DUBAI // Ask Denver Cuello why he chose a career in boxing and the Filipino sensation, dubbed "The Excitement", gives a quick and candid reply.
"My family … we want to be rich," said Cuello, 26, who turned professional three months short of his 18th birthday. "I want to give my family a good life."
Hundreds of youngsters with similar dreams take to the ring in the Philippines, inspired by the success of Manny Pacquiao, who dropped out of high school because of extreme poverty, took up boxing and earned US$34 million (Dh124.9m) in the year ending June 1, according to Forbes magazine.
"Boxing is a sport of the poor people and that's why it is so popular in the Philippines," said Aljoe O Jaro, Cuello's manager.
"The boxers dream of becoming millionaires; they work hard to become champions, become famous so that they can earn some money like Manny Pacquiao.
"So Manny Pacquiao is the idol for them, their inspiration. Now we also have Denver and so many boxers have been inspired by him. The upcoming boxers want to be Denver Cuello."
Coming from a "not very poor, not very rich" family, Cuello has been boxing from the age of nine. Jaro first saw him, at a junior tournament, when the boxer was 14. The owner of the Jaro Boxing Gym offered to take the youngster under his wing.
"I saw him at a local boxing competition and straight away I knew he had a lot of potential," said Jaro, 43, who also was a keen boxer but could not pursue a career in the sport because of the opposition of his parents.
"He had a lot of heart and a lot of skills, a lot of power. I asked him if he would like to come with me to Manila and become a professional boxer. He agreed and, since then, I have been trying to develop him and promote him, help him get bigger and bigger. He is like a son to me now and he treats me like his father."
Finding proper guidance at the gym, Cuello made a rapid charge up the boxing charts and tomorrow he will challenge China's Xiong Zhao Zhong for his WBC Strawweight belt at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
"When he fought his first professional bout, he actually lost," Jaro said.
"He showed a lot of talent and heart, but his opponent had a lot more experience and that's why he lost. On points only. He won his second fight, but lost one more time. Since then, he has been winning and winning. He became the Philippines champion, WBC International champion. So he has won a lot of belts."
Cuello is one of the biggest boxing stars in Philippines, his popularity second only to Pacquiao's. Since turning pro in 2004, he has won 33 of his 43 bouts, 21 by knockout, lost four and drawn six.
He has lost just once in his past 28 bouts – by disqualification, in 2010, when he struck his opponent Juan Hernandez after he had already been floored.
Cuello should have got his world-title shot a bit earlier, but he agreed to step aside for $25,000 following an appeal from the WBC president Jose Sulaiman, who was eager to break into the vast potential of China.
Zhong (20-4-1, 11 knockouts), who was not even ranked at the time, was given a title shot, instead. In November, the 30-year-old Chinese beat the Mexican journeyman Javier Martinez Resendiz in Kunming, China, by a unanimous 12-round decision.
"I have waited three years for this opportunity and I am so excited," Cuello said. "This is what I have been waiting for - to fight in a big, big championship bout. So I am very happy. I have the experience and I have trained hard for this fight."
Jaro, whose gym has prepared three other world champions – Florante Condes (IBF Strawweight), Sonny Boy Jaro (WBC flyweight) and Edrin Dapudong (IBO junior bantamweight) – is confident he will have a fourth world champion after tomorrow's bout is over.
"This is a very important opportunity for us," he said.
"Nobody wanted to fight Denver Cuello. Every champion was afraid of fighting Denver. But we finally have this opportunity and we don't want to miss it.
"Actually, this belt belongs to Denver and this is the time for him to get it. I am 100 per cent confident Denver will win the title."
Strawweight title bout information
Who Xiong Zhao Zhong v Denver Cuello, WBC strawweight title defence.
When Weigh-in Thursday at 4pm, Ibn Battuta Gate, Moevenpick Dubai. Title bout 8pm, Friday, Dubai World Trade Centre, Hall 8. Doors open 7pm
Tickets Call 50 286 1673 or visit www.wbcdubai.com
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