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Andrew Cancio: ‘I’ve got to strike while it’s hot right now’

Andrew Cancio
Hogan Photo/Golden Boy Promotions
Ahead of his crucial WBA title rematch with Alberto Machado, Andrew Cancio is still putting in shifts at the Southern California Gas Company. He speaks to Thomas Gerbasi

ANDREW CANCIO is 11 days out from the first defense of his WBA junior-lightweight title on June 21 against Alberto Machado, but he’s still putting in a 6:30am to 3pm shift at the Southern California Gas Company before heading to the gym to prepare for the next biggest fight of his career.

A second win over Machado, the man he beat for the crown in February, won’t likely allow him to quit his day job, but that’s okay. For now. But in the future beyond June 21, Cancio is hoping that major showdowns with his belt-holding peers at 130 pounds will allow him to move to a different tax bracket where he won’t have to supplement his income with long hours doing manual labor.

“I still go to work because I can’t box full-time yet,” he said. “I haven’t made the big bucks, but I want to be able to prove myself more and more and I want the bigger fights as well. I want to defend my title and fight other world champions in my weight class. [Gervonta] Davis, [Miguel] Berchelt, Tevin Farmer, and I know Oscar Valdez is talking about moving up to 130 and that would be a great fight for us. I’m barely at the tip of the iceberg right now. I still have to prove myself to all these other champions, as well, and I want to defend my title numerous times.”

It’s not the conversation many believed the Blythe, California native would be having in 2019. If you had him pegged for big things back in 2012, when a win over Rocky Juarez had him at 14-2-1 as a pro, that was understandable. Even subsequent (and controversial) decision losses to Roger “Speedy” Gonzalez and Ronny Rios didn’t dull his shine among boxing insiders, but the business of boxing was getting to Cancio, who had already been on the sidelines for over two years from 2009 to 2011 due to managerial issues and an inability to get fights that had him thinking of pursuing a career as a barber.

Andrew Cancio
Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions

Yet when he returned to the ring 20 months after the bitter loss to Rios in 2014, back-to-back victories over Rene Alvarado and Hugo Cazares thrust him into an NABF featherweight title fight against unbeaten 2012 U.S. Olympian Joseph Diaz in September 2017. This time, there would be no controversy, as Diaz stopped Cancio in nine rounds. And this time, when Cancio said that he was done with boxing, he meant it.

“After the Diaz fight, I told everybody I retired,” he said. “I didn’t put it down officially, but I told my family I was done, I told everybody I was done.”

It wasn’t a question of talent, of heart, or of anything that came down to his ability to succeed. But after taking harder blows from the boxing business than his opponents, Cancio – now a father of two kids – had to make some hard choices to make sure there was food on the table.

Cancio’s brother brought him into the gas company gig, and that was just fine with the now ex-prizefighter, until it wasn’t.

“I was already having doubts,” he said. “I thought, ‘I can’t leave the sport like this. I gotta give it another run.’”

By early 2018, Cancio was nearly a year and a half into his retirement. The phone rang. He answered. It was an offer to fight unbeaten Kazakh prospect Aidar Sharibayev on April 12. Cancio accepted. And he won the fight, upsetting the up and comer via 10th round TKO.

“El Chango” was back, and this time he was going to let his career run its course for good or bad until he felt that he had given his dream of winning a world title a fair shot.

“I didn’t want to leave the sport like I did,” he said. “I always felt that I had what it takes to become a world champion and even though things weren’t going as planned, for some reason or another, God just kept bringing boxing to my life and that’s one of the things that did get me back into the gym. And I said, ‘If I’m gonna do this, this is my last run. If it doesn’t work out this time, then I’m done and at least I know.’”

A month after beating Sharibayev, Cancio was signed by Golden Boy Promotions. In August of last year, he decisioned Dardan Zenunaj, and on February 9, he found himself in a title fight with the unbeaten Machado.

Cancio would be the B-side once more, but that was fine with him, because once in the ring, his fists would decide his fate. Or maybe Machado’s fists would do the job, and they almost did when the Puerto Rican dropped Cancio in the opening round.

The Californian rose to his feet, and in the fourth round a body shot sent Machado to a knee. Seconds later, he repeated the feat, then repeated it again. On the third knockdown, referee Raul Caiz Jnr halted the fight. At 2-16 of the fourth round, Andrew Cancio had come all the way back.

Andrew Cancio
Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions

In practically any other year that didn’t include Andy Ruiz’s win over Anthony Joshua, it would have been the upset of the year and the feel-good story of the year. But even with Ruiz likely taking both honors, Cancio’s story resonated, leading to a post-fight media tour as well as a ceremony in his Blythe hometown that saw him presented with the key to the city.

“Now people are starting to recognize all the hard work I’ve been putting in the gym, and I’m getting recognition in the boxing world,” he said. “But I just take it day by day and I keep being my usual self. I definitely do like how people call me the champ and it’s nice to be a world champ right now.”

Given the usual sanctioning body nonsense that sees multiple champions within single weight classes, Cancio won’t get the respect he would have if he beat WBA “Super” champion Davis for the belt, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest to the 30-year-old, who knows that having the phrase “world champion” next to his name means everything to his future.

“It definitely does,” he said. “The way they treat you is way different now. Everybody wants to hear what you have to say and they take you more seriously. You’re not just a B-side fighter or an underdog anymore. So they definitely do take care of me a lot better now that I went and pulled off this upset. So it feels good to be in the driver’s seat. I just gotta do what I gotta do [against Machado] and hopefully it’s on to bigger and better things.”

Cancio is comfortable talking about those bigger and better things because he is confident that he will repeat his victory over Machado when they meet again. In fact, he was surprised when Machado opted to use the rematch clause in their contract to gain an immediate return bout.

“I was; I still am,” Cancio said. “But he was a world champion and maybe he’s believing the hype that it was a fluke that night, but on June 21, he’s gonna realize that he just should have moved up in weight and let me go on about my business.”

That’s the swagger of a champion, right there, and Cancio has it as he readies for the main event at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.

“I knew I could do it the first time and that’s the same way I feel about the rematch,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to do anything different and I feel like I’m more confident this time around than last time around. I’m gonna be comfortable in the ring this time. I already felt his power; he’s only felt a little bit of my power. I don’t think he’s felt most of my power yet, so hopefully this time around, I’ll settle down a little bit more and really show him how hard I hit.”

In other words, Cancio wants to make it round five for Machado this week.

“That’s what I told him at the press conference, that I’m gonna jump on you like it’s round five,” he said. “I’m ready, I’m more positive and I know what punches I hurt him with. My combinations are coming off faster and more crisp, I’ve been in back to back camps with southpaws that are pushing me and I’m gonna get on him from round one. I’m gonna go straight to him.”

Then, just like he did after the first Machado fight, Cancio will be back at work at the gas company on Monday, showing his 10-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son the value of hard work both in and out of the ring.

And when the phone rings with the next fight, he’ll be ready to go.

“Right now, I’m a world champion and, in this sport, it’s not for a long time, especially with my style. So I gotta strike while it’s hot right now.”

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