Monday, March 6, 2017


By Juan Montoya
George Sanchez stands amidst a swirl of activity as boxing glove-clad youngsters, some as young as seven or eight, practice at punching bags and sparring with adults.

In the professional boxing ring, two teenagers spar under the watchful eye of a coach acting as a referee. On the apron of the ring, a mother adjusts the gloves of her son as they watch the match above them.

For months now, many of the would-be Rockys – many of them students from St. Joseph Academy – have carried the gym's banner to amateur competition all over the Rio Grande Valley, and have achieved remarkable results.

"This is the next generation of the Brownsville boxing culture," said Sanchez as he surveyed the crop of young boxers. "The city has always had a great boxing tradition and we want to contribute to that. We also want to inspire kids with role models they can look up to."

Local fans know that El Nuevo Heraldo editor Oscar del Castillo reigned in his weight class as a young man. And few people know that local Republican gadfly Dagoberto Barrera was a terror to his opponents just as he is a terror to welfare recipients and illegal immigrants now. And who can forget that local legal eagle Ernesto Gamez once dazzled the fight crowds as he now befuddles his opponent in a courtroom?

In fact, counting Sanchez's gym, there are at least three others in town including the City of Brownsville Parks and Recreation boxing program. Its history is only rivaled by the professional boxing culture of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande.

Brownsville and South Texas has had a long boxing tradition. As far back as the 1920s and 1930s, boxing was as popular as baseball and high school football. Local sports historian Rene Torres has written about the sport's long history here, including the January 1928 boxing matches held at the Fort Brown skating rink promoted by Tex Becerril which featured Roberto Hinojosa, 190 pounds of Brownsville and Robert Leach, from Weslaco.

Torres goes on to recount how San Benito boxer Kid Guerra the “crowing rooster”, as he was known by his fans, fought against Billy Williams of Brownsville. Guerra, Torres wrote, butted Williams with his head and the Brownsville fighter was unable to continue and won.

But Sanchez believes that boxing greatness in the city is not a thing of the past. During a recent practice he pointed out a thin wiry youth who was helping other youngsters with their technique. He called him over and introduced him as Omar Alejandro Juarez, 17, who has 10 boxing belts acquired over the length of a boxing career that began here when he trained at eight and started fighting at nine. Those belts include four national championships and three state belts. He trains under his father Rudy Juarez who himself fought as an amateur.

The elder Juarez has been bringing up his son up the skills ladder and just last weekend there was a sparring match set up to measure his mettle with an older, professional fighter, 20-year-old Brandon Figeroa, the younger brother of Omar "La Panterita" Figeroa, who held the who held the WBC lightweight title in 2014 (26-0-1, 18 KOs). A video of the shortened session shows Omar Juarez trading body shots with Brandon Figeroa (11-0, 9 KOs) and going mano-a-mano with the more mature boxer.

"This is the belly of the beast in boxing," Sanchez said. "This is how you measure his progress in skill level."

Omar fights with the RGV Elite Boxing Club. He is a freshman at Texas Southmost College after having finished high school in three years through Advanced Placement courses. Active in his church, he acts in the annual Passion Play depicting the crucifixion. To Sanchez, that aspect of boxing – the development of character – is one of the most important.

"Omar's personal life can be an inspiration to at-risk kids. to kids who tend to be disruptive in school, where they can relate to someone their age – a young person – instead of having retired professional athlete who has seen his better days," Sanchez said. "This is a very important aspect of boxing. It is very important that the public realizes that the fabric of our community has some real people who are noteworthy not only because they are outstanding athletes, but because they take time to help our community."

By encouraging others to emulate a role model like Juarez, Sanchez believes young people can be inspired to improve their lives and achieve great things.
"That's why we as a community need to support an accomplished young person like Omar and render him the recognition he deserves so he can inspire others to excell."


Anonymous said...

Stay sexy. Eat Shrimp.

Anonymous said...

I hope this kids are also learning how to read, write and speak fluently...

Anonymous said...

"I hope this kids are also learning how to read, write and speak fluently..."

Let's start with you.


Anonymous said...

Lori, eats shrimp...

Anonymous said...

Nice article Juan but,You forgot to mention "Joe Mantequilla Barguiarena". In the 70's he was Golden Gloves Champion and fought the "Ayala" clan from San Antonio (Sammy Ayala)el Toritos brother for the State Championship in Fort Worth. He made Brownsville Proud.Thank You but, give him some credit.

fred avila said...

Coommunity boxing club needs a role model.....that's sincere

Anonymous said...

Amongst other things....

Anonymous said...

How embarrassing that it is the younger generation that is doing the job of us old should-be role models. We are showing so much hate, distrust, stabbing in the back and vulgar vocabulary to those growing up in Brownsville. Our role models are few and it is no wonder that so many refuse to listen to the consejos de los viejos! Congrats to all those young citizens of Brownsville who have proven themselves, and shame on us the oldies who abuse power.

fred avila said...

Alvarro Salazar is back in town
And was and still is the best role model in both amateur and pro boxing.
El Caballero