That, Leo says, was the plan all along.
Saturday at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., Leo (11-0, seven knockouts) is scheduled to face Mexico’s Jonathan Aguilar (20-6, 17 KOs) in an eight-round super bantamweight bout on a Mayweather Promotions card.
Aguilar, without question, is the strongest opponent Leo has faced as a professional boxer.
And that’s fine with him.
“That’s the way I want it,” Leo, 23, said on Thursday in a phone interview from Las Vegas. “I want to go out there and prove myself.”
Proving himself was exactly what Leo had in mind when he and his father, Miguel, moved to Vegas in March of last year. Progress had been halting in Albuquerque, with several fights having fallen through.
After seven months of inactivity beginning in August 2015, Leo fought three times in Mexico, his father’s country of birth — winning all three. Then came the move to Las Vegas and regular visits to Mayweather’s gym.
There, he said, “(Mayweather’s) boxing staff noticed me and put me in sparring with some of their top guys. Then they told Floyd’s CEO (Leonard Ellerbe) about me.”
Eventually, Leo said, word got to Mayweather himself.
“He put me in (sparring) with world champions, like (former IBF super featherweight champ) Gervonta Davis,” Leo said. “And (Mayweather) would be talking to me between rounds, giving me instructions.”
In November, Ellerbe signed Leo to a promotional contract. Shortly thereafter, he was in the ring with Basilio Nieves, whose record at the time (15-4) suggested he was the best opponent Leo had faced.
No problem. Leo defeated Nieves by fourth-round knockout.
Leo, who used to bus tables at the legendary Frontier Restaurant on Central, has had little time to miss Albuquerque. This isn’t the first time he has gone elsewhere, having lived in the Los Angeles area and campaigned there as an amateur.
“We like it here (in Vegas,)” he said. “It’s going great.”
Nonetheless, the Albuquerque ties remain unbroken. Luís Chávez, a longtime Duke City trainer, arrived in Vegas on Thursday and will be in Leo’s corner on Saturday.
EAST HEADS EAST: Los Lunas heavyweight MMA fighter Cody East has signed with the Russian promotional company Fight Nights Global.
East (13-3) has no fight scheduled, but FNG is touting him as a potential opponent for the organization’s heavyweight champion, Sergei Pavlovich (12-0).
A former King of the Cage heavyweight champion, East went 0-2 in UFC competition before being released. He had won nine straight before signing with the UFC.
East’s most recent fight was a victory by unanimous decision over Tony Lopez on a Jackson-Wink Fight Night card at Isleta Resort & Casino on Dec. 1.
CERRONE: Jackson-Wink’s Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will seek to snap a three-fight losing streak on Feb. 18, when he’s scheduled to face Hawaii’s Yancy Medeiros in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card in Austin, Texas.
Cerrone (32-10) had never lost as many as two consecutive fights before the current streak, which includes losses to Jorge Masvidal, Robbie Lawler and Darren Till.
After the Till fight, Cerrone had said he planned to drop back down to the 155-pound lightweight limit after campaigning at welterweight in his past eight fights. But Medeiros (15-4) is a welterweight (170).
BRUNSON: UFC middleweight contender Derek Brunson is a longtime Jackson-Wink fighter, but he didn’t make it to Albuquerque to train for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event in Charlotte, N.C.
He’s scheduled to fight Brazil’s Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (23-5) on the Charlotte card, to be telecast on Fox. Brunson is the No. 8 contender at 185 pounds, Souza No. 3.
Brunson (18-5) lives in Wilmington, N.C., about 200 miles southeast of Charlotte, and has his own gym there. He told ufc.com his two daughters, who live with him in Wilmington, are another reason he stayed close to home while training for this one.