Friday November 11th, 2011

LAS VEGAS -- There is an undefeated, American world champion fighting on a premium cable channel this weekend.

I'll wait while you plug all that into Google.

Meet Austin Trout, the anonymous WBA junior middleweight titleholder. Trout (23-0) is thoughtful, articulate and well-spoken. He's American-born (El Paso) and American-bred (raised in Las Cruces). He has skills (a 2004 U.S. national amateur champion) and just enough pop (13 knockouts as a pro) to make him dangerous.

So why has nobody heard of him? Honestly, I'm not really sure.

Now, Trout is fighting in a less-than-glamorous division. Junior middleweight (154 pounds) is the odd cousin of welterweight and the disappointing stepchild of middleweight. While there are some names in the weight class (Miguel Cotto, Saul Alvarez), fighters that aspire to unify that division are few and far between.

And Trout has not exactly been visible. He's been a road warrior, fighting in Canada, Mexico and Panama over the last two years. He has fought just once on U.S. TV, a lopsided decision win over Byron Tyson in 2008. Who? That's a problem, too. Most of the opponents on Trout's resume (Marcos Primera! Rigoberto Alvarez! David Lopez!) would be difficult for Bert Sugar to identify.

"I don't blame anyone for not knowing me," Trout said. "They look at my resume and can see I don't have any notable wins."

Trout hopes that changes soon. On Friday night, he defends his title against Frank LoPorto (11:05 p.m., Showtime). That he will face LoPorto (15-4-2, 7 KOs), a journeyman with a resume more anonymous than his own, won't help. That the fight is on Showtime will.

"This is my opportunity to show everyone what I can do," Trout said. "I need to use this fight like a loudspeaker. I would have fought this fight for free."

Trout's right. Beating LoPorto doesn't do anything for him. Beating LoPorto up, however, can do a lot. Despite its second-class status, the junior middleweight division has been infused with talent -- television-friendly talent -- lately. Cotto is the big breadwinner. Alvarez, with his strong Mexican fan base, is right behind him. Last weekend, James Kirkland re-established himself in the division with an entertaining beating of Alfredo Angulo.

Not surprisingly, Trout wants a piece of all of them.

"I'm ready to take on anyone in the world," Trout said. "I look at those guys and I don't think there is one of them I can't beat."

Yes, Trout, 26, is oozing with confidence. His boxing role models were Pernell Whitaker and Sugar Ray Leonard. Asked to describe himself, he says "a Whitaker who can punch."

"I'm a boxer-puncher," Trout said. "I don't run. I use angles. I've got enough power to keep you off of me and enough to put you down."

Putting down LoPorto would be a huge step in the right direction. While matchups with Cotto or Alvarez are a pipe dream right now, a showdown with Kirkland is not. Kirkland wants titles, and Trout has one. Trout wants a name that will get him back on cable TV, and Kirkland has it. HBO wants a sellable fight and Kirkland-Trout on the undercard of a World Championship Boxing broadcast might fit that description.

"I would love to fight Kirkland," Trout said. "I wanted to fight Kirkland before he got knocked out by [Nobuhiro] Ishida and after he beat up Angulo. I know how to fight him. Angulo didn't jab. He just stood there. I'm much sharper. Kirkland, he just keeps coming forward. I know how to handle that. I don't think he could handle all the angles I'd be hitting him from."

Trout's voice rises when he talks about it. He's fine with the way his career has gone so far. But it's time to take the next step. First, LoPorto -- "I want to beat him up over a few rounds," Trout said. "Then I want to knock him cold." -- then, the division. Belts don't carry the same prestige as they once used to. But Trout hopes to use his belt to gain some respect.

"I've been under the radar for too long," he said. "I'm in my prime. This is my chance to make a statement. A lot of great fighters have been overlooked. Hopefully after this fight, I won't be."

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