By Thomas Gerbasi
After compiling a perfect pro record of 19-0 that includes a bunch of televised dates and another one to come tonight in his Pennsylvania backyard against Jose Lopez, rising welterweight star Sammy Vasquez is on the verge of silk pajama territory.
You know that place, the one where the hard road to glory leads to a point in time where Marvelous Marvin Hagler once famously said that it’s tough to get up and do roadwork in the morning when you’re sleeping in silk pajamas. But Vasquez isn’t worried about losing his edge anytime soon.
“It takes a lot of hard work to even get in those silk pajamas,” he said. “And you gotta be thankful and blessed and feel humbled that you’re even able to be in them. Me and my wife used to sleep in a twin bed together. Now I’ve got a king size bed. But I’ll never forget what it took to get there and I think that’s what makes me so humble. I took that struggle and that long road to get there and I knew where it was and I’m grateful to have the things that I have.”
He’s also thankful for no more elbows from his wife in that twin bed.
“Absolutely,” he laughs. “It’s not even the elbows, it’s the knees.”
All kidding aside though, the 29-year-old southpaw is more grateful than most. As he’s made strides up the 147-pound ladder, he’s given back more than he’s taken in. Sure, the wins, the money and the notoriety are nice, but just being alive and surrounded by his family is enough for the Iraq War veteran.
These days, the U.S. Army National Guard veteran doesn’t have to worry about being called back to a war zone. He served his eight years honorably, and while it’s easy to assume that putting that time in your rearview mirror would be the typical reaction, Vasquez still has his military brothers and sisters in his heart everywhere he goes.
“I honestly think that’s what drives me more,” he said. “You always want more for your family, and there are still troops out there doing what they need to do, and I know what they’re doing, so I still take a lot of pride in that. I still focus on my career, but with my career I still bring along the military and my family because they’re some of the main reasons that drive me to be where I’m at today, because if it wasn’t for them, then I might not be here.”
It’s been said that to be successful in boxing, you have to be selfish, able to put everything else to the side and focus solely on yourself during training camp, because in the ring, you’re alone. Vasquez disagrees, saying, “There’s always somebody that helps you to get to where you’re at today. It could be one person that helps you out one time, and if they weren’t there to help you out at that time, you could have quit boxing and been just a normal person doing a regular job. That’s been brought up to me multiple times. I’ve thought about quitting boxing and just doing a regular job, but once you have kids and a family and a wife, and you see the struggle, you don’t want your kids to live like that. So you make a choice. You either have the full support of your family and your wife and the military and continue to box, or you get another job. So I think you need to be humble for where you’re at today, because if it wasn’t for the military and it wasn’t for my family and my fans, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. It took a lot of work, a lot of dedication and a lot of pride. It’s not easy to get to where I’m at today.”
Vasquez recalls the days of working at FedEx from 2am to noon, then going to two practice sessions while his wife worked a full-time job of her own. And he says that if he had to, he’d do it again.
“It’s all in your head,” he said. “If you’re mentally strong and mentally tough and you want to get something done, you’ll get it done, as long as you have a positive attitude.”
Work ethic. Dedication to family, friends, and the community. A desire to give a better life to your family. They’re all values that often seem to get buried under the latest episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians or some other trivial matters, but in the world of Sammy Vasquez, they may just be what could save a life in a part of the country ravaged by drugs and violence.
“We need to get the younger generation involved in things other than drugs, other than guns and things like that,” he said. “Around our area, we’ve had 28 overdoses within 24 hours. There’s a big heroin epidemic and it’s bad. I’m the only positive influence that I know of that’s in the limelight to try and motivate these kids to do something other than sell drugs or do drugs or things of that nature. I’m also a big anti-bullying activist, and I’m trying to encourage kids not to bully.”
It’s not PR copy from Vasquez either. He’s put his money where his mouth is in his Pennsylvania area, taking the week before a big fight not to fine tune his game plan, but to visit all the schools he can to show what hard work can do. He has a program where kids in school can get a voucher for a free ticket to tonight’s fight if they bring a parent who buys a ticket. It serves a dual purpose – a kid gets off the street, even if for one night, and parents get some quality time with their child that will hopefully spark discussions about matters that mean a lot more than what happens in the ring in California, PA.
“Those kids today could possibly be running the country in the future, so we have to show them that there are other ways out than doing it the wrong way,” Vasquez, a father of three, said. “You can take the right way – it’s a struggle, it’s tough, but that’s what makes it sweeter when you get to the top.”
Sammy Vasquez is closing in on the top, and when he gets there, he’ll be bringing company. But all that pressure to succeed for himself, his family, his military comrades and the kids of his community isn’t crushing him. When it’s time to fight, it’s time to fight.
“I know I’m in shape, I know I’m ready, and my thing is that I go in there and have fun,” he said. “Obviously, I always want to win, but win, lose or draw, I’m having a good time, I’m putting a great show on, and I’m gonna impact somebody. I don’t sweat the fight, I don’t worry about the fight; I’ve been overseas and going into a ring and fighting in front of people is nothing compared to that. So I’m just blessed to be doing what I’m doing and it doesn’t really bother me. When it comes fight time, as soon as I go through the ropes, I flip the switch and then it’s on.”