It was the best Christmas ever for Rafael Espinoza, but despite the highs of having scored the Upset of the Year last December against Robeisy Ramirez, the WBO featherweight champion wants more.

“I hope that there are even better or nicer Christmases in the future,” said Espinoza through translator Gabe Rivas as he prepared for his first title defense against Sergio Chirino tonight (June 21).

A good Fourth of July wouldn’t be bad, even if Espinoza hails from Mexico, not the United States, but whatever the holiday, the 30-year-old is intent on taking his belt home from the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, where he hopes to repeat those feelings he had when he beat the highly-touted Cuban in Florida.

“I could say that it was the best moment of my life that I’ll never forget, and I’m going to continue to try to obtain those achievements,” said Espinoza, who is well aware that to keep that momentum going he will have to avoid the syndrome musicians encounter all the time of having an entire life to write their first album but only six months to write the follow-up. Some never recapture that magic. Espinoza, a singer and guitarist in his own right, intends to.

“I would say both are very difficult because to get there it requires lots of years of hard work,” he said. “And now as a world champion, it’s tough. You are going to face the best of the world, but you have the motivation of having done it already and having it built in you that you want to defend. So there’s more motivation to keep working hard.”

Hard work is a given for any champion, but perhaps the Guadalajara product has had to work even harder considering that he had only 11 amateur fights before turning pro in 2013. That’s a lot of growing up in public to do, but with a perfect 24-0 (20 KOs) record, Espinoza seems to have learned his lessons just fine. And he would agree.

“I did have 11 (amateur) fights, but I can tell you that I did get a lot of experience because when I was an amateur, I would always train with professionals and that’s where I learned a lot. I didn’t really go to compete much as an amateur because I wasn’t part of the state team. I didn’t represent Mexico, but I got a lot of experience. I was sparring with professionals and that helped me a lot, I think more than if I had a long amateur career.”

The proof is in the undefeated record and the world featherweight title. Now comes the interesting part – defending it. And against a fellow Mexican, to boot, something Espinoza is actually embracing.

“It provides me with more motivation because we know that Mexicans have a strong desire to have a good fight, and everyone knows that it’s tough against the Mexicans,” he said. “So I have to try double or triple because we all know it’s going to be a war. And aside from that, it also fills me with pride because we are both representing our country in front of the world, so that’s really nice.”

If you didn’t like Espinoza after his stellar effort under the lights against Ramirez, it’s impossible not to now, as he’s an affable representative for a sport that can always use one, and hey, he’s a Mexican fighter, and we all know what that means. And if you don’t know, Espinoza will tell you.

“When it comes to Mexican fighters, I think, first, it’s about having that heart to put everything in there to win without thinking about the consequences as long as you get the win and you make the people feel good,” he said. “The people do expect a lot of you, and they demand more of you. And as Mexicans, we know that we are a powerhouse in boxing. So when you don’t do that extra push, the fans demand more. And so there is that element of doing more as a Mexican fighter, but I also think it comes from birth, as well.” 

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