- Robert Morales
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Cristian Mijares was hardly a household name when he squared off with fellow Mexican Jorge Arce in April 2007.
Mijares was a little-known champion about to make the first defense of his world super flyweight title.
Arce was -- and still is -- one of Mexico's most popular and beloved fighters.
When Mijares beat Arce from pillar to post to earn a unanimous decision, another Mexican star was born.
"My life has changed a lot, not only in Mexico but worldwide," Mijares said. "I got a lot of recognition when I beat Arce."
Besides the financial windfall that came with that victory and five subsequent defenses, Mijares has made his way into respected pound-for-pound polls; he is ranked No. 8 by ESPN.com. But despite his meteoric rise through the ranks, his mindset has remained the same.
"There has definitely been a change, but I have not changed," Mijares said. "I'm still surrounded by my family and by my team. Yes, the change has been more recognition. But I'm the same person as I was before."
That level-headed persona figures to help him when he takes on power-hitting Armenian Vic Darchinyan on Saturday in a title unification fight at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
It should help Mijares in the ring as he tries to steer clear of the vicious shots Darchinyan will be throwing. And it seems to have helped him during the promotion, as he has remained strong in the face of Darchinyan's incessant trash-talking.
During an Oct. 13 news conference in Los Angeles, Darchinyan, 32, was in rare form.
"They said that Mijares is pound for pound the best fighter out there [in the division], but after I get finished with him, we'll see what number he is," Darchinyan said. "I'm going to give a lesson to the little boy."
Instead of getting rattled, Mijares responded coolly.
"Darchinyan is talking too much because he's scared of me," Mijares said. "Jorge Arce talked a lot of trash, too, and I shut him up. I'll do the same with Darchinyan."
Then last week, the left-handed Darchinyan (30-1-1, 24 KOs) suggested the way he comes forward with bad intentions is more the Mexican style of fighting than the slick, southpaw style of the medium-hitting Mijares (36-3-2, 15 KOs). Consequently, Darchinyan said, he will steal what figures to be a pro-Mexican crowd.
"After two rounds, you're not going to hear any Mexican crowd; you're only going to hear Armenian crowd," said Darchinyan, who is predicting a knockout. "Few rounds after that, you're going to see Mexican crowd supporting me. Of course, they'll like my style. They don't like people who are just touching and running."
Again, Mijares replied with a collected head.
"The more he talks, the more motivated I am to try and shut him up," said Mijares, 27.
Besides, Mijares does more than touch and run. He might not have Darchinyan's power, but he has some pop, having stopped four of his seven opponents in championship-fight victories.
He beat Arce by seven, eight and 10 points in a dazzling performance. Two fights ago, he edged Alexander Munoz via split decision in a title unification fight in his hometown of Gomez Palacio, Mexico.
Arce has a 69 percent knockout ratio and Munoz 77 percent, meaning Mijares has the ability to take on the heavy hitters and emerge victorious.
In addition, Darchinyan's chin is suspect, as his fifth-round knockout loss to Nonito Donaire in July 2007 demonstrated.
Moreover, Mijares has not lost in more than six years. And his promoter, Lou DiBella, is convinced the sky is the limit.
"I've been lucky enough to promote a number of guys that have been on the pound-for-pound list," DiBella said. "Bernard Hopkins, I worked with him for a while, and Jermain Taylor. I think he's already in the top 10, pound for pound. When he moves up to 118 pounds and hits another weight class and people get to see his dominance as a boxer, I expect him to climb up that pound-for-pound list. I think he has the potential to be the best pound-for-pound fighter I've ever worked with."
Lofty expectations. But Mijares could realize them because of his well-grounded frame of mind. He still lives in the same family home in which he grew up in Gomez Palacio. When asked how he was going to spend what on Saturday will be his biggest payday to date ($225,000), he said, "All I know is that I'm going to invest it wisely, like I have in the past."
"Wisely" also is how Mijares plans to go about adding a third championship belt to the two he already holds. He said he's going to box Darchinyan, "because that's what I should do for a guy like Darchinyan."
Smarts are one of the things that have gotten Mijares to this point. But a stoppage of Darchinyan would add a feather of large proportions to his cap.
"I'm going to say one thing right now, and I want to make sure everybody understands," Mijares said when asked how he would handle Darchinyan's power. "He's thinking he's going to break me in half, he's going to knock me out. I'm smart and strong at the same time. So I want everybody not to be surprised if I end up knocking out Vic Darchinyan."
His star will shine even brighter if he does.
Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.
Things are coming together for Cristian Mijares. Beloved in Mexico and growing in stature in the states, the 112-pound titleholder is considered one of boxing's brightest stars.