So far, the height of Luis Nery’s ring career is also his biggest fall.
A cult favorite who built a following as one of the prospects developed, on US airwaves, on the BeIn Sports Espanol Saturday shows, Nery arrived at his first title shot with real buzz. In 2017, Nery unseated one of the best bantamweights of the last twenty years, Japan’s Shinsuke Yamanaka, in four violent rounds for the WBC and lineal 118 lb. crown.
It was fair to think a star was born and easy to start wondering about things like a Nery-Naoya Inoue fight one day.
A positive test for banned substance zilpaterol, ultimately judged by the WBC as caused by food contamination, cast a cloud over the achievement. The cloud darkened with the rematch. Nery stopped Yamanaka in two rounds after missing weight, officially by some three pounds (121) but only then after initially stepping on the scale at a couple pounds more than that.
It resulted in a ban from fighting in Japan.
Nery’s career carried on.
Since losing the bantamweight title on the scales, Nery is 5-0 with four knockouts. He lost out on a fight with former bantamweight beltholder Emanuel Rodriguez, again faltering on the scales, for the undercard of Denotay Wilder-Luis Ortiz II. Against the best two of Nery’s last five opponents, former bantamweight titlist Juan Carlos Payano and unbeaten Aaron Alameda, Nery won without making much impression. At least against the latter, Nery won a belt in his second weight, snaring the vacant WBC belt at 122 lbs.
It was part of last October’s stacked Charlo twin bill pay per view and ultimately the disappointment of the night.
At 26, Mexico’s Nery (31-0, 24 KO) arrives at his first title defense this Saturday in a fight no one expects to disappoint. On paper, it’s one of the better potential action fights on a packed Showtime schedule through the summer. 24-year old Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1, 16 KO) has been a reliable television scrapper and has picked up a WBA sub-title at Jr. featherweight. It’s a must-win fight for both men with more at stake than just Nery’s WBC strap.
The winner of Nery-Figueroa is already locked in for their return date. On September 11, WBO titlist Stephen Fulton (19-0, 8 KO) awaits for a unification showdown.
Expectations are often unfair. A boxer deemed to have a potentially high ceiling by a chunk of fans who doesn’t make it quite as high as some thought he would can have that held against him. If falling short comes with behavior that can be viewed as unprofessional, it can obscure that early impressions (including impressions from this corner) might just have been wrong.
Nery’s had some stumbles but the fact is his plateau remains undetermined. The record remains unblemished. Nery could lose this weekend and still be involved in plenty of interesting fights for a few years. Nery isn’t going to lose his quick hands and he can punch.
Nery will also always be able to say he had an excellent career. While winning belts now is easier than it’s ever been, it’s still not really that easy to win them. Nery, copping them in two weight classes, has already outpaced the aims of thousands of kids around the world right now dreaming about getting even a chance at the same.
What this weekend represents is a chance to dramatically reset the narrative of his career and possibly resume the buzz once surrounding him. There are guys who can win a belt or two and then there are guys who step beyond that into another level of elite competition.
Nery isn’t there right now. This fight and what can follow are critical if it’s going to be a destination. Nery needs a night that reminds at least his early cult following why they were intrigued, even excited, in the first place. There may never be a better table setting for him than the potential two fight stretch available this year.
An impressive or at least crowd pleasing win this weekend will lend itself quickly to making a Fulton showdown one of the most anticipated fights for the rest of 2021 among hardcore fight fans.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com