The Illustrated Man
By Richard E. Baker on May 4, 2022
Like Johnny Tapia, boxing has saved the life of Villalobos. (Photo: Richard E. Baker)
Steven Villalobos (15-1-1) is the reincarnated Illustrated man. He is a walking inkwell with stories spread over his body like a bookmobile. They represent his entire history from drug dealing to prison time to entering boxing. Portraits on his left leg are of Mexican drug dealers; on his right, boxers he admires including Johnny Tapia, a personal inspiration and hero because their histories are so similar. Like Tapia, boxing has saved the life of Villalobos. Without boxing he would be just another of slab of worthless flotsam. He has dealt with “many daemons” that boxing has helped to purge.
Villalobos has always been a slick and graceful boxer but occasionally short on power. That has changed over the years. Where he once boxed his opponents into submission, he is now able to take them out early. Of his 17 fights only 3 have been with winning opponents. In 2018 he beat 2-0-0 Luciana Hernandez Garcia by KO. Three months later he beat 6-2-1 Jose Leon at the Emerald Queen Casino. He finally got his first big break when he was matched with prospect Blair Cobbs (11-0-1) at the Fantasy Springs Casino where he was knocked out in round 9 of a 10-round bout.
Oddly enough, the Cobbs fight was a great outing for Villalobos and showcased his skills. He remained the aggressor throughout the fight. Cobbs was content to fight in reverse and only a short distance sprinter had any chance of catching him. Villalobos caught him with two good rights in round 2 to finish a decent round. In round 3 he even looked more impressive. Villalobos again caught Cobbs in round 4 before knocking Cobbs to the canvas in round 6. Villalobos pummeled him so badly the round might have been called 10-7 if judges were not so hesitant to mark rounds fairly. He outlanded Cobbs 46 punches to 17. Unfortunately fights do not always end as expected and Villalobos went from ink bottle to inkblot when he was knocked out in the 9th. “I wasn’t hurt. I beat myself. I was so exhausted I could not get up. I learned I needed to be in much better shape to enter the big time.” The fight, however, certainly raised his status, perhaps too much. He now had difficulties finding opponents.
As his record grew he started getting calls for fights against prospects. “The calls always came with only a week’s notice or less. I had learned enough by that time to know better.
“In the beginning I tried to do everything myself. I had no manager and little training. Although I had beaten three amateur champions I could not find anyone to manage me. I didn’t even know how to get opponents and picked a lot of bad ones.” He fought anywhere he could including outdoors in a cow pasture in Montana.
When one can’t find fights in the U.S. a fight can always be found in Mexico. Half the male population of Mexico are boxers. Money is difficult to earn there and boxing earns Mexicans a few extra pesos. His last four fights have been south of the border because they were the only fights available. He was especially not interested in facing his last opponent Jesus Morales (3-23-0), but needs fights to keep in shape. He knocked out the walking mass of desperation in two rounds.
Trainer Jose Benavidez decided to work with Villalobos. He saw the potential. “I now have what I need to continue to rise; a real team with solid structure.” His family is also an inspiration, especially his nine-year-old old daughter and four-year-old son.
Villalobos gets another opportunity for a decent fight and a chance to be recognized by a wider audience. He has been offered a fight on the undercard of the Benavidez/Lemieux May 21 card at the Gila River Arena in Phoenix. Villalobos has been training at the Benavidez gym in Burien, Washington and also sparring at the Moreno gym in Auburn. The two gyms work closely together especially when Jose Benavidez is away at camp with his son, David. No opponent has been scheduled yet but they promise to get a decent and tough fighter. There is no other way a boxer showcase his skills except to fight.