All eyes on Roberto Marroquin
Dallas featherweight on verge of reaching contender status with first fight as headliner
There are times in a boxer's career in which he must step up.
Many fighters are prospects for a long time before they become contenders. But the path between prospect and contender is sometimes blocked by someone who has nothing to lose.
Dallas fighter Roberto Marroquin will face such an obstacle Saturday night.
Marroquin will fight in his first professional main event against Frankie Leal in a 10-round featherweight bout at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla.
Marroquin is that young prospect who has signed with Top Rank and must now move to contender status. He is undefeated in 19 fights as a professional with 14 knockouts.
His power will be tested by Leal, who is 15-5-3 and has been knocked down three times in his last two bouts. Leal hasn't won a fight since 2009 but is the type of opponent Marroquin needs.
"He's got to be ready to step up to the next level," said Gabriel Marroquin, Roberto's father and trainer. "He's ready to go 10 rounds, something we haven't done before, and we're moving down in weight some for this fight, so we're pretty anxious."
Roberto Marroquin is one of a talented group of fighters in the featherweight division. If Marroquin wins Saturday night, it must be by knockout and look impressive -- two difficult feats. But they are possible, especially with Leal's three losses by KO and his recent knockdowns.
Marroquin would probably meet highly regarded contender Teon Kennedy (17-0) from Philadelphia with a win in Thackerville.
"You want a fighter to be ambitious and hungry," Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler said of Marroquin. "It's good he's chomping at the bit."
Marroquin is getting the respect from the governing bodies. He's ranked 12th by the WBO and 14th by the IBF in the featherweight division.
He should get a title shot this year, if all goes well.
"I have a lot of confidence in Top Rank, they've made a lot of champions in the past," Marroquin said. "I just know I can do the job and all I can do is show up 100 percent mentally and physically and be on top of my game and not be worried about all that. I personally think I am ready."
The first step for Marroquin is beating Leal in the main event. There is a different kind of pressure that comes with being the headliner, something Marroquin has never experienced. The eight-bout fight card is sold out, and there's a large group from Dallas expected to attend the event.
The largest crowd Marroquin has fought in front of was about 30,000 during the early stages of a fight card at Cowboys Stadium last year. He knocked out Samuel Sanchez in the second round in March of 2010, then returned to the venue a few months later and scored another knockout, this time in the first round over Francisco Dominguez.
"It's pressure knowing I'm going to be in the main event for the first time," Marroquin said. "I was telling my dad, whenever I have a fight I'm the co-main event or on the undercard and we show up in the dressing room four or five hours before the fight. Now I'm the main event, I can stay in the hotel room, relax and show up around 7 in the evening. It's just going to be a great feeling."
Also on the fight card, Baltimore Ravens safety Tommy Zbikowski will have his fourth professional fight when he takes on Blake Warner from Oklahoma City. Zbikowski is being trained by Emanuel Steward and conducted his camp in Detroit.
Calvin Watkins covers boxing for ESPNDallas.com.