12 Rounds With … Hugo Centeno Jr.

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Middleweight contender talks about Saturday night's 160-pound interim title fight against Jermall Charlo, how to make a perfect churro and his reflections on fatherhood.

Five days prior to Hugo Centeno Jr.’s sixth professional fight, his father and trainer, Hugo Sr., endured a 10-hour surgery to repair a torn aorta—requiring Hugo Jr.’s then-14-year-old brother, Eddie, to step in.

His sibling came through, managing Hugo Jr.’s first-round TKO of Jesus Vallejo—which represented his sixth stoppage in as many wins.

It seems like ever since then, the fighter nicknamed “The Boss,” has overcame any obstacle in his career. He caught everyone’s attention with a highlight KO of previously unbeaten Immanuwel Aleem in August. That came two fights after getting KO’d himself by Maciej Sulecki in 2016—the lone loss of his career.

This Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, the stakes have been raised even higher—as Centeno (26-1, 14 KOs) faces former 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo (26-0, 20 KOs) for the WBC’s interim 160-pound title on a Showtime-televised tripleheader (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

The 27-year-old Centeno—a former sparring partner for Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin—recently took some time out of his training camp at Wild Card Boxing Gym in Los Angeles with trainer Eric Brown to answer some questions.

How have you improved since your loss to Sulecki?

I was too comfortable against Sulecki. That’s probably my biggest mistake. I got into my head believing that all I had to do was make weight and that my talent would do the rest. That backfired, and it showed that night. Since then, I’ve gotten better. I’ve stayed in the gym, remained consistent, worked on my skills.

Did that manifest itself in the Aleem fight?

Yes, it was. I was just in tremendous shape, mentally and physically, and stuck to the game plan and did my job. I didn’t know I was such a big underdog, going into the fight with Aleem because I never pay attention to anything like that.

I felt like even though he had a lot of fights, he was somewhat green to the craftiness of a truly veteran professional fighter. Aleem was very gritty, but he couldn’t set traps and didn’t have any setups. I was just straight-forward and was able to break him down.

Where did your experience come from?

I had worked in sparring with some big names, like Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, and there are some things that I picked up from them.

I was Canelo’s main sparring partner for his fight against Austin Trout, being able to spar him as a southpaw, which was great work.

I helped GGG for Marco Rubio, which was a great experience. I feel like I showed against Aleem that I can compete with anyone at the highest level if I just execute the right way.

How will you benefit from the victory over Aleem?

Charlo is a different fighter than anyone I’ve ever fought. He’s a tall, lanky fighter like I am, and he’s a very good boxer who is very strong, so I realize that it’s a tough task, but we’re preparing in the right way. We’ve seen some flaws in his game plan, and we’re going to stay focused on capitalizing on those.

Realistically, it’s going to come down to who is the smarter fighter. It could be a chess match.

I had worked in sparring with some big names, like Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, and there are some things that I picked up from them. Middleweight contender Hugo Centeno Jr.

How are you preparing a business foundation for life beyond boxing?

My wife, Ezra, runs both of our businesses. One of them is called “Pholicious,” which is kiosk inside of one of the malls in Valencia that serves Vietnamese food.

The other is called “Churro Stix,” and that’s a churro desert. It’s in Ventura Mall, right next to Oxnard. Ezra does all of the payroll and hiring, and I’m more the face.

But if my wife is busy, I’ll be right there, working the register or making the churros. Both businesses are a knockout.

How does one make a churro?

Well, first, you start with the flour, and the water must be at a certain temperature, which I believe is 210 degrees. Then you mix the batter, twice, for about three minutes. Then you let it rest for about 15 or 20 minutes.

You throw it in the fryer and you start pumping out churros. What makes them sweet is the sugar and the cinnamon that we roll them in afterward. Everything is fresh and nothing is refrigerated or processed—best in town.

How has fatherhood changed your life?

My little girl, Emilia, was born on October 31, and my father has always told me that I would never know the love he has for me until I was blessed with my own child. She’s about four months old, now, and I watched her get her ears pierced and she didn’t cry. I was like, “Man, I’m such a proud Dad.”

I was at home the other day, looking at all my trophies and my medals, and I was like, “Man, now I understand why my father looks at me the way that he looks at me.” He’s extremely proud, and I understand, now, why he loves me so much, being able to look at it through the eyes of a parent.

Can you recall he situation surrounding your father’s absence, and your brother’s presence during your victory over Jesus Vallejo?

Unfortunately, my Dad had two tears in his aorta, and he had to be rushed to the hospital. That was five days before my fight, and my younger brother, Eddie, got me ready.

He was 14 at the time, and people were like, “Oh, you’re going to let your brother get you ready for your fight?”

Every fight is the biggest fight of your career, at that time, and I was like, “I have all of the faith in the world in this kid, because he’s been around as long as I have.”

He always wanted to be a coach, and this was his opportunity to be my trainer. The California commission wouldn’t give him a license to be in the ring or in the corner.

But when I’m fighting, I can make out certain voices, and the rest sounds like white noise. My brother was screaming for me to be smart and to select my shots.

We knocked him out in the first round. Eddie is 23, now, and from that moment on, our bond has grown stronger than ever.

What was your father’s reaction?

My father ended up being at ringside. He ripped out all his IV’s and checked himself out of the hospital fresh from surgery and got himself there.  

After the fight, I looked into the crowd and my Dad was there. You could tell that he was still medicated and stuff like that.

I was like, “Dad, what are you doing here?” And he was like, “I wouldn’t miss your fight for anything in the world, even if I had to pass away watching.”

For a closer look at Hugo Centeno Jr., check out his fighter page.

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