BN: Until very recently you were one of the most sought-after free agents in the world. What made you choose Matchroom over Top Rank?
When I met with Top Rank, they would throw me in the mix, and I would be a part of their plan. With Matchroom it was just like, I am the plan.
With Eddie [Hearn], I’d be one of the only champions in the US, so I’m more of a priority. With Top Rank, I don’t think I’d be such a high priority; they already have a bunch of fighters they have to prioritise over me.
I went back and forth with this – for like three weeks, a month. I’d wake up and say, “Man, I’m going Top Rank”. Then I’d go to sleep, and be like, “Nah, I’m gonna go with Matchroom”. It was like this every single day. I talked it over with a bunch of people. My friends; my wife; my assistant; my coaches. People were torn. I consulted everybody, but I just had that gut feeling. I couldn’t make a bad choice – no matter which way I went it was going to be a good choice. But when you have a gut feeling, you can’t stray away from that. One thing I don’t like to do is when I make a decision and wake up the next day thinking, “Damn, I should’ve went the other way”. With this decision, I still feel like Matchroom is the best route for me.
The biggest deciding factor was the dates. The first date with Top Rank would’ve been, I think, August, and the first date with Matchroom is June 17. Obviously I wanna fight earlier. If I know I have a fight in August, I’m going to train the whole summer. With this June fight, at least I can fight, and then enjoy some time with my kids. My kids are on summer break, so I’d like to enjoy some time with my kids. As a professional fighter you miss a lot of stuff. I’ve missed my son’s birthday a few times because I had fights. You miss a lot of things. So if I fought in August I’d be missing that.
BN: How did you feel when, so soon after signing you, Eddie Hearn described Andy Cruz as his best ever signing?
I don’t care about it, man. Whatever. I’m not really worried about it. That’s what Eddie says. All I gotta do is keep fighting and go on to improve. I guess he’s excited about the Andy Cruz thing; maybe not excited about me. Whatever. I saw that, but I’m not worried about it, man. That’s what Eddie does; maybe that’s how he feels, but listen, I’m gonna go out there and just do what I gotta do. So, I wish Andy Cruz all the good luck and stuff like that, but I’m on my own path and I’m gonna do me.
BN: Why is it that you negotiate your own deals and you don’t have a manager, against what typically happens in 2023?
I’m not gonna tell people they don’t need managers. I just felt that at this stage, I didn’t really need a manager. Boxing business is so dirty; it’s so corrupt, and it’s really hard to trust people. I can trust myself better than anybody else. Me and the people I have around me. Sometimes when you do have managers they treat you like you work for them – it’s actually the opposite way around. They work for you. I met with Eddie myself, instead of having a manager meet with Eddie. I get to hear everything that would go through my manager first, because sometimes the promoter will stray and tell a manager something completely different, or the manager tells you something completely different. I figured everything out myself; I made the decisions myself. When you have a manager they might have you stray a certain way. I want the decision to be mine, and mine alone.
BN: How important is it to you to be fighting in New Orleans again, after a five-year absence?
Eddie is a master at what he does. He sunk the hook in me when he told me, “You’re gonna fight in New Orleans on June 17th at the Smoothie King Center”. He got me hyped up when he told me that. ESPN told me the same thing but they didn’t tell me everything like Eddie told me. To be fighting at the Smoothie King Center is a huge step up for me; it’s the basketball arena for our NBA team, the Pelicans. Just fighting in Smoothie King is something special. I won’t really enjoy that until after the fight is over. As a person that’s from there, and actually lived on the streets – you could see me in New Orleans all the time. The last person that fought there, that was from there, was Willie Pastrano, our last champion – that was in 1964.
BN: Did Jack Catterall being with Matchroom contribute to the decision you made?
The last deal we had, we were supposed to fight – it just didn’t come about. But yeah, I’m hoping for a Catterall fight. I’m hoping for big fights. I want big-name fights; big-money fights; that’s what I want. If Jack Catterall is one of those, then yeah, of course I’ll fight Jack too.
BN: How do you feel about him not yet getting the rematch with Josh Taylor?
It’s messed up. I definitely thought that he should’ve gotten the rematch. He beat him; he dropped him. He did everything the way he should. He should be the undisputed champion, but y’know – that’s boxing for ya. But I definitely thought that he won that fight.
[Beating Catterall is] a way to [secure a rematch with Taylor], but at the same time, I don’t even have to do that. Like, I’m the champion – I am the only two-time champion in the division right now. That should warrant a rematch already right there. That’s a huge fight. He still is a champion; I’m still a champion. That’s one hell of a story – to do that again.
