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Artemio Reyes: A Fight in His Heart, an Angel in His Corner

By Thomas Gerbasi

Tuesday wasn’t like any other day for Artemio Reyes Jr., but as is his custom, he made it seem that way, walking into the gym after attending his father’s funeral and finishing up camp for his ESPN Friday Night Fights bout against Alan Sanchez.

The idea of pulling out of the fight after Artemio Sr. passed away last week at the age of 56 never even crossed the 25-year old’s mind, as it’s his father that has always been his motivation.

“I figured it would be something that my father would want me to do,” said Reyes. “He would want me to continue my career, and basically that’s already what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting for him, so now there’s just much more emphasis on that, especially now given the circumstances that he’s passed away. There’s more determination on my part, more of a push and drive for me to do it for him.”

Reyes has always worn the phrase “4 Pops” on his trunks, but this wasn’t a typical father-son relationship, at least not after a serious car accident in 2008 put his dad in a coma that he never emerged from. But from that time, it was the son that took care of the father, cleaning him, feeding him, and never giving up hope that one day he would awake. That day never came.

“His body finally gave out,” said Reyes. “It couldn’t produce the amounts needed to survive. It was just a matter of time.”

To conduct an interview the day after laying your father to rest is the sign of a mature individual, fighting three days later is even more astounding, but it’s now that the sport is giving back to him, keeping him focused on the task at hand and taking him away from the pain of the loss he’s feeling.

“I can’t let it overcome me with emotion because that would deter me from what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to accomplish, which is to get the victory out there,” said Reyes. “So I’ve got to suppress my emotions and just go out there and do what I do in the ring and stay calm, relaxed, and fight my fight. And of course, it will be in his memory, and that will be in the back of my head and I’ll use that as motivation because I know it’s gonna be one of the most important fights of my career.”

Facing Sanchez (9-2-1, 3 KOs), Reyes will be in with a familiar face, having engaged in a six round war with this week’s foe back in 2010. Reyes eked out a hard-fought six round split decision that night, one of the 15-1 (12 KOs) prospect’s toughest bouts to date.

“I think him (Sanchez) and Mike Dallas (who handed Reyes his only pro loss back in 2008) were probably my toughest fights early on,” he said. “It was a six round war of attrition. We had to grind for those six rounds because he didn’t stop coming forward and neither did I, so we just kept throwing punches.”

So given the sad events of recent days, is it a blessing to face someone you know pretty well in the ring, or a curse?

“It’s 50-50, good and bad,” said Reyes. “It’s good that I know what type of fighter he is, and in a sense it could be bad too because he may have matured or may have become a better fighter overall. I know I have and I’m not the same fighter I was the first time. The first time was my first fight with Ruben (Castanon) as my trainer, and now we’ve become a better team and we’ve increased my game, and that’s why now I’m a better fighter overall. I’ve seen his past fights, and he looks the same. He tries to move laterally, and then just comes in with wild punches and with his head, so we just have to capitalize on that.”

A win will be his 15th in a row, and coupled with his upset victory over previously unbeaten 2008 Olympian Javier Molina last October, Reyes may be on the verge to the next level of competition and exposure, but he’s not feeling any pressure heading into the nationally televised contest.

“No pressure at all,” he said. “I think there was more pressure on me – or should have been on me – when I fought Javier Molina, but it didn’t affect me in any way. I went out there and fought my fight because basically as soon as that bell rings, it’s just gonna be me and him, so there’s no pressure in this fight at all.”

Are you surprised? If you’ve followed the journey of this young man from Colton, California thus far, you shouldn’t be. In addition to fighting professionally and taking care of his father, Reyes also works full-time, has a son, and is studying at Cal State University – San Bernardino, where he pulled a 3.85 GPA in the winter quarter. Remarkable? Yes, but he manages to keep it all together.

“I work hard,” he said. “I try my best to be successful in every arena that I’m in, whether it’s boxing, school, or work. In school, I focus on doing the work on time, studying the material, and I’m working for the highest grade possible. I don’t want to limit myself to just a C average, although C’s get degrees, I want to push myself and get the highest grade possible.”

Reyes actually makes us all look bad, because how can we complain about the little annoyances in our daily lives when he puts in a schedule like that without any complaints?

“In the gym, he’s a maniac,” said Alex Camponovo, matchmaker and General Manager for Reyes’ promoter, Thompson Boxing Promotions. “He’s a hard working guy, and after that long day that he has I would be completely drained and I probably wouldn’t even show up to the gym. But he shows up, and he’s the hardest working guy in the gym. He doesn’t take anything for granted and he wants it so bad. How can we complain that we’re in Starbucks and the line is too long? (Laughs) A lot of people don’t even have to face half or a quarter of the things that he goes through on a regular basis. He’s a very responsible, respectful young man. He doesn’t talk like kids his age, he doesn’t act like kids his age. He’s such a mature person and it’s a pleasure to have him around.”

So when does he relax and allow himself to be a “normal” 25-year old? He has to think about that question for a second, then matter-of-factly talks about the aftermath of the Molina fight, where he had November and December off from the ring because he knew he wouldn’t be fighting again until the new year.

“That’s when I got to relax,” he said.

Think about that. The last time Reyes relaxed for an extended period was four months ago.

He laughs when you point this out to him, but deep down, he’s not complaining. This is the road he’s chosen, and again, it’s boxing that is the center he always returns to in order to keep himself on track.

“It helped me become more grounded and more focused as an individual,” said Reyes. “In boxing, you’ve got to be able to handle different situations once the bell rings, and once you’re able to adapt, then you’ll able to get the victory. In life, you’ve got to be able to adapt to circumstances that surround your life, and that’s what helped me stay calm, stay relaxed, and take life as it comes.”

Reyes’ father may be gone, but it’s evident that he raised quite a man.

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