Carlos Negron catches his second wind

​The former amateur standout from Puerto Rico plans to take full advantage of the biggest opportunity of his pro career this Saturday night on PBC on FOX.

Boxing was the last thing on Carlos Negron’s mind this time a year ago.

The Puerto Rican heavyweight’s homeland was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. He wasn’t fighting for knockouts or points, he was fighting to survive.

Negron needed clean water, electricity and other necessities for him, his wife, Angela, their now 11-year-old son, Joscar, and their extended family. He had neither the time nor the focus to wonder what would become of a once-promising prizefighting career.

“The hurricane decimated the entire country,” said Negron, who’ll box Dominic Breazeale in the opening bout of a PBC on FOX card (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) this Saturday night in Brooklyn.

“There was no exclusion to my town, to where I’m from [Villalba]. I even thought that was it for boxing, because obviously survival became the first priority. That goes for anyone in the country, anyone who lives there. I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for a little while, because it was pretty bad.”

The 2008 Olympian didn’t think about boxing until he received a phone call from Jay Jimenez, manager of heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz. Jimenez needed a tall, athletic sparring partner to emulate Deontay Wilder during Ortiz’s training camp.

By mid-January, the 6-feet-6, 230-pound Negron was in Miami, helping the Cuban southpaw prepare for his March 3 fight against Wilder.

“That’s when I saw, more or less, that tunnel open up and saw the light of day,” Negron said. “Then I thought, ‘OK, I guess it’s not over for me.’ And now it’s just played out to the point where we are where we are Saturday night.”

The 30-year-old Negron has an opportunity to completely change the course of his unfulfilling, nine-year pro career.

Breazeale (19-1, 17 KOs), of Eastvale, California, is the mandatory challenger for Wilder’s WBC title. Negron recognizes his perceived role in their 10-rounder, someone supposedly worse than his record, brought to Barclays Center to help keep Breazeale busy while he awaits his shot at Wilder.

Negron (20-1, 16 KOs) respects Breazeale, who has lost only to Anthony Joshua, the IBF, WBA and WBO champion. But the relatively unknown veteran believes Breazeale’s team made a mistake by agreeing to face him.

“He picked me at the wrong moment,” Negron said. “He should’ve fought me last year, anytime last year. But he picked me at the wrong moment, because I’m physically and mentally prepared. I have a game plan and I plan to execute it to a tee. They picked the wrong time to fight me and to use me as an opponent for what they need, which is a stay-busy fight to get to Wilder. I’m ready.”

When Negron arrived in Miami, trainer Herman Caicedo challenged Negron’s will and wondered whether he’d head home to Puerto Rico. One month later, he was convinced Negron was “a diamond in the rough” after he more than held his own against the hard-hitting, skillful Ortiz.

“He was very intelligent in the ring, especially being as tall as he is,” Caicedo said. “A lot of tall guys are very clumsy, and he wasn’t. He’s very athletic. He’s able to do things tall guys should not be doing, and he utilizes his height and his reach very well. At the same time, when he needed to get nasty, and sit and bang, he was able to do that, also. He has a good amateur background, and it showed. It was very prevalent with the way he was working with Luis.”

Managerial and promotional problems previously stunted Negron’s growth as a pro and caused periods of inactivity. He hasn’t fought since stopping Derric Rossy in the fourth round of their June 2017 bout in Louisville.

The catastrophe in Puerto Rico caused at least some of this lengthy layoff. Yet Negron doesn’t feel rusty, having spent so much time training alongside Ortiz over the past 11 months.

“With this fight, I haven’t really been inactive because I’ve been in camp with Luis for 3½ months,” said Negron, who began his career as a cruiserweight. “And then, I’ve been training for close to five months. We didn’t know this would be the fight, but I’ve been training in Miami with Caicedo. And even back home, the small stint I went back home, I run a gym back home in Puerto Rico. I’m actually coaching kids.

“I stay healthy, I stay in the gym, I’m an athlete, I’m a boxing coach, I’m a mentor, and so I’m in the gym. It’s not like I’m driving a truck, jumped into the gym and I’m trying to catch up. It’s my life. I live it. So, I’m not worried. The opportunities are meant to be taking advantage of, so that’s what I’m planning to do.”

By beating Breazeale, Negron can thrust himself into legitimate title contention. Upsetting the 2012 U.S. Olympian also would help him overcome the stigma that remains from his third-round, technical-knockout loss to Epifanio Mendoza in September 2011.

“There is zero excuse for it,” Negron said. “Obviously, I lost and that was that. I got caught and they stopped the fight. It was clearly a self-inflicted scenario. The training was subpar, to be nice about it. I was basically training myself. I wasn’t the type to listen, even if there were decent training. I thought that I was better than whatever I was. I was a well-regarded amateur and I thought that I didn’t need the guidance and the tutelage from anybody.

“I was very arrogant in that regard. I was young and dumb, as they say. It was a culmination of a few things that were bound to happen. And I’m almost happy that they did, because it’s made me who I am today. Now I’m a much more experienced human being, let alone a fighter. The training is second to none, and I will completely take advantage of this chance.”

For a closer look at Breazeale vs Negron, check out our fight page.

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