Karlos Balderas & The Art of the Comeback

Following a shocking loss, the promising lightweight prospect says he’s back—and better than before.

Karlos Balderas admits that the first few days were hard for him. He sat there in a surreal state, numb to everything around him.

He never lost before—not like this.

Family and friends would show up with bread and praying in his parlor like someone died.

Balderas greeted everyone. He wanted to uphold a lesson his grandfather imparted to him: “Always be a man.”

That meant in good times—and bad.

That’s what happens when you lose for the time, especially when you’re a promising 23-year-old lightweight from Santa Maria, California, like Balderas. After starting his career 9-0, he was trying to wrap his mind around a stunning sixth-round TKO loss to Rene Tellez Giron on December 21, at the Toyota Arena, in Ontario, California.

It happened on national TV. It happened after Balderas won every second of every round, except for two mistakes in the third and sixth rounds, which led to his undoing.  

He tried pleading with referee Ray Corona that he could continue. Still, it didn’t stop Corona from rightfully waving it over at 2:59 of the sixth. All Balderas had to do was survive a second—one measly tick—and he might have come out of the fight unscathed.

Instead, Balderas believes he’s going to come out better because of it.

Young, talented fighters like Balderas have two choices when they endure stunning setbacks at this early stage of their careers: Accept what went wrong and correct it, or stay in denial and never go any farther.  

Balderas took the courageous, bold route. He’s looked down into the abyss. He’s not afraid anymore. His willingness to face what happened is refreshing, especially in which the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” culture millennials have been raised in.

“I know guys my age that run from their mistakes,” Balderas said. “That’s them. It’s not me. It’s not how I was raised. I learned. I remember those first few days after I lost.

“My house was filled, and I mean filled with people coming in and out, like I died. But my grandfather told me and my brother to always be and act like a man; be strong. When you win, you step up and take everything in. When you lose, you hear this and that.

“I had no other choice—I faced it.”

Against Giron, Balderas was not exactly himself. He was dehydrated. His punches weren’t crisp. Mostly, every time he threw his right hand, it came with pain.

“That’s my fault, I should have said something,” Balderas admitted. “I had a bunch of people message me after the fight that it wasn’t me at my best during that fight. If I was 100-percent of who I am—and I lost—I would have a tough time dealing with that.”

“I know guys my age that run from their mistakes. That’s them. It’s not me. Lightweight Prospect - Karlos Balderas

Balderas was never dropped before facing Giron, who is 14-1 (8 KOs) and whose one loss came against a very good fighter in Michel Rivera (18-0, 12 KOs) in his previous outing.

“In some ways, I underestimated him,” Balderas said. “That’s something I have to learn from, too, and Giron is not a bad fighter. He’s a good fighter. I just don’t think he’s a better fighter than me, that’s for damned sure.

“Me and my team overlooked a lot of things in my camp. I weighed 134 the night of the fight, when I usually go up to 141, 142 during fight night. If I had one strong piece of advice to any young kid coming up, make sure that you’re 100-percent when you get into that ring.”

Balderas had broken his right hand in a seventh-round kayo victory over Robert Franckel in July 2019.

Balderas’ corner learned a valuable lesson. The team spoke about what happens if he gets in trouble again. Trained by his father, Zenon, and his uncle, David, Balderas was a 2016 Olympian who saw every style imaginable.

He was one of the most sought-after Olympians coming out the Rio de Janeiro games in Brazil. He wound up signing with Richard Schaefer and Ringstar Promotions.

“What attracted me to Carlos was his character and his family,” Schaefer said. “He has all of the right attributes and we were obviously all shocked by his loss. Things like that happen in boxing, and the question is what he makes out of it.

“He needs to make adjustments and grow. Many great fighters have lost early in their careers, and the one that comes to mind is Bernard Hopkins (who lost to Clinton Mitchell in his pro debut before embarking on his Hall of Fame career). Carlos has the right attitude and the right people around him to do that.”

David Balderas, Carlos’ uncle and main trainer, said he, too, could improve from the experience.

“I panicked in the corner after Carlos got knocked down in the third round,” David said. “We’re a team. Carlos didn’t spar during training camp getting close to the fight. When someone loses, the team loses and everyone has to be accountable.

“If you have people pointing fingers at each other, no one benefits. No one gets better. Carlos needs to listen what we’re telling him, and we need to think clearly, and calm down in the corner. I didn’t like the way I responded. 

“We’re honest people. We’re not going to lie to ourselves. Maybe because it was my nephew, my blood that I was thinking of protecting Carlos, being scared for him than giving him any kind of aggressive instruction. He was down and I panicked. Carlos is so good, he’ll be back. This whole experience will make him a better fighter.”

For a closer look at Karlos Balderas, check out his fighter page. 

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