PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Jesse Barboza could've given up on boxing a long time ago.
He could've quit as an amateur when he stepped in the middle of a fight between two close friends and wound up with a stab wound to the stomach that put him in the hospital for two weeks.
He could've walked away after tearing tendons in his foot and injuring his ankle less than a year and a half into his professional career, stalling his initial progress.
He could've decided boxing wasn't worth all the trouble after spending nearly six hours everyday driving back and forth from Cape Cod to Providence just to train or get decent sparring.
It's just not in his nature, not after growing up in a family as competitive as it is athletic.
"After everything I've been through, I sometimes feel like I've had a 30-year career, but I'm only 27, and in the heavyweight division, 27 is young," said Barboza (7-1-1, 5 KOs), a Hyannis, Mass., native and former three-time New England Golden Gloves champion now entering his fifth year as a professional boxer.
"I've faced my fair share of adversity, but I'm hungry. I want this. If I didn't, I'd quit. This is my life, and I work everyday at it."
Looking to make 2014 his breakthrough year, Barboza will return to the ring Friday for the first time since November in a four-round bout against East Stroudsburg, Pa., veteran Glenn Thomas (1-1) on the undercard of Classic Entertainment & Sports' latest event at Twin River Casino. Tickets are priced at $41, $76 and $126 (VIP) and can be purchased by calling 401-724-2253/2254, online at www.cesboxing.com or www.ticketmaster.com , or at the Players Club at Twin River.
Though down on his luck at times, the 6-foot-2 Barboza has never run low on drive or motivation. He and his older brother, Andre, were born a year apart, so they inevitably competed with one another at everything growing up, whether it was in the classroom or on the playing field. Not only did their father play college football, but their grandfather was also an amateur boxer, so athleticism ran in the family.
Football was their first love. They both played as youths, but Andre took it one step further, spending two seasons as a wide receiver at Division I Youngstown State after walking onto the Erie Community College team in Buffalo and becoming both the starting quarterback and team captain.
"He lied to the whole family and said he had a scholarship to play football, but he was actually trying to make it as a walk-on," Barboza said. "He took a bus there, not even knowing if he'd make the team, and he wound up as the starting quarterback.
"He had a lot of faith. We come from a family based on faith."
The younger Barboza gravitated more toward boxing, another hobby they both shared, but one only Jesse truly felt passionate about. Andre learned the hard way just how passionate his younger brother was one afternoon in the Barboza family living room.
"He was my first knockout victim," Barboza laughed. "After my mother would leave for work, we'd clear out the room, start playing entrance music and everything, and use socks for gloves and start boxing one another.
"I was 10 and he was 11. I hit him with a sloppy, overhand right. It was scary. We laugh about it now, but at the time I'm thinking, 'If this kid doesn't get up ....' I threw water on him everything. He denies it now, but it happened. I still mess with him about it to this day."
While Andre went on to lead D-III Erie to a regional championship and catch four touchdowns in two seasons as a starter at Youngstown State, Jesse worked his way through the New England amateur circuit as a promising heavyweight prospect.
"Andre liked boxing, but I was passionate about it," Barboza said. "In order to box, you have to have a passion for it. You can't just kind of want to box. You can kind of want to play basketball and shoot around, but if you only kind of want to box, you can get hurt. Second place in boxing sucks. You've got to be the man, and you've got to have a passion for it."
Luckily for Barboza, he never had to worry much about finishing any place other than first, winning the N.E. Golden Gloves championship three times, even after the inadvertent stabbing left him hospitalized for two weeks following his first title and forced him to miss the nationals.
"Instead of being there with my teammates, guys like Edwin Rodriguez, Demetrius Andrade, Danny O'Connor, I'm in a hospital bed," Barboza said. "People were like, 'Oh, man you should probably stop. Get a job, maybe move way,' but I decided to fight through that.
"The day I got out of the hospital, I ran a mile. It was the dumbest thing I ever did, but I had to prove to myself I wasn't going to quit."