BN: Is Taylor, regardless, still the number one at 140lbs?
I definitely think he’s a good fighter. As far as the best I’ve fought, I don’t know. When I fought him [in 2019] I was a different fighter than I am right now. I definitely feel like I’m not the same fighter at all. Even when I did fight him, I definitely fought the wrong fight. I still had the skills and stuff like that, but mentally I really felt I should’ve beat him. I can’t say it’s easy, but I definitely feel like I should’ve beat him. When I look at him, I think, “There’s no way I should’ve lost to this guy”. I still really feel like I should’ve won, but it wasn’t a robbery. He won the fight – I would say that. But now I’m a totally different monster. I still feel like I’m the best in the division – my confidence never changed.
When you change trainers [like Taylor has been, from Shane McGuigan, to Ben Davison, to Joe McNally], it shows that you have a weak character. You’re searching for something, y’know? It’s something that’s on you though – it’s not your trainers. I don’t agree with it, but hey, that’s all on him.
BN: Who’s the best fighter in the division below you?
At 135lbs Shakur [Stevenson’s] the best. It’s up in the air between Shakur and Gervonta Davis. Shakur hasn’t been pushed out of his comfort zone yet either. Could Gervonta Davis do it? I don’t know. Skills-wise I think it’s Shakur, but Tank is right there, too. They’re neck and neck. If those two fight I would want to see what happens when Shakur gets hit, because “Tank” just hits so hard. Tank is not just a big puncher; he can actually box and be intelligent.
BN: What about Ryan Garcia, who is returning to 140lbs?
Ryan is limited. He can fight to a certain extent, but he is very limited. He’s fast; he is explosive. But somebody like him starts winning the fight and then suddenly the fight starts going the other way – could he come back and adjust? I don’t know. I don’t think so. He’s maybe a B-class fighter.
BN: When was the last time the super-lightweight division was as good as it is now?
Probably when it was Floyd [Mayweather], [Ricky] Hatton, and Miguel Cotto [in the mid-noughties]. That probably was the last time that the division was so hot.
There’s so many good fighters with so much history. It’s definitely really exciting right now. You have a lot of fighters around each other that make good fights.
BN: How much of a concern are the potential politics preventing these fights from getting made?
That’s just the business side of things – that’s just how it is. But there are so many fighters that they have to fight each other. It’s too many of them. Sometimes you might have two hot names in a division, and it revolves around those two fighters for a long time, but in this division – five or six people. Eventually people are going to have to start fighting. That’s what promoters look at – they just want fights that are gonna make money.
To go all the way back to our first question, as to why I signed with Matchroom – Matchroom is letting me do my own promotion. So, at the same time, I could put certain fighters on the card. So, when you’re doing that, you’re just looking for the best fights. The fights that will generate money. Right now, that’s what promoters are looking at. All these guys can generate a lot of money, so that’s why they should be fighting each other.
BN: Subriel Matias, whose previous opponent Maxim Dadashev died days after their fight in 2019, has spoken of wanting to put you in hospital…
I wanna fight him – that’s all. I want him to keep talking; I wanna fight him. I’m gonna fight him, and I’m gonna knock him out. He’s already been hurt – he’s been stopped by somebody way less than me. There’s people behind him that talk like that – they want him to say all these things. He doesn’t have a big profile, so they just want a big-money fight. That’s all. He’s not a big name – he’s really a nobody. But I’m gonna fight him and I’m gonna knock him out. I’m gonna stop him.
Listen, y’all keep talking – saying what y’all want. Eventually, we’re gonna fight, and I’m gonna knock him out. He’s a nobody from Puerto Rico trying to make a name for himself. He’s just somebody that’s talking – the way they’re going about it is kinda stupid. Why would you say something like that, if you literally already did that to somebody you fought before? It’s definitely a stupid, dumbass thing to say. Whoever is behind him there is stupid too. Hopefully we can fight, and then I can stop him. He gets hit with everything.
BN: How tough is this weekend’s fight with Danielito Zorrilla?
I don’t know nothing about my opponent – honestly. I train the same for everybody. I’m fighting in my own town, so he’s probably gonna make a lot of money. He’s gonna come in and he’s gonna wanna win. But I train hard for every fight, so I never take nobody lightly – nothing like that. I’m gonna train really hard for every single fight. I really don’t worry about what my opponent is doing, I just worry about me.