GC: Pound for pound: Teen boxer punches his way to top
OutKast Boxing Club of Victoria
Location: 3302 N. Navarro
Also called: 2nd Chance Boxing
For a shy, 80-pound 13-year-old, Isiah Cuevas packs a hard punch to unsuspecting recipients in the ring. Carving a name for himself in the local amateur boxing community, he's said to have a mean uppercut and has already garnered a nickname - 2 Quick.
Even in his first year of training, he went unopposed in the regional 2008 Junior Olympics. By the next year, he advanced to ringside boxing and won four fights even though he was sick. Isiah first saw the National Silver Gloves competition in 2010, losing by mere points, and advanced this year to nationals again, ranking second in the nation for 80-pound, 12- to 13-year-olds on March 12.
A boy of few words, Isiah, his mother Karla Alvear and stepfather/trainer Juan Flores met with GC to talk about his boxing aspirations.
Getting in the ring
Flores, a former baseball and football coach, started training Isiah in 2008, both of them joining the team at OutKast Boxing (also known as 2nd Chance Boxing), a gym on North Navarro.
For both of them it's been a learning process and a test of mental and physical strength.
"You think it's going to be easy when you first get into it, but once you start going, after the first day, you see that it's hard," said Isiah, who also plays football.
Maintaining your weight by eating healthy, training relentlessly and competing in as many matches as possible is a time- and finance-consuming endeavor.
"He probably doesn't think about stuff like this, but my goal for him is to reach the Olympics," Flores said. "Right when he turns 18, that's the year of the Olympics. We want to get recognized between now and then."
With his track record of wins so far, Isiah is on his way to reach for the gold.
Between boxing, school and other sports, Isiah said he has little time for friends. Aspirations of going pro one day trump all of that.
"I just put more work into boxing than anything else," he said. When asked what boxing has taught him, he responded with one word, "discipline."
That lesson, said Alvear and Flores, is hard-won through a rigorous training schedule and maintaining a daily routine. "We are trying to educate him on life lessons and about sacrifices," Flores said about what must be given in order to be truly good at something. "Work beats talent when talent doesn't work."
"In boxing, you find out right away that if you don't practice, you're not going to do very well. You run into kids out there who have no talent, but are really hungry. Those are the ones who give you the good fights. Those are the ones who really stand out and make you say, 'Whew, that was a close one'," Flores added.
To spar with the best of them, the Stroman middle schooler trains four to five times per week, two to three hours per day.
"I think the biggest pain I've seen him go through is the training," Flores said. "It's the most vigorous part of it. If he can survive my training, there's not a kid out there that's gonna hurt him."
With a military-style workout and the occasional 5K runs he participates in, Isiah readies his mind and body for battle.
"When he goes into his fights, he's well prepared for those battles," Flores said.
A 20-minute warm-up starts the training session, preparing the teen's body for the exercising ahead. Next is a 3-mile run, which he does daily. "One thing you can't do enough of is cardio," Flores said. Weightlifting is also included in many sessions, along with sit-ups and pushups, and working with the mitts and punching bags round out the day.
It's the sparring and fighting aspects, however, that bring Isiah back to the gym to work hard and push through the difficult tasks. With each blow he deals in the ring, he gains more experience and learns more about facing an opponent.
"If he had his way he would just fight," his mom said.
Many boxers develop a trademark move in their repertoire of maneuvers and Isiah is no different. Now, it is his uppercut.
"He's got a devastating uppercut," Flores said. "His first signature thing, though, was he had a strong jab. Fighters would come in real strong, but as soon as they felt that first strong, fast jab in their face, they stayed away."
With only four more years to train and win competitions, it very well could be that fierce uppercut or forceful jab that take Isiah to his goal - the 2016 Olympic games.
"When you talk to a lot of trainers, people start looking at kids when they're little, comparing them to other boxers," Flores said. "You've got your pro fighters that start after winning national competitions and are usually signed on by (Oscar) De Le Hoya or Don King. They give you money to train and your facilities. Enough money to support yourself and have money left over to get your fights in. The Olympics will get (Isiah) to that level."
Pulling no punches
On the outside, Isiah appears to be an average, everyday teenager, but on the inside he, like many other aspiring athletes, is conditioning himself for a successful and challenging career.
"In boxing, you can't afford to have a bad day. So when you're training, you're training for yourself, not with a team. You're accountable for all your actions. You train hard, it reflects on you. When you win, it reflects on your training and your coaches."
The life lessons he learns in and out of the ring now will stay with him for a lifetime.
"I've learned that in everything I do, do it hard," Isiah said.