By Thomas Gerbasi
As the story goes, Ruben Villa got a trip to the boxing gym with his father for his fifth birthday. No bike, no toys?
“I guess not,” Villa laughs. “I guess I was too hyper for all that.”
Fifteen years later, it’s safe to say that boxing may have been the greatest gift the soon to be 21-year-old has ever received. It’s kept him out of the trouble most kids get into, garnered him acclaim for a stellar amateur career, and on Saturday, he will fight for his first pro title when he meets Marlon Olea for the WBO youth featherweight belt in his hometown of Salinas.
Sure, he admits there were ups and downs over the years, but he stayed the course, which in itself is pretty remarkable given his long stay in the hardest game.
“I was raised into it, so I always just believed in it and all the hard work I was putting in,” Villa said. “I always believed that boxing was chosen for me and it was what I was meant to do. Eventually, I matured and realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I’ve been pretty successful so far, so I keep working.”
Winner of several amateur titles, including the National Golden Gloves and Junior Olympics, Villa also split four bouts with 2016 Olympian and current unbeaten pro Shakur Stevenson, but just came up short of getting his own trip to Rio. In his eyes, there was no question that he was going pro.
“Nah, I was done with the amateurs,” he said. “I’m not that patient. I felt like my boxing style is more professional, and I wasn’t into waiting again, so it was time to start my professional career as quick as I could.”
By July of 2016, Villa had turned pro with a first-round knockout of Gerardo Molina, and he hasn’t slowed down yet, with two more fights in 2016, six in 2017 and one thus far this year. What a concept, fighters fighting.
“That was the plan, to stay busy and keep going as much as I can until I get that next big shot,” said Villa, who credits his father for leading him down the right path. “I can honestly say my dad, the way he brought me up, he always taught me to work hard and eventually my time will come. Everyone has their time, and I feel like mine is starting to kick in right now. But I’ve always been patient about it and I’ve been positive throughout everything.”
And positive things are coming back at him. But he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“It’s just the way I was brought up,” Villa said. “My parents taught me to be humble and just believe in what I was doing. So I separated myself from all the attention and didn’t let things get to me. I just stayed focused on what I had to do with whoever was in front of me.”
So he’s not letting the title of that YouTube video made when he was an amateur, “Boxing’s next Oscar De La Hoya,” get to his head?
“I’m just trying to be the best I can be,” he laughs.
He’s on his way. Just look at his thoughts on fighting at home for the first time as a pro:
“To everyone else it’s a big deal, but all the fights are important. In this one, I just feel like I have to be a little bit more focused and try not to let my emotions get to me since I’m fighting in my hometown. If I do that, everything should go as planned on Saturday night.”