By Thomas Gerbasi
Joey Alday Jr. watches his four-year-old son LJ and he sees himself, recalling the age when his own father put the gloves on him for the first time. But if the middleweight prospect has his way, LJ will wear a glove of a different sort one day.
“I want him to play soccer or baseball,” Alday said. “Right now, he’s doing tee-ball, and I like him doing that.”
So no boxing for him?
“I don’t want him to do it,” he said. “It’s a tough sport. Now that I’m in it, I’m in it until the end, but I wouldn’t wish falling in love with this sport on my worst enemy. I hope he doesn’t want to do it. He says, ‘I want to fight, dad. I want to beat up bad guys. I want to go to the boxing gym.’ No you don’t.”
At 23, with a perfect 7-0 (7 KOs) record, you would assume that Alday would be leaving skid marks on the way to the gym every day, but when you’ve been boxing for 19 years, it can wear on you. He’s still here, though, ready to look for win number eight when he faces former UFC fighter Nam Phan tonight at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles.
“The only thing that gets you through is the love for the sport,” he said. “That’s why I’m still here.”
“Here” can refer to his presence in the sport or his literal place, which these days is Pullman’s Gym in Southern California. It’s a sacrifice being away from his home in Odessa, but Alday promises that he will be Texas forever.
“After every fight I go back home and spend time with the family,” he said. “I’m always gonna be a Texan, I’m just training in Cali.”
Texas is producing plenty of stars these days, most notably Errol Spence and the Charlo brothers, and according to Alday, that’s no surprise.
“Just like the slogan, everything’s bigger in Texas,” he said. “It’s true. We’re hungrier, we’ve got bigger hearts, we’re ready to work, and that’s in all of us.”
Those are all necessary traits to succeed in the hardest game, but it also takes smarts, and Alday has been around long enough to know that being reckless in this sport is the quickest way to have a short career.
“You’ve got to make smart decisions to give you the best advantage to get you to the highest level,” he said. “You can’t come into your second fight and want to fight (Vasyl) Lomachenko because you might get destroyed. So you’ve got to make sure you’re making smart business decisions and make sure you’re moving up the ladder right. You’re a fighter and you’ve got to make sure you’re a businessman as well. But you’ve also gotta be hungry.”
Alday is hungry. Watch him when the bell sounds and he’s fighting as if he’s double parked, stopping all seven of his opponents, five in two rounds or less. He’s also got the charisma in and out of the ring to make plenty of noise in the coming years. And though there have been disappointments in the past - including a near-miss for the U.S. Olympic team, a split with Top Rank and a failed post-fight drug test due to an abnormal testosterone level (subsequent negative tests cleared him to fight again) – the past is where he’s left them.
“I’m a person that has a lot of faith,” he said. “My faith is very strong and I feel like God put me through these trials for a reason and shaped me to be this person at the very end of the tunnel. So I just take things as they come. The whole testosterone thing, everybody found out that it was nothing but just a high level. I’m a young guy, and they couldn’t find any substance in me. I’ve never taken anything that I wasn’t supposed to take. I was under USADA testing when I was on the U.S. team for three years and I never failed a test or missed a test. So it was just crazy when that happened. But we got past that bump in the road and I’ve been taking the bumps as they come and just getting over one at a time and just letting my career take me wherever it’s gonna take me.”
Where he expects it to take him is to the top. Fighting out of Odessa, Texas.
“I want people to recognize that I come from a small town where not a lot of people make it,” Alday said. “I want to let them know that no matter where you’re from, as long as you’re working hard and you’re letting your dreams take you wherever they’re going to take you, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if you’re from a big town or not. I’m from Odessa, Texas, less than a hundred thousand people, and boxing is nothing there. My dad started trying to coach me from the age of four until now, and we’ve done something right. It just took a lot of hard work and a lot of determination and a lot of heart. But we’re here, we’re still going and we’re gonna keep it moving.”