Since its inception, boxing's main attraction has always been the athletes that step into the ring. For fans, the boxer is the sport's most significant appeal. However, there is an array of uniquely talented people that are intimately involved and whose efforts contribute to the livelihood of the sport. This neighborhood of “support staff” is composed of coaches, referees, ring announcers, commentators, and journalists, to name a few.
The Ring magazine writer Michael Montero is part of the journalist section. In addition to being a writer, Montero is a podcaster, a voter for the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and serves as a commentator, host, and unofficial scorer for live fight cards. The podcast, The Neutral Corner, has close to 10,000 subscribers. Montero himself has over 12,000 followers across various social media platforms.
After more than a decade covering the sport outside of the ring, Montero will trade his pen and microphone for a pair of boxing gloves. On September 16th, 2021, Montero will step into the squared circle as a boxer, supporting a local charity event in Atlanta, Georgia.
I scheduled an interview with Montero to ask him why the heck a middle-aged boxing journalist would suddenly volunteer to get punched in the face.
He agreed, and we conducted the interview via Zoom. He was dressed comfortably in a blue t-shirt and a black ball cap, and he looked exhausted. Montero confirmed that he indeed was tired when I asked him how he was doing. It was evident that working as a journalist and moonlighting as a fighter is taking its toll. However, Montero steadfastly pushed through with the interview.
Boxing has always been part of Michael’s life. He and his family were fanatical boxing fans and sometimes stole cable to watch Mike Tyson fighting on HBO. Having grown up in a tough Detroit neighborhood, Montero decided to join the Marines, in 1998, to experience life outside of Detroit. Upon completing his military contract, in 2001, Michael worked an array of different jobs to earn a living. However, he still had a passion for boxing and decided to write and blog about the sport. He would submit his writing to free websites, like Eastside Boxing. Although he was passionate about boxing, Montero admits he never had any formal training as a journalist. Montero recounted, “I didn't know how to formulate a sentence. I could barely put a damn sentence together. But I just got my opinions out there and kept doing that.”
During his tenure with the Marines, Michael visited many places. Los Angeles, California, was one of those places, and he had fond memories of his time there. At the age of 29, he decided to move out to Los Angeles. Times were tough, and Montero worked a variety of jobs to earn a living. He got laid off from a few jobs, and the only constant in his life was boxing. Montero told me, “I hung out at gyms, talking to people and sharing what I had written. I ended up hooking up with a guy from Texas. The Los Angeles Matadors were starting up with the World Series of Boxing. And this dude knew someone that could get me credentials to cover one of his boxers fighting in the series. I didn't even know what media credentials were.” We shared a laugh, and he continued, “So that's how I started, going to those World Series of Boxing fights around 2009. And I worked my way up from there.”
Traveling the roads of boxing journalism isn't easy and it helps when you meet a few people along the way. “I got in touch with Doug Fischer (editor in chief for Ring magazine) and Steve Kim (renowned boxing journalist), and we all worked together on the Undisputed Champion Network for a few years. They looked out for me and have been mentors. Mark Butcher is a British boxing writer and editor who saw something in me and brought me to Boxing Monthly. I started working with Boxing Monthly before The Ring. So they gave me a huge jump in my career. I built things from the ground up. I had to learn things the hard way, through screwing up and figuring things out. I started my podcast a few years ago, and I was literally sitting in my living room just talking into a camera. Now I've built a studio in my home from Atlanta, GA., where I do my show every week for Ring magazine. I'm pretty blessed, and I'm pretty happy.”
Going into this interview, I presumed Montero had fought a few sanctioned amateur bouts. Instead, Montero expressed that this is going to be his first real fight inside of the ring. “I started training in the Marine Corps 20 years ago. I've hung out at gyms and worked out. I've spared probably hundreds of rounds. I've been close to competing, but I've always made up excuses. Something in life always came up, an injury, a breakup with a girlfriend, I lost my job, I always let something get in the way of consistently training and following through. But now I'm fighting for something bigger than me. I've been dealing with real-life things. I've had stuff, financial issues this year, working through multiple injuries, family stuff, and I'm not letting anything stop me. I'm fighting September 16th.”
