Honoring a Champion: Ivan Calderon carries Puerto Rico's banner to boxing hall of fame

An in-depth profile on Ivan Calderon ahead of the boxing hall of fame.
Carlos Fajardo v Ivan Calderon
Carlos Fajardo v Ivan Calderon / Al Bello/GettyImages

Smooth. Natural. Master. Effortless. When one looks back on the career of Puerto Rico's Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon (35-3-1, 6 KOs), these aforementioned words come to mind. Now, with great pride and celebration, we can add Hall-of-Famer. The 2024 International Boxing Hall-of-Famer (IBHOF) will be inducted alongside fellow pugilists such as  Ricky Hatton, Diego Corrales, and Michael Moorer. 

Calderon, the 12th Puerto Rican boxer to be inducted into the boxing Hall-of-Fame, has left an indelible mark on the history of Puerto Rican boxing. His name will forever stand next to all-time greats from his native island, such as Miguel Cotto, Felix Trinidad, Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Gomez, and Wilfred Benitez. The foundation of Calderon's now Hall-of-Fame career was built in boxing's smallest weight classes at strawweight (105) and light flyweight (108). Undoubtedly, he was one of the most consistent champions of his era and in the history of fighters to come out of Puerto Rico. 

After winning the WBO strawweight championship in 2003, the island nation's Iron Boy made 11 defenses of his title over a four-year reign. A move to the light flyweight division led Calderon to the magnum opus of his career. Calderon faced off against Mexican power puncher Hugo Cazares, who held a significant height advantage, being five inches taller. Cazares had a reputation for beating Puerto Rican fighters, having stopped Nelson Dieppa and Alex Sanchez in defending his WBO light flyweight title. 

Withstanding an eighth-round knockdown, Calderon, with his unwavering determination, won a split decision over Cazares in August 2007 to win the WBO light flyweight title in one of the biggest fights to take place in Puerto Rico. The win, a testament to his resilience, earned the longtime champion recognition as one of the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound and likely helped cement him as a future Hall-of-Famer. 

"I think fans like the Hugo Cázares fights because he was the one who was killing all the Puerto Rican guys," Calderon told Fansided MMA in an interview earlier this year.  “He killed Nelson Dieppa and Nene Sánchez. 

Puerto Rico was so mad that there were no fighters to beat him, and everybody just started saying, "The only one who could beat him is Iván." And I was like, 'Nah, man, don't think about me. Homeboy's going to kill me. I'm a 105, he's a 108. So look at that.' I waited a year, and I had to fight him."

Ivan Calderon highlights

He continued, "It helped me with the Hall of Fame. That gave me another push to be where I'm at right now in the Hall of Fame."

For professional boxers, it takes five years after they've hung up the gloves to be considered for the IBHOF. After making six defenses of the light flyweight title, proving he could dominate in another weight class, the Iron Boy lost three of his final four bouts. One of which was bestowed the honor of the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year in 2010 when Calderon suffered the first defeat of his career against Giovanni Segura.

Despite a dour ending to his career, Calderon had proven himself as one of the best technicians in his era regardless of weight class. With limited spots and a competitive selection of fighters still deserving of Hall-of-Fame recognition, Calderon was denied entry since being eligible in 2017. It was an unexpected moment of satisfaction for the Puerto Rican who thought his chances at the Hall-of-Fame would continue to allude him. 

"So when I first heard it, I didn't believe it," Calderon expressed. "The first time they (IBHOF) called me, they thought I would be ready to go in 2017. In the other years, I knew I would not be ready to get in because there were many names, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao, and all those kinds of boxers, and I knew I would not make it in those years. And in 2024, they just called me, and I said, "I know this the year, I know this the year. I don't have a lot of competition, so it's the year." And this was the year."

It's long been stated that some fighters are born, not made. Calderon's boxing style was a unique blend of control and precision. Like the legendary Willie Pep, he used his movement as a strategic tool, keeping his opponents off balance and out of reach.

Perhaps his greatest strength was his natural composure. He was never out of character and always prepared. It's surprising to learn that Calderon didn't start boxing until he was 17. Calderon's first boxing memory was one of the most significant upsets in boxing history when Buster Douglas stopped Mikey Tyson in 1990. But it was his brother who motivated him to first try his hand at the sweet science. 

"I started watching boxing when I was 17 and saw Mike Tyson lose against Buster Douglas," said Calderon. "I was living in the Bronx, but I started my career boxing in Puerto Rico when I was 17. Then I left when I was 18 or 19, and I did the Golden Gloves in New York. I did ten fights in New York. I was with Zab Judah, the same team. Then, I tried to make it to the Olympics in '96. I lost. Then, I was told to make it here in Puerto Rico, and from then on, I stayed here in Puerto Rico.

