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Local Boxing Scene Provides Youth with Alternatives to Crime and Addiction

José Hernández

Julio Galicia, Franco Valadez, y José Hernández

By Jesús Aguado

When boxing trainer Laura Leyva was 14, her parents split up, a traumatic family rift that soon had Leyva turning to alcohol.

“I was a teen alcoholic,” she says.

Boxing saved Leyva’s life. She found a release in it and became highly skilled, going on to win five consecutive state boxing championships between 2009 and 2016.

When one sees a boxer in the ring, says Levya, “We see blows, and we think of violence. But the reality is you need training, sacrifice, and discipline to merit climbing into the ring. If there is no prior training, then violence and anger win. There has to be concentration, respect, and wisdom to handle a fight, and all this comes with training.”

Leyva is now retired from competitive boxing, but she continues to be active in the sport, with her own training gym in colonia Allende, to which more youths arrive every day with dreams of “being a champion,” as she puts it, “of winning state, national and even international championships.”

Leyva is part of the Boxing Association of San Miguel, which is preparing its second boxing gala event on September 7 at the La Casona hotel and conference center. The Boxing Association represents a level of support of boxing in San Miguel that didn’t exist when Leyva was starting out.

Supporting local boxers’ dreams

When Leyva won her state titles, few people in San Miguel saw her fight. At the time, no organization was promoting the sport locally, and even the media here was skeptical. That lack of support is why local patrons founded the Boxing Association of San Miguel in 2016 with the goal of supporting rising boxers’ dreams. It also hoped to rescue young Sanmiguelenses from social problems like drug abuse.

The Boxing Association of San Miguel supports local boxers in ways big and small.

“With the events we promote, we are able to raise funds to support boxers in gymnasiums and training centers,” said Levya. “We support them financially, and we take them to out-of-town competitions. Sometimes there is no transportation, gasoline, or someone to take them, or they don’t know about some events; we find solutions for those problems if we can.”

Besides competitions, the boxing association also sponsors and organizes exhibition fights, which give young boxers exposure, which can lead to a scholarship or simply allow fighters to decide if they wish to continue with boxing.

“In sports, you are recognized when you reach a certain level. But an athlete needs to work from childhood [to achieve it]. Our civil association has a commitment to organizing altruistic events that contribute to society. It’s not a professional but a social goal. We need to support boxers and build the sport, as a social commitment,” she said.

This is the the gala boxing event’s second consecutive year. Boxing Association organizers started it last year because they recognized the importance of events like this that give boxers the experience and exposure they need to go to the next level. In addition, says Leyva, they saw an opportunity in this event for San Miguel residents to get to know residents of neighborhoods that have experienced waves of violence and crime. The hope is that people will see examples of residents who, despite the wave of violence that has passed through our city, have taken a different path and supported the sport of boxing instead.

His luchador grandfather inspired him to enter the ring

Omar Alejandro Granados Fajardo, of the Santa Julia neighborhood, is 20 years old. Over the past six years, he has been in 20 amateur fights. His dream is to earn an international title.

Granados Fajardo’s history with boxing began some seven years ago, although he says that his interest goes back to childhood, when he had his idols, lucha libre fighters El Cibernético and El Mecías, as toys, each with their own cape. His grandfather, now 68, was el Tigre de San Miguel, a professional fighter who brought him to his first boxing match.

“I was not interested, but with the flow of adrenaline, I thought I could learn,” Granados Fajardo says.

When he was 14, his grandfather asked if he wanted to be a fighter, and Granados Fajardo said yes. Two weeks later, when the moment arrived to begin training, his excitement at the idea had subsided, but not his grandfather’s. He woke at 7am, prepared his grandson breakfast, and took young Omar to boxing school.

By age 15, Granados Fajardo was participating in state tournaments.

“It requires great discipline. My vision is to become a professional, but first I want to prepare as an amateur…I would also like to have a national and a world title, what every boxer wants.”