If getting stabbed and missing out a chance to compete in the nationals didn't deter Barboza from chasing his dream, reoccurring injuries early in his career certainly weren't going to keep him out of the ring, but the constant traveling and lack of stability on The Cape undoubtedly made it more difficult to succeed.
Barboza spent the early part of his career working with several different trainers, including Dave Gonsalves Jr., the uncle of fellow Cape Cod boxer Paul Gonsalves; Micky Ward and Orlondo Valles, who trained Providence's Vladine Biosse and now works with fellow Rhode Islander Rich Gingras, among others.
Having to travel to Lowell, Mass., to work with Ward, or drive more than two hours from Hyannis to Providence to work with Valles eventually took its toll on Barboza, who also works a full-time job in a warehouse. Paul Gonsalves' wife, Shauna, eventually came up with the idea for the two of them to start their own gym on The Cape, which would significantly cut down on the travel time.
The birth of 413 Boxing, located on the line between Mashpee and Hyannis, is "a blessing," according to Barboza, offering he and others on The Cape an opportunity to hone their craft whenever they want to without having to worry about spending nearly half the day behind the while between destinations.
"I feel much better having a home base now," Barboza said. "I have a hectic work schedule, but I can come down here whenever I want, just open the door and work out. You can only imagine working a full-time job, driving home, spending 10 minutes, if that, at home and then getting in the car and driving to Lowell, Chelmsford or Providence. You do it because you love the sport, but it wears on you.
"It showed in the ring," he continued. "When I was doing all that crazy traveling, I had a draw, a loss [both against Winston Thorpe], and a win [against Antonio Robertson] where I really didn't go after the kid or let my hands go. I was drained. I feel much better now that I have a home base.
"Everything is falling into place. I don't have to worry about the small stuff anymore."
Barboza's fight against veteran Arthur Saribekian in November was his first training out of 413 Boxing, and the end result was a second-round knockout in arguably Barboza's most impressive performance to date. With much-needed stability in his routine, and a much clearer path in the heavyweight division -- Vitali Klitschko recently vacated the World Boxing Council (WBC) title he held for more than nine years without losing -- 2014 could be the year Barboza becomes a household name both nationally and worldwide.
"Sky's the limit in the heavyweight division," Barboza said. "There's a huge jump in talent between the guys at the bottom and the prospects. It's a huge gray area. It's strange how it works. Chris Arreola is fighting for Kltischko's title [May 10th against Bermane Stiverne] and he's already got three losses. In the '90s, they would've forgotten about him, but now guys are getting three or four chances.
"If you're a heavyweight in this country, you're three or four fights away from being in line to be that next guy."
After fighting only once in a two-year stretch from 2011 and 2012, Barboza won twice last year, setting the stage for what could be a breakthrough year in 2014. He's come this far and fought through so much already. Why stop now?
"I know I said 2013 would be my breakthrough year, but I did have a solid year. Lord willing, 2014 will be the year I can start letting everyone in this country know there's another heavyweight on the rise," Barboza said. "This will be a big year for me. I feel good. I'm ready for it. I'm excited about this year."
Friday's undercard also includes the return of unbeaten Providence middleweight KJ Harrison-Lombardi (5-0-1) of Providence, who will put his record on the line in a four-round bout against Jason Bakanowski (0-1) of Worcester, Mass., while Springfield, Mass., welterweight Zack Rasmey (6-0, 3 KOs) takes on veteran Shakha Moore (11-19-3, 2 KOs) of Norwalk, Conn., in a six-rounder.
In the eight-round main event, Jersey City, N.J., light middleweight Chris Chatman (11-3-1, 5 KOs) will face The Contender Season 2 champion Grady Brewer (30-18, 16 KOs) of Lawton, Okla. Chattanooga, Tenn., lightweight prospect Ryan Martin (3-0, 2 KOs) will face Justin Robbins (2-5, 1 KO) of Springfield, Ill., in a four-round bout, and Cranston, R.I., welterweight Nick DeLomba (2-0) will return in a separate four-round bout. All fights and fighters are subject to change.