The speed bags bang in the corner with a rhythmic sound like the drums of war, heavy bags swing as fighters pound them with left and right hooks that boom with bass. The sound of leather rope skipping on the mat like a high-hat paired with creaking wood under the canvas completes the symphony of violence.
The Indio Boys and Girls Club, home of trainer Joel Diaz houses a full roster preparing for war that features every stage in boxing: the star, the contender, the blue chip, and the journeyman. Joel Diaz barks instructions from all corners of the gym to his fighters like a drill sergeant training soldiers for combat. “I love the fight game, I was a fighter myself and growing up as a kid the only way I got around was from fighting. I love fighting.” “When I’m speaking to my fighters; if it’s in the ring, if it’s outside, I’m speaking from the heart.” Diaz displays a love for his fighters like that of an old school father that instills discipline to his sons in hopes that his hardness will show in the form of work ethic, grit, and determination.
On the edge of the ring Antonio Diaz of the fighting Diaz family tends to the hand wraps of Diego Magdaleno with intent focus; patting the hand, applying tape, pressing and forming the wrap ensuring a comfortable case for Diego’s tools of the trade.
Born to hard working parents in Los Angeles Diego’s father imagined him playing soccer. “My dad he worked from six at night to six in the morning and he loved to play soccer, that’s what he wanted me to do. What caught my eye though was when we would watch Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez when I was growing up, and one thing led to another and I fell in love with boxing.” The connection between father and son in boxing holds no parallel, the act of sending your son into the squared arena to impose his physical and mental strength on another person in the form of sheer violence requires an unbreakable bond and complete understanding of one another’s love.
“I remember going running with my dad when he would get off work when I was five, he’s always been a big part of everything.” Diego’s face takes on a serious and thoughtful look of respect when talking about his family that shows bright through his light greyish green eyes. “I’m the oldest of three brothers so I’ve always felt sort of responsible for them.” The level of maturity Diego uses when speaking of his family demonstrates the tight bond associated with his Mexican American heritage.
“I started boxing when I was eight years old, my dad found a job in Las Vegas so we moved there and I started training for the amateurs at Golden Gloves boxing gym.” “Getting the win in those big amateur tournaments, and getting the attention always drove me because it made my parents so happy and it just made me feel so good. When I would win I would feel like I was giving back to my parents, it was my way of saying thank you to them.” The sense of gratitude toward his parents and desire to win for them lead Diego to become the U.S. Amateur Lightweight Champion in 2007.
Becoming a professional fighter after such a successful amateur career only added to his desire to win and excel to the highest levels of the sport. Considered a blue chip prospect Diego started his career an impressive 23-0 and landed himself in the top ten rankings of every boxing organization and an eventual title shot against Puerto Rican Roman “Rocky” Martinez. Magdaleno went into the fight wining the early rounds but was knocked down in the fourth round en route to a close split decision loss, in a fight that many ringside observers and scorers had him winning.
“Losing was one of my biggest fears, I would think about what it would be like after my first loss and I was just driving myself crazy.” The taste of defeat is bitter and often leads a fighter to check the freshness of the ingredients that culminated in the meal of the fight.
Following the loss to Martinez Magdaleno’s contract with his manager came to an end allowing him to become a free agent in a sport where even the smallest changes of scenery can do wonders for a fighter’s ability to refocus on their past attitudes of winning. “After the loss I just started thinking I need to start making some changes for myself because I didn’t like the way things had been going.” “My old contract with my manager was over you know and I thought; ok it’s time for me to fly, all that time I had only known what they were telling me and showing me and it was time for me to see for myself.”
The determination to win doesn’t merely disappear when a fighter experiences their first loss, the thought to get up off the deck never wanes, and the competitive spirit that compels warriors of the sport to enter the ring with intentions of inflicting pain never fades. The decision to make a change is one that comes for most fighters at the elite level and can produce results by providing a change of pace, or pointing out strengths and weaknesses in a fighter not seen before.
“I started looking for what was out there and that’s when I met Frank Espinoza.” Espinoza is a respected manager and CEO of the Espinoza Boxing Club who guided the much heralded championship career of fan favorite fighter Israel Vasquez. Espinoza’s championship pedigree and reputation of caring for his fighters and providing them with the tools of success made the decision to sign all that much easier for Magdaleno. “Signing with Frank lead me to Joel and this great team, I feel like they have my back one hundred percent and with my new team we’ll get that world title.”
The comeback for Magdaleno is full steam ahead, he now has three fights under his belt with Trainer Joel Diaz; all three resulting in victories that showed Magdaleno working the body and dropping every opponent. “My mentality now with coach (Joel Diaz), he has a way of talking to you where he can get you into a different mindset. I’ve said this before but if I had coach (Joel Diaz) in my corner that night I fought Rocky Martinez I would have won that fight.” “It takes a strong team and coach (Joel Diaz) has this energy that he puts in you that nobody else can.”
“I’m capturing titles in the division, I think I’m going to be an animal and dominate now that I have my team.” The desire to win and the heart to get up and drive on in the face of adversity are requirements for the violence of boxing. Magdaleno’s confidence is high as he sees a renaissance in his career after signing with Frank Espinoza and training with Joel Diaz. “In my fights with Joel I’ve been putting everybody down with body shots, he’s just adding to my game.”
The road to redemption is paved with stones made of sacrifice, it’s a path only traveled by the strong of heart. The destination is the embrace of glory by the fans, and the satisfaction of a hand raised by a referee signifying a victory and return to prominence. The stage is set for Diego Magdaleno to make that return, the team is set, the time is now, and the instruments for his symphony of violence lay under the hand wraps.