Growing up in Santa Julia was not easy. His bicycle was a source of many confrontations between him and the neighborhood kids, who often sought to take it from him through trickery. When neighbors learned that he had begun boxing, they would hit him. He “would get fired up very quickly” and got into some 15 fights. However, he says, he now understands that boxing training doesn’t make one a better or worse person, and because of this, he has to be humble and tolerant so as not to hurt anyone unless he is attacked physically.

“We have to have a lot of self-control not to use boxing as a weapon against others. When someone has touched or hit me, I have responded. But I pay no attention to words.”

He encouraged people to come see the gala for themselves.

“This is the first time that I am going to the gala,” he said. “I am proud. Come, it will be a complete event. The fighters have what it takes to be champions,” he said.

Trading crime for boxing

Eduardo Sánchez (a pseudonym) is 15 years old. One of Leyva’s boxing protégées, he currently lives in the San Luis Rey neighborhood with his mother and grandmother. He began looking for a boxing school at age 10 even though he was told he wouldn’t be accepted until he was 13 or 14. He stopped going to school when he was quite young and took to the streets.

He lowers his head as talks about how he did many things for which he isn’t proud now. He always knew that the consequences would follow him, he says. Before he began boxing, he had tried drugs. He committed robbery and assault, but when he arrived at Leyva’s gym, he nevertheless found acceptance. People there found him a sponsor and a steady job.

“Boxing is changing my life,” he says. “Since I’ve been here, I have begun to change. Of course, on occasion I feel like going back to what I was doing, but now I envision the consequences, and I am better off here.”

He has already participated in fighting exhibitions, but this gala event will be his first amateur fight, he said.

In search of self-defense, he instead found his calling

Franco Valadez, 20, is a tattoo artist who lives in Independencia. Although he was always part of basketball teams, practiced tae-kwan-do, and later swimming, his encounter with boxing was fortuitous, something he found when he was looking for local kickboxing classes in Independencia, a  neighborhood where he felt he needed to know how to defend himself.

“It has been five years since I put on the wraps and gloves, and, wow, here I am now. I dream of boxing; I wake up with boxing. I admire Travieso Arce and Julio César Chávez. I have dreamed of being declared champion in a fight.” Valadez’s emotions are apparent in his voice as he speaks.

The need for self-defense brought him to boxing, but it’s given him much more.

“I don’t like to retreat into something that will bring me more problems,” he said. “I feel happy when I’m in the ring, when people call me champion and ask me when I will be fighting.”

This gala event will be his fourth amateur fight.

Sacrifice, hard work, commitment

José Hernández was born and raised in the la Estación neighborhood and is currently studying at preparatoria (high school). He told us that he started boxing a year ago and since then has learned to value humility and, above all else, prudence. This gala event will be his third amateur fight. He won his first match in Uriangato. His second, in León, was a draw. He expects to win his third.

Although he wants to study communication and cinema, he dreams that he might someday participate in a televised fight, where he can demonstrate publicly that his performance in the ring represents preparation, training, effort, and a lot of sacrifice.

Valadez’s perspective echoes Hernández’s:

“It is not a massacre,” Valadez says. “Behind the fight, there is sacrifice. There are stories, there is inspiration.”

BOX

 

Boxing Gala

Sat, Sept 7, 6pm

La Casona, Salida a Celaya

Tickets: 150–600 pesos

On sale at boletia.com

Guadiana 4 en la Allende

Bagel Café, Correo 19, Centro

BOX

The fighters who will participate in the Boxing Association of San Miguel’s gala event will come from San Rafael, San Luis Rey, Independencia, and Montes de Loreto. These are “neighborhoods that have left us with much to be desired, and they will dress proudly, representing what their residents are doing,” Laura Leyva, a former state boxing champion and owner of a training gym in colonia Allende says. “Like them, we wish for a lot more.”

The amateur boxers on this event’s program include Ángel Álvarez, Daniel Arriaga, Julio Galicia, Franco Ponce, Josué Hernández, and César Chávez. The professionals participating include Leyva, as well as Mario “Gallo” Martínez, Enrique “Diablo” Méndez, Adrián Carpio, Juan Carlos Parra, and Manuel “Soldado” Martínez.

 

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