Nearly three years ago, 18-year-old Aaron Aponte had already reached a crossroads in a pro career that hadn’t even started yet.

Thanks, pandemic.

“It was a crazy moment,” recalled Aponte, who was waiting to make his debut in the punch for pay ranks in early 2020 when COVID-19 took over and shut down the boxing world. “I was just thinking about my family's well-being at the time because it was so scary. We didn't know what it was and how dangerous it was, but I was staying prepared, and I never left the gym. My dad has his own gym, so it was closed down to the public, but me and him would go in there and work on things.”

While it was a bizarre time, not knowing when everything would open up again, Aponte showed a veteran’s patience, a stark contrast to the expected reaction of most teenagers in his position.

“Yeah, I wasn't really worried about it,” he said of his delayed debut. “I was like, I'm taking my time and I'm moving at my own pace. So whatever happens is what happens.”

In October of 2020, it happened, as Aponte needed just 62 seconds to halt Jonathan Conde and kick off a career that now sits at 6-0-1 with two knockouts. On Saturday, Aponte, now 21, crashes ladies’ night at Madison Square Garden’s Theater when he faces Joshua David Rivera on the Amanda Serrano-Erika Cruz undercard. It’s the Floridian’s second appearance in the building, and he’s also fought on a pair of Canelo Alvarez undercards at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, giving him plenty of experience in the kind of venues he hopes to headline one day. It keeps the nerves away, too.

“It's an awesome thing, don't get me wrong, but I don't really get the nervousness anymore,” he said. “I think the first time when I fought in the Hard Rock Stadium is when I really had the butterflies, but now I'm kind of getting used to the big venues and it's becoming natural.”

That goes for his work inside the ring, too. There is the draw in his most recent fight against Fernando Angel Molina last September, but he was in with an 8-0 opponent and he proved he was ready for the step-up in opposition. On Saturday, he gets an 8-1 foe in Rivera, and it’s another chance to show his progression as he kicks off his 2023 campaign.

“Right now, I'm just continuing my career and slowly climbing up the ranks and doing what I have to do to get into the spot to challenge for the title,” said Aponte.

The patience is evident for the super lightweight prospect, again, not what you would expect from someone so young, but a 98-18 run in the amateurs showed Aponte what happens when you move too fast in the fight game. So yeah, he’s normal and has those moments when he watches prospective foes at the elite level on TV and believes he can beat them, but then he realizes that to be in a position to win those fights for real, he has to let the process play out. 

“That definitely is the case where I see people on TV and I'm like, ‘I could take that guy. I could beat that guy.’ There are times that that happens, but I know that me and my team are coming up with a way that I can be successful.”

That means staying in the gym, training hard, and beating whoever is put in front of him. And enjoying the ride.

“I feel like I'm enjoying myself all the time,” he said. “It doesn't feel like a job; it feels like something I like to do. It's like basketball players playing basketball. They love playing basketball. I love fighting. I love getting in the ring and putting on a show for the people.”