High school isn’t easy for the average athlete. You wake up at 6:30am, go to school for eight hours, practice, then try to cram in your homework in the small window between when you get home and the early time you need to fall asleep to avoid sleep-deprivation. A meet or a game chews up a full day of every weekend. 

Vito Mielnicki Jr. took things one step further. A pro boxer at the age of 17, he woke up daily at 4:30 to hit the gym before school. He ran at night. His school’s loudspeakers announced his wins. Between it all, Mielnicki managed to keep his studies afloat enough to graduate during the first year of the pandemic in 2020. 

“Never really did a lot of homework,” Mielnicki told BoxingScene. “It was hectic, but it was fun. It was a cool experience.”

On his first trip to a boxing gym, at age seven, Mielnicki was put off by the unfamiliar atmosphere and wanted to leave. His father insisted that he had paid for 30 days, so young Vito would attend for 30 days. By the middle of the first week, he was sold. 

“Everybody in the gym brought me in as family,” Mielnicki said. “I have guys from that day who I still talk to and are family to me.”

Mielnicki grew up with Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Shakur Stevenson (and was coached by Stevenson’s grandfather and trainer Willie “Wali” Moses for several years), at times traveling with them for amateur fights. While they and recent combatants Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are at lower weight classes, Mielnicki has interesting insight on their dynamic, showing his boxing IQ.

“I had Ryan winning the fight, actually, before the fight,” he said of Garcia’s shock upset win. “I just thought, he could crack, Devin can’t really crack. And I knew that Devin was gonna try to fight him, just because of everything going on before the fight, with them talking back and forth.” 

While Garcia’s blend of social media antics and an apparent mental health crisis threw the vast majority of the boxing world off the scent, Mielnicki paid more attention to Garcia’s sparring and training, recognizing that he was a threat to win. 

Now, Mielnicki is 21 with a professional record of 17-1 with 12 knockouts. He has never been knocked down, and when asked about the biggest punch he has ever taken, mentions a headbutt in sparring rather than a blow from a professional opponent’s fists. He’ll fight Ronald Cruz on May 4 in Las Vegas — on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez-Jaime Munguia, the biggest boxing event of the year so far. 

“What’s better than boxing?” Mielnicki asked. “You control your own destiny. If you put the work in, do what you’re supposed to, then it’ll show in the ring. I love it.”

The 154-pounder has stopped his last four opponents, all inside the first half of his fights, and the last two inside the first round. His favorite fighters are Canelo Alvarez, Andre Ward, and Roberto Duran. (Perhaps wisely, he elected not to answer who would win a mythical matchup between the first two.) 

The lone blemish on Mielnicki’s record came in 2021, when he lost an eight-round decision to James Martin. (“You’re the first person to ask me about it,” Mielnicki jokes.) During the bout, his corner implored him to listen to their instructions, but Mielnicki admitted to BoxingScene that he was too inexperienced to absorb the lessons. More so than getting caught out by anything Martin did, he came in with a closed mind. 

“Gotta be prepared. I have a team for a reason. Gotta listen to my team. It’s weird to say this, I’m 21 years old, but I’m the boss. But at the same time, they’re there, and their voice matters, especially my father’s.” 

Practically every fighter loses at some point, save a few like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and one of Mielnicki’s idols in Andre Ward. Perhaps absorbing this lesson early will serve the young professional well down the line. 

It’s not a feeling that I ever wanted to feel,” Mielnicki reflected on the loss. “You never want to feel that. But it was necessary for me to feel that and go through that, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me in my career.”

Mielnicki sought a rematch – “any other day, I would have handled him, I believe, easily” – but Martin couldn’t come close to making weight and the fight fell through. Mielnicki didn’t get the chance to exact revenge, but the lessons from the loss took root. When asked what active fighters he is chasing, Mielnicki says he is not pursuing anyone but is focused on himself. Currently making 154 pounds without issue, he can project a path to higher weight classes in the future, but doesn’t have his eye on a potential rival at 160 or 168 either. It’s about the here and now. 

He also doesn’t feel pressure to keep up his knockout streak. “If it comes, it comes,” he said, echoing so many other fighters thinking about winning over the manner of victory. “We’re ready for 10 rounds, it’s scheduled for 10. I know Ronald Cruz is coming to win, he’s coming to fight, he’s gonna come to be the best version of himself.

“I’m just a kid with a dream,” Mielnicki added. “I’m a kid with a dream who’s dialed in on what he wants. I’m extremely blessed. This fight, I’m going in there to continue to grow, and I’m going in there to dominate.”