Robson Conceicao dropped a controversial decision against Oscar Valdez in September, but he has another opportunity Saturday to prove he’s a player at 130 pounds.
The winner of the fight between Conceicao and Xavier Martinez (10 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+) will be in line for a title shot later this year in one of boxing’s best weight classes, a high-stakes bout between two promising contenders. Martinez sits just outside ESPN’s top 10 in the division and figures to be ranked with a win (Conceicao is No. 10).
Martinez (17-0, 11 KOs) is undefeated but struggled in a win over Claudio Marrero in 2020 and was forced to survive two knockdowns. Marrero was his toughest opponent to date, but now Martinez steps up to the top level against Conceicao.
Conceicao (16-1, 8 KOs) was boxing beautifully during the first half of his title shot against Valdez in September, before he wilted down the stretch. Now, he meets another fighter with much to prove. After a long stint with Mayweather Promotions, Martinez signed with Top Rank and will make his debut with the promotion on Saturday.
Conceicao, who won an Olympic medal at the 2016 Olympics, started fighting on the streets and worked at a young age to help support his family. Ahead of Saturday’s main event, here’s how Conceciao described his journey.
Editor’s note: Responses were translated, then edited for clarity and brevity.
Selling ice cream on the streets
When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I was already working. I had a job selling ice cream on the streets of Salvador, Bahia, where I lived. I was raised by my mother and grandmother. I grew up without a father. So I would sell ice cream, get the money back to my grandmother and go to the market to buy vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes and things like that for the house.
Learning how to cook by making grandmother’s lunch
My grandmother had a booth at a street market where she sold food — chicken, sandwiches — and other things. It was very common in Bahia. So I would go and help, but my grandmother always wanted something different for lunch. She would send me back to the house, with a recipe and instructions, and asked me to make her lunch. I cooked whatever she wanted and brought it back to her. I was her personal chef.
Fighting on the streets
I have an uncle, Roberto, and he was a troublemaker, a street brawler. He would pick a fight on the street for no reason, especially during Carnival season. In Salvador, Carnival season is also fight season. So I was in my grandmother’s booth selling food and drinks and people will come to me and say, “Did you see your uncle Roberto? He beat up five guys last night.” And I was like, ‘I want to be like my uncle,’ so I started brawling. I liked it, so I found a boxing gym and started training there.
Three workouts a day … but not by preference
When I started training boxing, the gym was a 10-minute walk from my house. But when the trainer lost the space, he needed to move. The new gym was about six miles away, so since I had no money, I would walk or run to the gym, train and then run back home. It was like three workouts a day, run, train, run back.
Winning the Military World Games
The Brazilian Navy was participating in the Military World Games and was trying to recruit big names in the sport. They invited me and I participated in the 2011 Games, winning the gold medal in boxing. I stayed with the Navy for 8 years, until I was 18 or 19. I became a professional boxer at 26.
Fighting Vasiliy Lomachenko
It was the Vasiliy Lomachenko fight in the 2011 World Championships that was the best fight of my life. I won the fight, but then they changed the result the next day and gave Lomachenko the victory [AIBA overruled a two-point penalty to Lomachenko]. I felt like it was a big injustice. I was very young, I did what I [had] to do inside the ring and then they changed it and took it away from me. I was very sad and mad, but I still feel I won the fight. Just part of the business.
Being an Olympian
Before the Olympics, nobody knew who I was. After I won the gold medal, everybody knew me in Brazil, everybody respected me. And because of the gold medal, Top Rank offered me a contract and now I’m part of the biggest boxing promotional company in the world.
Earning the big contract
After I signed with Top Rank, I saved all the money. But after the Valdez fight, I bought a new car, going from a 2015 Hyundai Tucson to a 2021 Jeep.