KEY WEST -- When Derrick Wilson came to Key West two weeks ago to train alongside the several other professional boxers who opened camp in town this month, the 20-year-old Ft. Myers native looked at the trip as a way to stay out of trouble and train with some of the best in the business.
On Thursday night, that all changed.
Wilson, who is 4-0-1 with a knockout in five professional fights, was booked to face Charles Huerta (11-0, 7 KOs) on July 30 in Los Angeles in one of the featured bouts on a card that will be broadcast live on the Versus network. Not only does the fight provide a chance for Wilson to show what he can do against an unbeaten opponent, it could also serve as a tryout of sorts for one of the biggest boxing promotions in the world. A good showing could earn Wilson a spot on Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy roster, a lineup that already includes Huerta.
"This is the biggest fight I've ever had," Wilson said after a recent training session at the PAL gym. "I've been to the nationals and all of that on the amateur level, but pro-wise, this is the biggest fight I've ever been in."
Wilson, who turned pro at the age of 18 in 2007, is one of several boxers in town this month working out with trainer and former world champion John David Jackson. He is joined in the gym each day by championship contenders Randall Bailey and Nate Campbell, who each have light welterweight title fights coming up in August, among others.
Wilson sparred with local boxer Danny Van Staden on Friday, his first time in the ring since his upcoming fight was confirmed. Jackson said he could see a difference in Wilson's approach.
"I've seen a drastic improvement in him," the trainer said. "There was more intensity and more eagerness to improve on what he's been working on. Now that he has a fight, he's throwing punches better and moving around the ring with more of a purpose."
When looking ahead to his bout with Huerta, Wilson oozes confidence. He said he watched some video of the 22-year-old California native online and came away unimpressed.
"He's supposed to be real good, but I don't think he's got enough for me," Wilson said. "I'm probably going to walk all over him."
Wilson said it's not just Golden Boy that he will be looking to impress when he gets out to the west coast.
"I look at it like even if I don't get in with Golden Boy, I want to look good and impressive beating some dude with 11 fights when I've only got five," he said. "If I look good, even if Golden Boy doesn't want to sign me, all the big names will be out there and somebody will see me and like me."
Wilson said that being able to train with the likes of Bailey, Campbell and Damian Frias, among others, has only made him stronger.
"All the pros and the older guys, they've been kind of showing me the ropes," he said. "There's a lot that I already learned in the amateurs, but there's certain stuff that works in amateur fights that doesn't work in the pros. They've been showing me the tricks of the trade in the pros, so I feel like I'm ahead of other pro fighters my age."
Despite what his age might suggest, Wilson has plenty of experience in the ring.
He started training in Ft. Myers with Larry Willis -- whose two sons, Marcus and Quentin Willis, are also training at the PAL gym this month -- when he was still in elementary school. He had his first amateur fight when he was just a 65-pound 11-year-old. Wilson said that he and the elder Willis haven't always seen eye-to-eye, but he attributes a lot of his amateur success to his early coach.
"He taught me the basics," Wilson said of Larry Willis. "We went through a lot, but I don't want him to think I forgot him."
The upcoming match against Huerta will be the first six-round bout of Wilson's pro career. Up until now, he has only fought in four-rounders. To make the transition, Wilson has stepped up his training over the last couple of weeks in an effort to increase his stamina. He has been running four miles each morning, instead of the two that he says he usually runs, and he has been sparring four four-minute rounds with 30 seconds of rest, instead of the three-minute rounds with 60-second breaks that he will face on fight night.
"I usually get tired and start struggling in that fourth round, but now I'm doing four rounds with ease," he said. "If I'm walking through four four-minute rounds right now, I feel like I should be able to do three-minute rounds like nothing."
Jackson agreed with that assessment.
"He'll be ready," he said. "It's a big fight for him and a chance for him to shine and show what he's about. He'll be more than ready."
The upcoming fight won't be Wilson's first on national television. Last September, he made his debut on Versus and picked up his first career knockout when he stopped Emiliano Mendoza in the first round in San Jacinto, Calif.
Wilson said the added exposure due to television won't change his focus in the ring.
"I'm pumped regardless because of his record," he said of the unbeaten Huerta. "But I'm 1-0 with one knockout on Versus, so I'm trying to make that record stand out -- 2-0 with two knockouts."
In addition to all the motivation he will have career-wise, Wilson will also have plenty of motivation coming from the stands. Shortly after the fight was confirmed, Wilson's father Benjamin "Joker" Wilson, who has never flown in an airplane before, was browsing for tickets to fly out to Los Angeles and take in his son's bout in person. Derrick, who said his father used to tape all of his amateur fights, said it will mean a lot to him to be able to have his dad in attendance.
"If it wasn't for boxing, I would've never flew before," he said. "I would've never seen snow before. But now I get to fly my daddy out and let him see something he's never seen before."
When Wilson arrived for training camp in Key West two weeks ago, it was just his third time visiting the Southernmost City. His previous two trips to Key West were to attend the last two Fight Night in the Keys events that took place in January of this year and 2008 and were broadcast on ESPN live from Mallory Square. He said after watching the reception that manager Si Stern's other fighters got in those events, particularly Frias, who went 2-0 as a crowd favorite the last two years, gave him a new career goal: To fight in Key West.
"They gave (Frias) a lot of love, and he's not even from down here," Wilson said. "It was like he was home. I remember thinking, 'Boy, I'll close the show here. If they cheer me like that, I'll close the show.' I represent my city everywhere I go, and if they love me like that, I'll be representing Key West every time you see me. I might get it tatted on me and everything."