The news devastated his wife and three young sons: Juan Carlos Payano was leaving them in the Dominican Republic to pursue a world championship in the United States.
“I wasn’t abandoning them. I was doing it to provide a better life, not poverty, living hungry like I had as a child," Payano said. “But with everyone crying the night before I left, I wondered whether leaving was the right decision.”
The youngest of eight children who grew up poor in the town of La Vega, Payano first boxed as a barefoot 5-year-old in hand-me-down shorts.
“We lived in a small shack,” Payano said. “Our parents slept in one room and the kids slept wherever they could on the kitchen or living-area floor. I didn’t want that for my kids.”
Five years later, Payano’s journey has been rewarded. In September, Payano dethroned long-reigning Anselmo Moreno as 118-pound champion. Last month, he was approved for U.S. citizenship, as were his wife and sons, Carlos, 10, Yan, 8, and Daniel, 6.
“He'd visit his family a couple of times a year. Christmas, New Year’s,” Payano’s trainer, Herman Caicedo, said. “Now it’s a matter of time before they’ll all be united in Miami.”
Juan Carlos Payano (16-0, 8 KOs) will make his first title defense Sunday against Rau’shee Warren (13-0, 4 KOs) at Full Sail Live in Winter Park, Florida, in a bout airing on Bounce TV (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). The fight will also be streamed live on BounceTV.com.
“The pressure's on Rau’shee to worry about me more than me about him,” said Payano, who has won three of his last six fights by knockout. “It’s easier to find sparring partners with his style and speed than it is for him to find guys with my relentless aggression and power."
Payano’s sons have grown to realize their father made the right move. He lives in an eight-bedroom camp at Caicedo Sports Gym in Miami, but plans to build a home for his family.
“For years, they would ask, ‘Are you coming home? Are you on the way? Are you at the airport? Can we pick you up?’” Payano said. “Now it's about school, not giving their mom a hard time. We talk about setting goals like their dad coming to the United States and winning a world championship like he promised he would.”
Up next is Warren, the only three-time U.S. Olympic boxer and the first member of the 2012 U.S. boxing team to challenge for a world title.
Despite Warren's 52-second stoppage of Javier Gallo in March, Caicedo’s not impressed with his power.
“Rau’shee’s gone eight and 10 rounds against C-level opponents. The last guy he fought was a stiff. We respect what his speed brings, but it’s not one-punch knockout power. He’s never flattened or laid anyone out,” Caicedo said.
”We've addressed body punching to slow him down and keep him right in front of us. We’ll strategically walk him down, cut off the ring and create holes and openings. We’re looking to win every single minute of every round.”
Payano, 31, said Warren “hasn’t fought anyone on the same level as I have, but I don't overlook anyone.”
“I’m as focused for Rau’shee as I was for Anselmo. I’m going to look better than I did in my last fight,” Payano added. “I want to do in my division what Floyd Mayweather has done in his. I’ll bring that mentality into every fight.”
For complete coverage of Payano vs Warren, visit our fight page.