Outside the Jerome Community Center in Santa Ana in a predominantly Mexican American community; mothers wait for their children to be released from school, a group of teenagers crowd around the helote man as he makes his rounds through the neighborhood pushing his cart selling ears of corn to make a living. In a scene that’s all too familiar to the class of the street, the school of hard knocks waits for the sun to go down to teach it’s lesson that can only be learned one way. The hard way.
Inside the Jerome Center is the TKO Boxing Club a safe haven from the lessons of the street, and an outlet that has been building character and instilling the virtues of discipline, honor, and integrity for over twenty years. The strong sound of Chente (Vicente Fernandez) plays as head boxing coach Hector Lopez sits on the edge of the ring tending to the future of Santa Ana boxing’s hand wraps, Ronny Rios.
Lopez wraps Rios’s hands with a look of intense focus and care; never looking away to talk he says “I got involved because I wanted to give back to the community.” Lopez displays the character of a hard coach; a father figure that scolds or disciplines out of love and the desire to see his pupils succeed in life and not just the boxing gym. The boxing coach.
Boxing is an unforgivable love but the lessons it teaches has brought many from the pit of desperation and inevitable trouble with the law to become good men and women of character. Lopez points to the wall and shows the face of a proud father when talking about the amateur champions he’s produced out of the TKO Boxing Club.
The sound of the bell draws the attention to the ring where Rios is moving with blinding speed; bobbing, weaving, throwing combinations in and out of the four square of string tied across the ring. “I was born in Los Angeles but I grew up in Orange County (Santa Ana), I was raised by Delhi Park.” Delhi is a notorious area for its gang activity and street violence. “When I was 12, you know in Mexican years that’s when you start taking care of yourself that’s when I started going to the boxing gym; but a lot of my friends, you know they started going down a different path, A lot of them started doing drugs, started selling drugs, they were stealing.”
“Growing up it was me, my younger brother, and my older brother; my younger brother Alexis he’s a fighter too, he’s a very accomplished amateur.” “My mom was always providing for us you know she used to cook for me, wash for me, she would come back from work late and cook for me then leave early in the morning” The Mexican culture demands of its young men to honor the mother that feeds you. Rios describes his mom with a voice of admiration and a tone of respect for the sacrifices she’s made to ensure a good life for her son.
“I like the older styles of fighters you know, guys like Marvin Hagler” “you know nowadays these fighters they have these fancy diets and programs and back in the days these guys used to eat steak but they would just work out hard and they used to fight fifteen rounds.” Work ethic, the great divider between champion and contender; when paired with skill and motivation the work ethic of a fighter shows in the one place that carves its inhabitants names in history. The boxing gym.
Rios prepares for his fight on October 10th at the Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino against an opponent by the name of Robinson Castellanos. At first glance of his record 19-10 (12KO’s) Castellanos looks as though he doesn’t belong in the ring with a fighter like Rios at this stage in his career; but oh how the record hides the truth. Castellanos represents danger to a fighter like Rios in this stage of his career like bright markings on the most poisonous animals. Considered a late bloomer Castellanos went undefeated in eleven consecutive fights including a split decision victory over former champion and one time most ducked fighter Celestino Caballero before being stopped in his previous outing against Renee Alvarado back in February.
“I don’t care who I fight, when I fight, or what network I fight on. I just want to fight and give the fans what they want. Good fights that keep the crowd entertained.” The heart of the fighter beats to the drums of war. The dedication and sacrifice is often shown in the form of sweat, blood, bruises, and an opponent crushed and unconscious on the canvas; but no more evident is this sacrifice found than on the swollen knuckles and hands that lay under the hand wraps.