Daniel Roman never worried about the crowds.
He could hear the passionate cheers of the 1,500 who filled the Ontario Doubletree Hotel and Omega lumber yard in Corona, and he was aware his Japanese opponents were favored when he took two title bouts in the Far East.
“I know the venues were smaller than they will be on Friday,” Roman said. “It never mattered to me. My mind was always focused on the guy in front of me.”
Friday night is Roman’s long-deserved opportunity to fully scan the audience, to embrace the moment of fighting at the Forum, soaking in the appreciation for a home-grown world champion finally getting his due.
World Boxing Assn. super-bantamweight champion Roman (26-2-1, 10 knockouts) meets Irish-born International Boxing Federation champion TJ Doheny (21-0, 15 KOs) in the co-main event of Friday’s DAZN-streamed card, not far from where Roman was raised in Inglewood.
“I’ve had no one more committed or disciplined fighter than Danny. He’s one of the best-trained fighters in the world today, with dedication like no other,” veteran Southern California fight promoter Ken Thompson said in an impressive statement considering Thompson formerly promoted two-division world champion Timothy Bradley Jr.
A product of Leuzinger High School, Roman found his defense lacking nearly five years ago when he fell to 8-2-1 while losing a close 2013 decision to now-retired Juan Reyes. Shelved for five months, Roman told his manager, “If nothing happens this year, I’m going to quit boxing and look for a better job.”
He survived on minimum-wage pay at the Gardena and Inglewood Yoshinoya fast-food locations, cooking teriyaki bowls and cashiering after moving to South L.A. and living with his divorced father, whom the son tended to through health issues.
Roman weighed the cold reality that while the Southland is a vibrant boxing scene, with plenty of gyms to train at and an abundance of area talent to spar against, it can be easy to vanish as another dreamer in the crowd.
“Boxing, I love this sport and there’s a fighter in me … I’ve always wanted to do the best I can and I wasn’t going to waste my life,” Roman said. “I worked on my defense. I learned you can’t brawl all the time – boxing is about hit, and don’t get hit – and as I kept on winning, I said, ‘I don’t want to lose anymore.’”
He’s 18-0 since, stopping six of those foes, including his most recent title challenger Gavin McDonnell of England in October. Otherwise, Roman’s niche is to out-box the competition.
In early 2017, he was finally plucked from the Inland Empire for a meeting of top-five super-bantamweights, facing Adam Lopez in Atlantic City, N.J.
“They had me as an underdog and nobody knew about me,” Roman said, resolving, “This is my time to shine, the moment I’ve been waiting for.”
He knocked down Lopez twice in the fourth round, made him retire in the ninth and advanced to a title shot against Shun Kubo in Japan that Roman again won by ninth-round technical knockout.
“He had to do a lot of things that some wouldn’t be up to -- travel to Japan for a world title, then defend again in Japan, and then fight in Chicago,” Thompson matchmaker Alex Camponovo said. “He was willing to do what he needed to do.”
This is Roman’s first fight back in Southern California since Nov. 18, 2016, and his hope is a victory will allow him to pursue the purchase of his own home.
“I’m excited to be back home in a unification bout that’s the biggest fight of my career,” he said. “I believe if you work hard and stay dedicated, it’s going to take you places. I never had anything handed to me.
“And that helped me train harder, to prove to the people that, ‘You know what? I can do more.’”
In addition to the Forum main-event, super-flyweight-title rematch between World Boxing Council champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and former flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico, the card also includes the super-welterweight debut of former welterweight champion Jessie Vargas versus Mexico’s former two-division champion Humberto Soto, 38.
“Guys like [Soto] can find little, old-school tricks they’ve mastered over the years that can cause a younger fighter trouble,” Vargas said. “Honestly, I have to be careful he doesn’t apply those veteran tactics in the fight. He beat Brandon Rios by knowing how to dictate the pace. But I’m stronger and faster than ever and I have a new trainer in Freddie Roach.”
Main Event: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Francisco Estrada for Rungvisai’s World Boxing Council super-flyweight belt
When: Friday, first bell 3:15 p.m. Pacific; DAZN card begins at 4:30 p.m.
Tickets: $31-$156 at Forum box office and Ticketmaster.com