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Forward Township boxer Salka lands lightweight title

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Forward Township boxer Rod 'Lightning' Salka shows off his United States NABA Lightweight championship belt Saturday after his fifth-round TKO over Emmanuel Lucero. Surrounding him are trainers Buzz Garnic (left), Ron Roule (right) and Buzz Garnic Jr. (rear).
Forward Township boxer Rod 'Lightning' Salka shows off his United States NABA Lightweight championship belt Saturday after his fifth-round TKO over Emmanuel Lucero. Surrounding him are trainers Buzz Garnic (left), Ron Roule (right) and Buzz Garnic Jr. (rear).

Forward Township boxer “Lightning” Rod Salka finally has his title belt — and now he's eyeing the national stage.

Salka, a 29-year-old from Bunola, made rather quick work of Emmanuel Lucero with a fifth-round TKO Saturday night at the Sports Complex in Elizabeth to capture the vacant United States North American Boxing Association Lightweight title.

The NABA is a branch of the World Boxing Association.

“Winning a belt is a pretty cool feeling, but that's what your goal is when you start,” Salka said. ”Actually, your goal is to be a world champion, but it's a significant step so you can get ranked and work our way up.”

The victory could catapult Salka — a 5-foot-7, 135-pounder — onto the national stage. He's already had offers to fight on cable networks like Showtime and ESPN. Salka entered Saturday's bout as the 21st-ranked US Lightweight in the NABA, according to BoxRec.com.

“Getting the belt should move me out to No. 1 in the U.S. rankings, which should move me into the top 15 in the world rankings, and you have to be in the top 15 to be considered a contender for the world title.”

It was the second straight 10-round fight for Salka (17-2, 4 KOs), who dropped a majority decison to Dorin Spivey Oct. 12 at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

Salka, who trains at Buzz Garnic's Round 2 Gym in Coal Center, said Saturday's fight was like a 180-degree pivot between two fighters at the crossroads of their career.

Lucero, 34, had lost seven fights, although his past two were hard-fought decision against Pittsburgh stalwart Monty Meza Clay (34-3).

“Last time (against Spivey) I didn't get into a rhythm and it just wasn't happening. I wasn't able to execute our game plan,” he said. “This time, I was aggressive jabbing and throwing punches off of jabs. I hurt (Lucero) in the second, and in the third caught him with a right uppercut off his jab. This kid had fought so he's been hit hard before. He's beaten some pretty good guys and he's been at that level for awhile.”

About 30 seconds into fifth round, Salka unleashed an overhand right that buckled Lucero and sent him careening into the ropes.

“He was out on his feet at that point,” Salka said. “His legs wobbled real bad, and when he staggered off the ropes, I nailed him with a couple more shots before the ref stepped in.”

When asked about getting his fourth knockout in 19 tries, Salka said it was better than leaving the victory in the hands of ringside judges.

“I'm always expecting to go distance so it's definitely nice getting out of there early,” he said. “I'm more of a boxer and move around a lot more, but I could tell the way he was reacting in the first round, I felt I could get him out of there by the late rounds.”

With the belt comes inevitable attention. Salka said he's ready for not only the bulls'-eye on his chest that sudden notoriety and high rankings bring.

Salka plans to headline another Pittsburgh-area fight in the next two to three months — unless he gets a call for something bigger. Either way, Salka feels he's ready for prime time and he won't be intimidated by the jump in competition — and pressure.

“Yeah, but that's what I want. I want to get calls for bigger fights. I've always been out trying to look for fights, so hopefully they'll come to me,” Salka said. “When you get to that bigger stage, you just fine-tune everything and focus more rather than let it be a distraction. Believe me, this is what I've been waiting for.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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