Considering he was a runner-up at the event last summer, Juan Vazquez’s recent performance at the Junior Olympic Boxing Championships in Charleston, West Virginia, isn’t much of a surprise.
But when the Ralston High senior-to-be walked into Jackson’s Boxing Club three years ago, no one would’ve projected him becoming a 152-pound amateur champion at the national level.
Vazquez became Omaha’s first — and Nebraska’s second — Junior Olympic boxing titlist since 2006 when he claimed the youth (17- to 18-year-olds) championship earlier this month.
“I think it’s really crazy that I brought it back,” Vazquez said. “I’ve set up a future for myself. I feel really comfortable at this weight class. I ran through everybody.
“When I was down in West Virginia, I really didn’t have a problem fighting. I felt really good. Wow, I’ve really made it this far. I’ve come a long way.”
He sure has. The 6-foot Vazquez, who turns 17 this week, wasn’t exactly in fighting shape when he took up boxing under coach Jose Campos. Back then, the 14-year-old stood 5-4 and weighed 200 pounds.
“His mom brought him. He was always playing video games and never left the house,” Campos said. “His brother was already boxing at my gym. She wanted him to join because he was at home doing nothing.”
Campos remembered Vazquez starting in the spring, and that he was pretty lazy. The coach said he didn’t pay much attention to his fighter then because Vazquez didn’t seem to be interested.
By that summer, Campos considered asking Vazquez to leave because more kids were joining.
“I told myself I’m going to push him,” the coach said. “If he makes it, good. If not, he’s going to leave.”
By the end of that summer, Vazquez lost 20 pounds. He got his first amateur fight at approximately 180 pounds and won. Campos said that immediately started to spark his boxer.
“He knew he could do it,” Campos said. “His confidence just grew. He won five or six straight fights, and I think he stopped like three or four kids in the process. He was fighting, in his first year, at Silver Gloves at the national level with only five fights.
“We knew we had something then because the kid was tough.”
Vazquez lost his first fight at the 2015 National Silver Gloves in Independence, Missouri. But that bout proved to the future Junior Olympic champion that he had a potential future in the sport.
“After I lost at the tournament, I asked the person how many fights he’d had,” Vazquez said. “He said that he had about 60 or 70. And I was like, ‘Wow, and I thought I won that fight, too.’ It’s pretty crazy.”
Vazquez was hooked. He picked up boxing quickly and dedicated himself to training.
“It’s been really fun,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of teammates here come and go. They haven’t really stuck with the sport. They have other things to do. I just caught up with them, and I stuck through it.
“I’m one of the only ones that has really been there the whole time. I haven’t really taken any time off to stop boxing and go do other things. I really dedicated myself to the sport. It’s basically a job now. I love it.”
Vazquez has been rewarded for his dedication. He’s grown, in and out of the ring, honing his craft while becoming a taller, leaner fighter. He’s won titles at the annual Ringside World Championships, advanced to the semifinals of last year’s Silver Gloves and was the Junior Olympics runner-up.
“He’s been dropping weight as we go,” Campos said. “Little by little, he’s been fighting at lower and lower weights. Even as a flabby, chubby kid, he was beating these kids at the top level in the nation.
“He was fighting some big, big kids. His skills are great, and he’s tough. It’s unbelievable. That kid won’t quit.”
Vasquez lost to the same boxer — Lorenzo Simpson of Maryland — in the Silver Gloves and Junior Olympics last year at 165 pounds. Simpson was returning this year, prompting Vazquez to go to 152.
“We decided to drop to 152 because he was still losing weight,” Campos said.
The move paid off. Vazquez went 3-0 in the tournament against top competition, using a variety of skills to outbox a boxer in the early rounds of the event before outbrawling a brawler in the championship.