From under the earth come diamonds; digging through hard rock and mining the dirt reveals the proverbial gems that have caused the rise and falls of empires and legacies. At first glance the riches of the world are nothing more than a dirty rock of unusual color; until the care of cleaning and polishing starts, increasing the value of the gem creating a sight to behold.
Inside the Baldwin Park Boxing club in Baldwin Park California, potential boxing gem Francisco “Panchito” De Vaca is slowly being cleaned and polished by trainer Roberto Alcazar; the same trainer that polished and cleaned a golden fighter to an Olympic gold medal, and five world championships in four weight classes. That carefully mined fighter was none other than the golden boy, Oscar De La Hoya. Alcazar is now polishing Panchito in hopes of achieving the same accolades he has accomplished so many times before.
The south side of Phoenix Arizona is the backdrop for Panchito’s upbringing. An area rife with gang violence and the harsh realities of the world present an atmosphere of sink or swim. All too often the parents of troubled youth fail to engage their children in activities that help them realize their full potential. “When I was five my dad took me to a boxing gym but didn’t have the money to pay for me to box, so he told them he would paint their gym if they would let me train there.” The examples of hard work performed by a parent often rub off onto the children; it’s fitting that to begin his future life in boxing, the trade of work for box is a lasting memory to remind Panchito of the sacrifices his parents made. “In south Phoenix a lot of guys get into gangs, or trouble, and start doing drugs but for me; it was always boxing. Boxing is my life.”
The amateur boxing program is one of the largest building blocks of success in professional boxing. Panchito had over two hundred amateur fights and won the Junior National Golden Gloves title. The decision to turn pro came when he was denied an opportunity to try out for the US Olympic team because he was born in Mexico and not a citizen of the United States; even though he was raised an American like so many in the country Panchito was still unable to represent the nation that has provided him the opportunity for success.
Roberto Alcazar wraps Panchito’s hands with care and precision ensuring a fit that protects Panchito’s tools of the trade. “Two years ago when he was seventeen years old I was working with (welterweight world champion) Jesse Vargas and he came to watch the fight, and after the fight he came to our dressing room and asked me to train him. I told him after the fight I am going to California I want you to go over there to the gym and we’ll sit and talk. Panchito came and accepted my conditions I gave him and here we are two years later.” Roberto Alcazar is no stranger to building champions he has trained an all-star list of fighters to include: Oscar De La Hoya, Johnny Tapia, Robert Garcia, Carlos Hernandez, Edwin Valero, and most recently Jesse Vargas.
“Panchito has a great future, he’s only nineteen years old; if the people around him work the proper way there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a world champion in multiple weight classes.” Alcazar and Panchito step into the ring to begin working the mitts with Panchito punching in fast combinations and throwing hard crisp hooks that produce a thundering boom into Alcazar’s Lonsdale mitts. “The dedication is there Panchito works hard, he has the commitment and dedication to train, to work out, anytime I tell him to twenty four seven.”
Transitioning from punching Alcazar begins moving and running from Panchito in the ring to focus on the fundamentals of cutting off the ring, a skill often overlooked by young fighters. “I got the knockout in my first three fights but I was going in too anxious wanting the knockout so were working on control and keeping the other fighter in front of me.” Panchito understands the development process and displays a desire to listen and learn from his coach, an attribute that can only equal success.
The passion to test one’s self is a requirement for success and is a part of the toll boxing exacts for its embrace in glory. The fighter has a process of development and a series of steps that must be followed to achieve boxing’s embrace of love from its fans. “I love the camps, it’s like two straight months of nothing but boxing.” “I like to fight the hard guys, I don’t want any easy guys because you see these fighters that have these great records but they’ve only fought guys with losing records and you don’t learn anything from that.”
The heart and soul of a boxer is committed to fighting in the ring, but in rare circumstances a fighter steps forward to make a difference. Panchito made his professional debut in May of 2013 and donated his entire purse to charities in the fight against breast cancer, a donation that was matched by his promoter Ironboy Promotions. “I had an aunt and a couple of friends who have had breast cancer so I thought it would be right.” Thought It would be right? The thought process of men Panchito’s age normally aren’t concerned with doing what is right. The size of the heart in a man is shown by how he cares for others, and how they fight for the causes of people he doesn’t know is an honorable act not seen often in this age of flashy bling and immaturity. “We’ll go to the hospital sometimes and take victims of breast cancer flowers to try and make them feel better.” Panchito represents his support of the millions of victims of breast cancer not only with his actions outside of the ring but also with the pink ribbon patch on his trunks to demonstrate his support in the fight against breast cancer.
The greats of boxing rarely come from backgrounds of privilege and success. In the cracks of society the fighter stands alone, strong and driven to achieve the goal of a better life by doing what they know how to do best, fight. The diamonds of boxing are polished with the blood sweat and tears of the strong. Once complete the world watches in admiration at the finished product unaware of the work required to achieve the beauty observed in the sweet science. Panchito De Vaca’s path is laid out for him the gem has been found, the polishing has begun; and for the fighter the diamonds lay under the hand wraps.