Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Orlando Salido and the Limits of Judgment

Depending on the particular lens that is used, Orlando Salido could be perceived in vastly different (and appropriate) manners by boxing fans. From one perspective, he has become perhaps the preeminent action fighter of his generation. His memorable battles with Juan Manuel Lopez, Vasyl Lomachenko, Terdsak Kokietgym, Roman Martinez and Francisco Vargas have provided enthusiasts of the sport with many-a-night of satisfaction. 

Through another prism, Salido is a drug cheat, testing positive for a steroid after his 2006 win over Robert Guerrero. And while it's true that Salido is not necessary an outlier as far as using performance enhancing drugs during his era, it's worth remembering that this is boxing and not track & field or baseball. People can die in boxing. This isn't getting an extra jolt while handing off a baton or hitting a baseball 15 more feet. The ramifications of PED use in boxing can lead to grievous bodily injury and it's certainly conceivable that the Guerrero fight wasn't the first or last time that Salido used a prohibitive substance to gain an edge. 

From a different vantage point, Salido is the ultimate throwback fighter, one who will literally get in the ring with anyone, often as a "B-side" and for short money. Whether it's facing a bona fide, first-ballot Hall of Famer (Juan Manuel Marquez), perhaps the best amateur boxer of his time (Lomachenko), preeminent young fighters (Guerrero, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Mikey Garcia) or just garden-variety badasses (Roman Martinez, Robinson Castellanos, Rogers Mtagwa), Salido will fight anybody. And not only will he take on all comers but he'll usually extract his pound of flesh. Even in fights where he's been outgunned by superior talents, he's still had his moments of glory, knocking down Gamboa and coming on strong against Garcia before the fight was stopped. His bouts are often thrilling affairs and during the last six years or so, he has become appointment television. 

Without blinding speed, a jab or any kind of reach, Salido still finds ways to impose himself on opponents. Comparing Salido's skills to those of better talents such as Lomachenko and Lopez, it's practically inconceivable that he earned victories over them. He's been regarded as a gatekeeper, a "live-dog," an inconvenience to his promoters and a spoiler of many dreams. 

Top Rank, who promoted many of Salido's fights, must feel ambivalent towards Salido. On one hand, he provided the company and (mostly) HBO with many thrilling nights of action. However, he also ruined one of their potential stars (Lopez), broke the nose of another (Garcia), dropped a third (Gamboa) and momentarily derailed the hype train of a fourth (Lomachenko). If Salido is a "friend" to Top Rank, who needs enemies?

Yet there's also another reality when considering Salido: he's one of the dirtiest fighters in boxing. Going low repeatedly against Lomachenko and committing a variety of fouls in the Kokietgym fight and the first Martinez bout, Salido is one of the modern masters of boxing's dark arts. Head butts, nut shots, rabbit punching, elbows to the face, forearm grappling, hitting on the break and holding-and-hitting, Salido has done it all. This type of conduct turns off many boxing fans. When facing a faster opponent, he will do all in his power to corral an opponent, whether through legitimate means or by infraction. 

Many boxing fans believe that with a competent referee (not Laurence Cole) Salido would never have gotten away with the incessant fouling that allowed him to build an early lead against Lomachenko. Others object to Salido coming into that fight significantly overweight and that he didn't make a legitimate attempt to lose the weight – certainly not very sporting behavior. 

However, even the controversies surrounding the Lomachenko fight seem unimaginable from the nascent days of his career. Turning pro at 15, the Mexican was immediately thrown to the wolves. After his first nine fights, he was just 5-3-1. In his seventh bout, still at the tender age of 16, he was placed in a ten-rounder, an inconceivable thought for an American-based fighter. He was knocked out five times in his first 15 matches, including by a 9-21 boxer. Yet, somehow he emerged to headline bouts on HBO. His story would be a modern fairy tale if he were a more sympathetic figure. 

Perhaps there isn't a better example of perseverance in modern boxing than Salido's. No promoter coddled him. There wasn't a signing bonus of note to smooth things over early in his professional career. No one cared if he won or lost in his early fights. He was a dime-a-dozen boxer who filled out the bottom rungs of fight cards for meal money. 

By 2001, he made his way to U.S. to start boxing north of the border and he has fought the majority of his bouts since then in America. He obviously learned a lot from his early boxing struggles and wasn't discouraged by his rough start; I'm sure many others would've retired in a similar position. Now, at 35, he's had 61 bouts including multiple world titles at featherweight and has fought in at least 13 championship fights (depending on how you characterize the various sanctioning bodies' machinations). In short, he's had a hell of a career and one that was unexpected from its humble origins. 

Salido didn't become a household name in boxing until around the age of 30, usually when lower-weight fighters start to decline, often precipitously. In the last six years, he's been down 14 times – a truly remarkable number – and yet he's remained a player at the top levels of boxing. Over that time, he's amassed a record of 9-3-2, with losses only to Gamboa, Garcia and Martinez. Often counted out or considered on the slide, he continues to be a major factor at the world-level. 

Despite being overly familiar with the canvas, he's never been knocked out as an "adult" fighter. Like his great countryman Juan Manuel Marquez, Salido has a seemingly never-ending supply of intestinal fortitude. You can hurt him, send him down but he keeps coming back. In the Garcia fight, Salido might as well have been Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees; he looked dead more than once but he kept rising to stalk his prey. More than a few suggested that Garcia and his team decided to end the fight with a big lead instead of dealing with Salido for the championship rounds. 

So what to make of him? How does one get an appropriate gauge on his career and legacy? He's a warrior, a cheater, an overachiever, a champion, a trickster and one of the roughest dudes in the business. Some will never support a fighter who used a PED. Others excuse his steroid intake because he provides thrilling action. Another section abhors his dirty tactics in the ring. Yet so many boxing enthusiasts would never miss one of his fights. 

Boxing fans love to make morality plays. Passing judgment on fighters might even rival our love of boxing itself. This fighter wears the white hat; this boxer represents everything wrong with the sport – heroes and villains, the familiar trope. Everything's so definitive. Yet Salido destroys this dichotomy like it was Juan Manuel Lopez. He provides lessons to young fighters about never giving up but he also put his fellow combatants in serious, life-threatening danger by taking performance enhancing drugs. He's survived poverty, professional neglect and the politics of boxing to truly make something of himself and he has amassed a devoted following. But even many of his supporters in quieter moments would admit a bitter taste in their mouth regarding some of his choices and tactics. 

Salido's legacy epitomizes complication. Not all bad or good. He's a proud warrior but yet one of our nastiest ones. He's also a late-bloomer who bucked the odds and anything standing in his way.

Perhaps Salido is the ultimate Rorschach test. The moralists abhor him. The relativists love him. The humanists root for him while those who want a clean and honorable sport wish he'd simply fade away. He's inconvenient, a problem and someone to take very seriously. And he's also a real fighter, a proud man and has made a definitive impact in the sport. 

In the final analysis, is there no room for gray? Can we not hate the sin but love the sinner? Or are his sins too great for mercy? Can we stomach a middle ground? The limits of judgment become abundantly clear when "Siri" Salido is involved. Can peace be made with that reality?

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at

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