who stands out, not only because of his talent but also because of his heart and desire. It could also be said that this fighter is destined to give new meaning to the very name of Team Maidana.
“Fabian has a lot of potential. He is an intelligent fighter, very cerebral, very accurate in his punches,” said Contursi, referring to Fabian “TNT” Maidana, Marcos’ unbeaten younger brother and the one indicated by many as the best pure boxer in his family. “He also carries the Maidana mantle on him, and because of this, a lot of people rush to compare him with his brother. But people need to understand that Fabian is only taking his first steps as a professional. And on the other hand, even though he had a sucessful amateur run, this experience was brief.”
This and other reasons are given by Contursi to try to lower expectations of fans and press alike, but it is difficult not to feel optimistic when seeing Fabian (currently 13-0) take the ring and show an aggressive and refined brand of boxing, mixing the best qualities that made his brother famous with a very polished technical work that will potentially make him easy to sell abroad.
“We are not talking about one of those fighters who turn pro after 200 or 250 fights as amateurs. So, obviously, there is a cycle that needs to be completed, step by step,” insists Contursi. “Fabian has also said that he wants to start alternating fights in the States and in Argentina, and that’s what we’re doing for him. In the long run, the plan is the same for all of our fighters: to get to the top under the best possible conditions.”
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