It only took a couple wins in the boxing ring to let Daniel “Chucky” Barrera know that his place was competing in the sweet science and not Muay Thai kickboxing.
“I'm fine with punches coming at me,” he laughs. “I don't need to worry about kicks and elbows.”
That was a good call for the 20-year-old from Riverside, California, who makes his second pro start on November 3 against Isaac Anguiano. It might as well be six months, instead of a month, away, given how antsy the junior bantamweight is to return to the ring following a victory in his July debut, but he’s staying as cool as possible.
“I'm always like that whenever there's a fight date,” he said. “But I'm just staying in the gym, working on the things we have to work on, and I just can't wait for November 3rd.”
You don’t see that kind of patience from those not even old enough to drink yet, but Barrera believes he’s always been that way, something he owes to his family, and his coach, Al Franco.
“When I was younger, I grew up with a lot of older family members,” Barrera said. “And once I got into boxing, obviously my coach and his family, and when "Twitch" was fighting, I was around all those people - his manager, the press, the commission at the fights. So being around everybody, they always had an impact on my mentality.”
“Twitch” is Daniel Franco, Al Franco’s son and a star on the rise in the featherweight division before a brain injury suffered in a 2017 loss to Jose Haro put him in a coma and ended his career. Thankfully, Franco lived, recovered, and remains a testament to the power of heart and will. He’s also a constant reminder to his friend Barrera of the dangers of boxing.
“In the beginning, when it first happened, of course I was scared,” said Barrera. “He's like a brother to me, so it was scary to see what went on with him, but I just couldn't get away from the sport. I love it too much and that's when I knew I really had to be careful and how serious this is. When you're young, they tell you, 'Yeah, be careful, this sport is dangerous.' But once it happens to somebody very, very close to you, it opens your eyes more. But I just couldn't get away. This is my home. I love this sport.”
Barrera knew it early on, and after just a couple weeks in the gym, Al Franco knew the 11-year-old had the goods, so he put him in the ring with a pair of cousins. When those sessions were over, Franco had a prospect and Barrera had a nickname.
“The first two weeks in there, I guess I picked up fairly quick, and my coach put me in there to spar with two kids that had been there for three months,” Barrera recalled. “I hit one with a left hook to the body and I dropped him and made him cry. And then his cousin came in there trying to knock my head off and get revenge for him. (Laughs) And the same thing - left hook to the body - and I made both of them quit. So that's when coach first said that I'm gonna start costing him a lot of money and that I'm a killer in the ring, so that's why they started calling me ‘Chucky.’”
The baby-faced killer started piling up wins, and he ended up compiling a 64-5 record as an amateur. And though there were thoughts of making a run at the Olympics, changes to the rules made him go in the direction of the punch for pay ranks.
“If there was still headgear, I would have definitely gone,” Barrera said. “But since I saw they were doing no headgear and fighting five days a week, making weight every day, and with all these kids and grown men getting injured, I thought there was no point to go in there and risk your life and not get paid for it.”
In July, Barrera debuted with a third-round knockout of Jesus Godinez, but before he stepped through the ropes, he got some quality work with future hall of famer Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez which was the boxing equivalent of going to Harvard for a semester.
“When I first started sparring with him, I felt like I had to step up my game a lot more just to even get to where I cannot react to everything and not overwork my mental state because I'm trying to think of every move,” Barrera said. “He's seen everything, and he's done many, many rounds with all types of styles, so I'm just another style to him and that was my first time sparring with someone like him. So it definitely felt like it was going to college, learning new things and harder things. He's just something else.”
About the only negative was that no one told him Gonzalez sparred four-minute rounds until he arrived to the gym that day.
“They definitely didn't give me no warning,” he laughs. “They just said, ‘We do four-minute rounds and let's see how we go.’”
Barrera started out with four four-minute rounds with the Nicaraguan great, then stepped it up to six, getting an experience few of his peers could claim. And after that, it was more work for Gonzalez, and no time for chit-chat.
“He goes right back to work,” said Barrera. “Right after sparring, he gets on the bags. He's a world champion and that's what world champions do.”
It’s a road Barrera is on right now, though as he waits for his second pro fight at the Quiet Cannon Country Club in Montebello, he knows that it will be a while before he gets to his final destination.
“I just trust in my coach,” he said. “He's the one who talks to me about patience all the time. So if I didn't have trust in him and I tried to rush into things, I could possibly get hurt, and this sport is dangerous. It will swallow you whole. I have a lot of trust in him, a lot of faith in him and my team, and if we move right, at the right age with the right amount of fights, we're gonna do excellent in this sport. There's no doubt about it in my mind. It's hard because I want to get up there right now, but I also understand that my health is more important.”
It's a lesson he’s learned from not just a father, but from a son, as well.
“Always,” said Barrera. “He (Daniel Franco) tells me to make sure I don't get distracted with the outside life when I'm out of the gym. That's the main thing he tells me. And I try to listen to that as much as possible from him and his dad, my coach, Al Franco. They both tell me that. And for every other fighter, I would say that's the best advice you can give because it's the truth. There's no point going into the gym, work 12 hours out of the week and after that you're over there not getting any rest, not recovering, partying with your friends. So it's definitely something that stuck with me and I follow.”
That’s a lot of wisdom coming from a 20-year-old. But don’t worry, “Chucky” is still having a good time in his new job.
“I enjoy every second of it,” he said.