"I used to fight a lot in school when I used to live in the Bronx, but I never liked boxing. When I came to Puerto Rico, I started looking at boxing because my brother went to a gym. I said, 'Let me go with you just to see how it is'. And then he stopped going. The next day, I said, 'Let me try.' And when I started hitting the bag or started moving, the trainer asked me, 'You used to box?' I say, 'Nah, I never put on a glove before. this this my first time.' He says, 'You move well. You know how to move?'"

Calderon had an innate ability to mimic the fighters he watched. He describes this as having a vision, a testament to his many sparring sessions with elite fighters throughout his career. 

"That was my vision," Calderon explained.  "I learned from other fighters, looking at them, looking at the fighters, that I know are making the correct move. I used to see fighters in Puerto Rico, like Wilfredo Rivera, who fought Oscar De La Hoya. He was a technical fighter, and I used to spar with him, so I started learning."

Ivan Calderon: 'I had to learn how to move, how to box because I didn't want to get hit'

"I told a lot of people, 'How do you learn how to move?' I say, 'Because I used to spar with Tito, Miguel Cotto, and Shane Mosley. So I had to learn how to move, how to box because I didn't want to get hit.'"

Calderon's sparring has become part of his legend. His name is tied to one of the most influential names in boxing history, Oscar De La Hoya, and his final two professional fights. In 2007, in preparing for his mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., De La Hoya was training under the tutelage of Freddie Roach in Puerto Rico. In order to help prepare his fighter for Mayweather's elusive style, Roach employed Calderon as a sparring partner for De La Hoya. 

What transpired during those sparring sessions between De La Hoya and Calderon convinced Roach that his fighter, Manny Pacquiao, despite a significant difference in size, had a great chance of defeating De La Hoya. In December 2008, Pacquiao sent De La Hoya into retirement and catapulted himself into superstardom. Calderon deserves some credit for setting these events in motion. 

"When Oscar came to Puerto Rico, we did it twice, training in my gym where I used to train," stated Calderon. "The last time he came and Freddie Roach was the trainer, he told me, 'Hey, can you help him spar?' I said, 'Yeah, sure.' And when I helped him spar in the last three rounds, I moved him around. He couldn't hit me, and I was getting him inside. I was outboxing him, and then when Freddie Roach saw that, he said, 'Wow, a small, powerful person moves a lot quicker.

"And that's why he took Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya's fight. That's what he says. He says, 'I decided to take this fight because Iván Calderón showed me that Pacquiao got the style to beat Oscar De La Hoya.' That's why they took the fight because of my sparring with him."

During Calderon's run as a strawweight and light flyweight champion, fighters below featherweight were primarily relegated to undercard filler spots, untelevised cards, or low-budget PPVs. Needless to say, fighters in the lower weight classes were only watched by the most hardcore boxing fans with little exposure to the national media or the boxing media in general. 

Today's landscape is vastly different with the advent of fighters such as Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, and Naoya Inoue. Recently, the Boxing Writer's Association of America (BWAA) awarded Inoue the 2023 Fighter of the Year award. 

Ivan Calderon 🥊 Master of Movement Born in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Calderon is a Puerto Rican former professional boxer....

Posted by Hanzagod Boxing on Thursday, December 8, 2022

Calderon's biggest struggles as a professional were the need for more marketing and steady financial compensation. If he were fighting today, the opportunities to perform on numerous platforms would have garnered him bigger paydays and more exposure. 

"The money," Calderon stated emphatically when asked about the biggest struggle of his career. "And the thing is that when I used to fight, I used to fight in big events with good names. I was opening the show or opening on TV when I used to fight a lot on Oscar De La Hoya's cards, Pacquiao's cards, and Miguel Cotto's cards. And I didn't really care if I was the main event or not.

"I wanted that moment because I knew I would get good pay, but it was not my time. I feel so happy they are getting good pay now, and they are making them fight in main events."

As far as the future for the Hall-of-Fame bound, Calderon, unlike many fighters, the Iron Boy has prepared for life outside of boxing by holding a job in government administration for the last two decades. He still has his hands in boxing as a Spanish-language commentator for ESPN. However, his goal is to follow in the footsteps of Freddie Roach in becoming a former fighter who turned into a great trainer. 

"Right now, I'm a temp scout working for the government," said Calderon. "I have already spent 21 years in administration. And like a trainer, the government has given me two gyms here. I'm working with ESPN Knockout as a Spanish commentator. As a trainer, I have a few boxers, like Kiria Tapia and a few are growing right now. So, my dream is to make a world champion out of my hand.

"Maybe I could be one of the lucky ones like Freddie Roach. He was not a good boxer, but he's a good trainer, and many names came into his hands like Miguel Cotto and Pacquiao." 

Calderon was not the biggest puncher or even the most popular of Puerto Rico's greats. But his skillset was a testament to his commitment to boxing. When most fighters from Puerto Rico held their most important fights outside the island, Calderon fought his biggest battles on the soil of the Island of the Enchantment. 

He will go down as a pioneer for fighters in the smallest of weight classes.


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