By Thomas Gerbasi
If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone like Artemio Reyes Jr. one day.
Even if it’s only for selfish reasons, to give yourself faith once again that qualities such as integrity, work ethic, and loyalty still exist, you’ll walk away with a feeling that your day isn’t as long as you thought it was before, that your work isn’t as hard and that your journey isn’t that arduous.
Most of all though, in a business where you’re supposed to be objective, it’s impossible not to root for the 25-year old welterweight from Colton, California.
That wouldn’t be so difficult in the best of circumstances, as the 14-1 (11 KOs) pro has a crowd-pleasing style, a killer body attack, and next level potential, something made abundantly clear when he handed highly-touted 2008 Olympian Javier Molina his first pro loss on a Showtime-televised ShoBox bout last October.
That was the win that put Reyes’s name on the world map, but there would be no victory tour, no sitting back and basking in the glory of his defining win. No, Reyes got back to work as a manager at El Taquito restaurant in Colton, and back to school as a business major at Cal State University - San Bernardino.
And in between trips to the gym, work, and school, Reyes performed his most important duty, taking care of his father, Artemio Sr.
From the time Junior started boxing at the age of 18, his father was there every step of the way.
“He was my number one supporter,” said Reyes of his dad. “He was the only one that was there at my fights and he was there every time. He would take me to training and to these shows out in Indio or hours away. He wanted me to become a champion.”
Reyes won three titles at an amateur, compiling a 28-6 record along the way, but it was clear that his true place was in the professional ring, where a fighter of his talents could truly thrive. Artemio Sr. was going to work his corner, and together the Reyes men were going to take the pro boxing world by storm. But in 2008, a casual conversation over family dinner was an omen of a tragedy to come.
“We were sitting around eating dinner, it was my mom, my dad, and me,” Reyes recalled. “And we were talking about illnesses and all that, and I told my father ‘you know what dad, if you ever get sick, man, or anything’s wrong with you, I’ll take care of you. You took care of me for 20 years. If you get sick, I’ll take care of you; don’t worry about it.’”
Just days later, Artemio Reyes Sr. was involved in a serious car accident that put him in a coma. The gravity of this new reality forced the 21-year old to grow up fast.
“That was the day that was the turnaround for me in my life,” he said. “I became a man overnight. It was like I was a teenager the day before, and then my dad had his accident and the next day I had to become a man to take care of everything I had to take care of. I don’t want to say it’s a blessing in disguise, because my dad’s condition is not a blessing, but it helped me to become more of a mature man.”
Reyes Sr. has yet to wake up, but his son was not about to go back on his vow to take care of him. Together with his mother Fatima, Reyes Jr. makes sure all his father’s needs are attended to on a daily basis. That means turning him every three hours, feeding and showering him, and just being there, hopeful that one day, he will wake up and get back in his son’s corner.
“The prognosis is day-to-day,” said Reyes Jr. “It all depends on his body and if it wants to wake up or not. The doctors say if he wakes up, it will be a miracle; if he doesn’t, he might stay that way for the rest of his life.”
If he does, his son will be there every step of the way.
“I’m doing what I told him I was gonna do, and that’s take care of him,” said Reyes. “I’m almost paying him back. He took care of me when I was a child, cleaned my diapers and fed me when I was a baby, and now I’m returning the favor to him.”
In May of 2008, Reyes turned pro with a 69 second TKO of Raymundo Inda. Two months later he suffered his first loss, getting decisioned by hot prospect Mike Dallas Jr. He hasn’t lost since, building a nice reputation on the Southern California fight scene while juggling a hectic schedule and basically learning on the job in the ring as a late starter in the sport.
“The transition coming in, I would say it was a little difficult, but at the same time I pushed myself that much harder in order to get as advanced as I possibly can because I gotta try to catch up to these guys that have been in the game for 15-20 years since they were little kids,” he said.
One of those kids fighting for much of his life was Molina, who laced on the gloves before he was nine years old. But with grit and determination, Reyes pounded out a solid unanimous decision victory, and with it, he took a giant step forward in a career that resumes Friday night at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California with an interim WBC Latino title bout against Victor Hugo Correa. It’s not as big of a stage as he fought on against Molina, but Reyes has no problem getting himself motivated.
“It’s not difficult to get up for this fight,” he said. “Each fight is a new fight, we train hard, and we worked on fixing any kind of mistakes I was making in the Molina fight. I just want to continue to improve and become a better all-around fighter. That’s why we gotta keep taking fights. Last year I fought five times, and hopefully this year again I fight five times because that’s the only way I’m able to learn and hone my skills in the ring, by getting in there and fighting.”
That’s fighter talk, which isn’t surprising coming from anyone who steps into the ring. But it’s made even more impressive that between his 3:45 to 7pm slot at the Capital Punishment Boxing Club in Riverside, he’s got a schedule unlike that of any of his peers. He doesn’t complain though.
“I would say it’s good to have the schedule I have because I’m able to jump from place to place and agenda to agenda, doing the tasks that need to be done,” said Reyes, who is also the father of a young son. “I enjoy everything that I’m doing, but at the same time, I don’t want to neglect one thing to focus more on another one.”
Yes, at 25, Reyes is more mature than most of us that have 20 years on him, and that maturity extends to his career, which he knows won’t last forever.
“I know the career of a boxer is short lived and your shelf life is really short,” he said. “I’m aware of that, and that’s why I’m trying to focus on having something to back up my life with after my boxing career.”
Yet while he’s here, he’s going to train as hard as any boxer, fight as hard as any fighter, and chase after the same dreams everyone who steps between the ropes has. And each time he fights, all he needs to do is look at his trunks to know that his father did make it into the ring with him.
“I wear “4 Pops” on the trim of my trunks to remind myself in the heat of battle that this is for him, and whatever I’m feeling in the ring is nothing compared to what he’s feeling or what he felt during the accident,” said Reyes. “That’s my motivation and that’s my driving force. So I’m going to go wherever it (boxing) takes me. I’m open for the possibility to fight for a world championship, and if I’m given the opportunity, I’ll take it. That’s what we, as fighters, always fight for. We want to compete for that championship and be crowned a world champion. And I would say that’s the ultimate goal right there, because that’s what I promised my father I was gonna do.”
And Artemio Reyes Jr. has never gone back on a promise to his father.