By Thomas Gerbasi
In one sentence, Frank Galarza captures precisely why most of us cover the sport of boxing.
“We all have a story, a reason why we fight and do what we do,” he said. “It’s more than us beating on each other.”
It’s a lot more than that, yet while everyone has a story, some are more compelling than others. Galarza’s fits that description, and not just because he came up the hard way, but because he shouldn’t even be here at all. Sure, he might be alive if lady luck looked favorably in his direction, but if not for boxing, his life might have been one for the police blotter, not the sports pages.
“Absolutely boxing saved me,” said the junior middleweight prospect, who puts his undefeated record on the line tonight in a ShoBox-televised bout against fellow unbeaten Sebastien Bouchard. “It made a major impact in my life. I’ve accomplished so much in boxing now and it’s opened so many doors for me that I can definitely say that boxing has saved my life.”
Galarza’s life before boxing in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn has been well-documented, with his tales of street life as common as any we’ve seen in the sport. He may even been doomed by birth for such a life, with his parents both getting caught up in the drug scene early in his life. By seven, Galarza lost his father – a former boxer - to complications from a gunshot wound. Two years later, his mother passed from a drug overdose. It’s here when you expect to hear of the fall before the rise of Frank Galarza, but it didn’t quite go like that.
With both parents gone, Galarza was taken in by his aunt and uncle and their two sons. He found boxing and a future in the ring, but by the age of 18, it wasn’t enough for him.
“I came across money at a young age, I invested it in a store and I ended up losing the store,” he recalls. “And I was 18 at the time. Then I found myself into the streets and trying to make it. I wanted to be better than who my father was, I wanted to be better than who my mother was, knowing their background and knowing how they let drugs manipulate them. They got addicted to it, so for me it was always wanting to be better, but I didn’t know how and where to be better. So I was trying to find it in things that I easily got influenced by. I found a sense of belonging in that and it kind of brought me to that place. I had that aggression, I had that confusion. I was young and I refused to listen to anyone.”
The next chapter to the story is easy to figure out.
“I was constantly getting locked up, I was constantly finding myself in prison, and I wasn’t happy,” said Galarza. “I didn’t find happiness in the stuff that I was doing, and I was searching for it. But no matter what I did, there was no joy, there was no passion. I was mainly just trying to be successful in something that I knew nothing of.”
Then his older cousin, who he considered a brother, got shot and killed in the streets, forcing Galarza to make some hard choices and evaluate just where his life was heading…but not right away.
“I was like ‘What is going on here? Why me?’ I lose my parents, I get adopted into a great family, and it was rough on me because I always felt like I was the black sheep of the family for the simple fact that it wasn’t my mother and father. ‘Why take away my mother and father and why put me here?’ I didn’t realize that I was blessed and had two mothers and fathers – my birth parents and the ones who raised me. But losing my older brother motivated me to go into the streets more and really stop caring. Until I realized that I could lose my life and the people that raised me and brought me up were going to be devastated. I said something needs to give, I need to change.”
Looking at a three-to-five year jail terms for one of his offenses, Galarza made that change, going back to the sport that was always there for him. In 2010, he won the New York Golden Gloves, and by September of that year he was turning pro at the age of 25 with a 20-second TKO of Nicholas Morris.
Supplementing his boxing income with work as a personal trainer, the Galarza story could have ended here and been a happy ending, but as he fought and won, he began building a sizeable fan following in the NYC area, with his exciting style and compelling back story perfect for features both within the boxing scene and outside of it in mainstream media.
“Before it was tough to talk about,” he admits. “It was something I wasn’t sure of and I kind of held back a bit, but as I tell my story now and people see what I’ve accomplished, they look at it and see that boxing has made a major impact in my life. Then they get to know the man behind boxing.”
No question about it, it’s an inspiring tale that shows what determination can do, as well as the saving power of the ring. That didn’t mean he was going to take things to the next level, but when matched up with 14-0 John Thompson on a ShoBox card on January 17 of this year, it was an opportunity to prove that he could be a player in the division.
And 16 seconds into the second round, he announced his arrival with a stunning upset win by knockout. Suddenly, people were talking about Frank Galarza, and after a keep busy knockout of veteran Franklin Gonzalez in April, he’s back on Showtime’s airwaves against Canada’s Bouchard. That doesn’t mean life has changed drastically for the 28-year-old.
“I think I’m still considered somewhat of an underdog that doesn’t belong,” he said. “All these other guys that are on ShoBox, they either have an extensive amateur career or some kind of strong backing behind them. And me, I threw a wrench in, especially on that night. I think people are noticing me now, but I don’t think as much. I may be overlooked a little bit.”
If he keeps winning, that won’t be the case for long, yet despite his potential to move up the ranks and make some noise at 154 pounds, you get the feeling that Galarza’s impact may go beyond what we see in the ring. See, he could have straightened his life out and been satisfied with that. No one would have batted an eye, and he would have been commended for his efforts. But Galarza has taken it a step further by running the “Youth Fighting Forward” program at the Starrett City Boxing Gym in Brooklyn. The program’s mission statement is: “Engaging young people affected by violence and crime by using Boxing & MMA, combined with education, to develop life skills,” and no one’s better to spearhead such an effort than someone who has been there and done that like Galarza.
“I’ve got nieces and nephews, I have my cousins coming into that age of 14-16 years old, and you see what they’re influenced by,” he said. “And it’s nothing to take away from the music or from the reality shows on TV, but this era now is almost lost because they get involved with these Love & Hip Hop shows and these Housewives shows and they want to live that life. Life is definitely more than that, and these are things you shouldn’t look up to. I wished that I could do something, and I can. Let me at least start something to try and make a difference. I lived on both sides of the world – the negative side and the positive side – and we all have a choice. But you’ve got to know that there are consequences behind everything you do. To live positive it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of discipline and a lot of work. It’s not easy. To live negatively, it takes the same amount of effort, but there are a lot more factors that come into play. You could lose your life, whether in the streets or in prison. At least if I’m living positively, I can say I was able to accomplish something, and even if I failed, I tried and I can give it another try.”
It’s probably not a place Galarza ever thought he’d be in. Now that he’s here, he embraces just what he means to people – not just as a fighter or a man, but as a symbol.
“When people look at me, they can see themselves,” he said. “My physical pain, the stuff that I go through, the rigorous training, it shows what you do in your own life. We all step into the ring of life, and just like tough fights happen, tough times happen.”
And when they do, you fight through them and make your own story. Frank Galarza has. So how does his play out?
“Eventually I’m gonna be a world champion,” he said. “I can guarantee it. It’s a desire in me, I visualize it, and it’s gonna be something great. And I’m gonna come from behind where no one knows. They’re gonna be like ‘whoa, what happened? This kid just came out of nowhere.’ I’m not the best boxer, I’m not the best fighter, but I have the hunger to want to do better.”