By Kim Francesca Martinez
He’s young and hungry. They all say it… but with him, you see it.
In the ring, Andy “El Tiburon” Vences (4-0, 2 KO) moves surely and quietly. True to his moniker, which translates to “The Shark” and is inspired by his hometown (San Jose plays host to his namesake hockey team) as much as his predatory fighting style, he stalks. He circles. Unruffled by the advances of a busy opponent, he waits patiently until he smells blood—then goes in for the kill. His arsenal boasts solid bodywork that has effectively quelled the quartet of fighters he has faced to date and a left hook reminiscent of one Danny Garcia’s. Determination plants itself on Vences’ face and remains there until his arm is raised.
On Thursday, I walk into the Undisputed Boxing Gym of sunny San Carlos, Calif., where Vences has been training under the seasoned helm of Brian Schwartz and Michael Bazzel since his last bout. Today the 22-year-old is here just to simmer in the hot tub. It’s fight week, after all; training is tapered, and so is appetite. Just 48 hours outside of his fourth professional contest, Vences does indeed look hungry—just in a different way.
Curious, I ask the former Golden Gloves gold medalist what piques his palate after making weight.
He laughs good-naturedly. “…I crave chicken, pasta, and bread. Or Subway, I actually really crave Subway all the time; I have Subway before my fights… [my go-to is] the turkey, ham, and roast beef with American cheese, and I get it toasted with tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions. So I want that toasted though! Spinach, jalapenos, and banana peppers, and chipotle sauce, a little bit of buffalo sauce, and we’re good!”
At 4:30 p.m., sitting in an office separated from the main gym, Vences—black tank top over dark-wash jeans, black Jordans, and a calm, easy-going demeanor—is an incredibly gracious (and patient) interview subject. Despite a 30 minute commute from his hometown of San Jose, a drive he makes five times a week during training camp, he’s agreed to meet me at Undisputed to discuss his pending match against Matthew Flores; we end up talking about his evolution as a fighter, life outside the ring, who and what inspires him, tattoos, and marriage equality. My stream of questioning is indefatigable, but Vences is used to a heavy load: in addition to preparing for Saturday’s faceoff, he balances classes at San Jose City College and a weekend job doing security, where he utilizes the downtime to catch up on his homework.
Even with a full plate, Vences sees himself doing more. He expresses an interest in picking up additional hours at work, to make ends meet, and tells me about the course reading and essay that await him post-fight.
Vences acknowledges the challenge of juggling school, work, and training with a gravity that belies his age. But delving into his fight background, his work ethic poses no surprise. The former amateur standout originally studied kung fu, getting his start at age 10. His dad, a fellow kung fu practitioner whom Vences credits for his discipline (“I was watching some of my dad’s old training videos; he was crazy, he thought he WAS Bruce Lee!”), imposed a strict conditioning regimen.
“He used to wake me up [to run] at 5 a.m. everyday, in middle school. I used to not want to go sometimes, because I was really tired, but he used to run with me… if I didn’t go, I knew he was already out there warming up—so I couldn’t go back to sleep.”
The good habits carried over; to this day, Vences is a morning person (“I have to get my running in early, no later than 7, 7:30.”). And though a lack of flexibility ended Vences’ stint in kung fu two and a half years later, this left him to follow the footsteps of another childhood hero.
“I [still wanted to fight]; during family gatherings, I’d watch Oscar De La Hoya fights, [so I told my dad] ‘I want to try boxing.’ My dad said if he didn’t see improvement within a month, he’d take me out.”
Vences then went on to see a successful amateur career, first under the tutelage of Candy Lopez, then Martin Nunez, his coach at San Jose PAL and the man Vences attributes to nurturing his amateur career as well as ushering him into his professional one. When he speaks of his mentors, past and present, reverence colors Vences’ voice. Happy to be working with his current team, he’s grateful to everyone who’s helped him on his journey. Of Nunez he says, “I just want him to be recognized for everything he did and [that] he expected nothing in return. He [jumpstarted] my pro career when I had no coach; he was a big influence in my LIFE.”
Nine years later, Vences sits on threshold of his pro fight; he radiates confidence without a trace of conceit. When queried about his next opponent, Twin Falls, Idaho native Flores, Vences is thoughtful.
“I’ve heard he’s 0-2, but I heard he lost both bouts by split decision, [and] supposedly he should have won. I get the idea that he’s obviously tough… I’m thinking he’s going to implement his physical strength to try to bully me around the ring.”
Bully him, Flores tried. He came to fight and turned up the heat in the second round of their four-rounder, finding Vences with a couple shots and going to the body as he stood momentarily against the ropes—then Vences’ killer instinct took over. Unfazed by Flores’ aggression, Vences stayed composed and controlled the tempo in the latter rounds, displaying his signature bodywork and landing a memorable left hook downstairs. “El Tiburon” emerged from the clash with another win under his belt.
The scrap was an entertaining one, although the first couple rounds left me tense—considering Vences’ strong finish, perhaps I was a bit overanxious. Vences, who deemed himself a “slow starter,” says of his deliberate beginnings: “I like to know that I’m there in the fight the first couple rounds, that I’m alive and I’m there, but I don’t like to show too much to early… [I like to] save the best for last.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to suspend objectivity when it comes to fighters; Vences is one of them. Hungry yet humble, family and goal-oriented… one can’t help but root for the success of this young man.
On Saturday, his crowd, while enthusiastic, wasn’t as big as usual; many of Vences’ family and friends hail from Watsonville and Santa Cruz— the Brooks, Calif.-based Cache Creek Casino & Resort was quite a ways for some, not to mention that local hotels couldn’t accommodate the volume of fight fans interested in attending. But Vences hopes that won’t be the case in the future.
To Northern California boxing fans, Vences says, “I know a lot of people don’t know me now, but follow my career. Expect more TKOS, more knockouts. It’ll happen.”