Boxing is an unforgiving sport. Those of us that have stepped between the ropes know how physically demanding and mentally taxing preparing for a match can be.
The training alone is enough to deter anyone away from the sport, let alone fight in a competitive match.
Having covered the sport for so many years, Montero has heard thousands of reasons why boxers choose to fight. For Montero, honoring his late brother is the motivation that helps him get out of bed and into the gym each day.
“Last November, right before the holidays, my younger brother Anthony died,” he said. “I went to great lengths during the summer to get Anthony out of a situation. I was here in Atlanta, and he was in Long Beach, California, where he got mixed up with a gang. He was mixed up with crime and drugs.”
The situation was grave, and Montero knew it was a matter of time before the streets, the law, or drugs were going to be the demise of his little brother.
Montero headed out to L.A. to get Anthony. “I just showed up to his apartment and literally dragged him out of the house kicking and screaming. I rented a van, threw as much of his stuff as I could in the van, and drove across the country,” he remembers.
Michael took Anthony to their father's house, in Atlanta. Montero had to return to Atlanta to resume working and take care of his family.
Keeping a distant but watchful eye, Montero and his father helped Anthony. He got clean for awhile and was doing well.
However, after a few months of living with his father, Anthony convinced him that he was ok to be on his own and he moved back to California. Anthony was dead due to an apparent drug overdose a few weeks later. Anthony Montero was 38 years old.
I could feel Montero’s pain coming through the computer screen as he remembered that day.
“My brother had struggled with mental health and addiction issues much of his adult life,” he said. “We grew up in a rough neighborhood. For some reason, I stayed away from that stuff. I never got into drugs or those sorts of things, but he did.” As kids, Michael and Anthony formed a strong bond while they faced the hardships of their childhood.
“We slept in the same bed. There was a point where we shared the same damn coat. Remember the old-school triple fat goose? We had the triple fat goose Raiders coat, and we would be waiting for the bus, and I'd be wearing it, and he would be freezing his ass off, and I would take it off and give it to him, and then I would be freezing my ass off. That's how close we were. We would share clothes and stuff like that. There were some tough times. We had been through many things, a lot of difficult things that I wouldn't wish on people. We were like twin brothers, so when he went, a part of me went with him. He was my best friend.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family had to wait two months before they could have a memorial service for Anthony. During this time, Michael was battling depression. He needed to channel that negative energy and find a way to climb out of that dark, depressive hole he was feeling. So, this past January, Montero decided that the best way to honor his brother was to put together a fight and dedicate it to the memory of Anthony.
Terri Moss, ex world champion and owner of Buckhead Fight Club in Georgia, hosts an annual charity boxing event dubbed “Corporate Fight Night.”
The boxers are usually made up of lawyers and bankers and such. This year, the proceeds of all the ticket sales, the PPV stream, and donations will go to the Ridgeview Institute in Atlanta. This facility helps people suffering from mental health issues, and drug and alcohol addiction. Terri's publicist, Amy Green, reached out to Michael and asked him if he was interested in competing at the event. Montero was excited, he had been training all year and was ready to make do on his promise to honor Anthony.
I asked Montero to describe to us what it’s like to train for a boxing match. “The road work was tough. It took a couple of months to get the weight down and then start focusing on boxing, ” he said. “In my first sparring session, I got cracked and busted a couple of ribs. That let me know I needed to get my butt in shape. Overall it's been pretty good, but I'm 42-years-old, and injuries happen. And last month, I tore a pectoral minor muscle. So, it's always something, but as I said, I'm fighting September 16th for my brother Anthony, and I’m not letting anything get in the way.” (Ticket information here.)
The mood lightened up a bit when I asked Michael what it was like being on the other side of the press conference for the first time. Mike chuckled and said, “I'll admit, there were nerves, dude. Not only am I a fighter in this event, but I'm also using my profile to help this charity. I didn't expect it, but they brought me up to speak. And then later, we did a faceoff with my opponent. He looked serious. He was tense. We had a good stare down, we held that shit for at least a minute.”
For most of the interview, we talked about Montero's motive to fight and what he wants to achieve for the charity. But it dawned on me that Michael never expressed what he personally hopes to achieve fighting at the event. I asked about his expectations, asked if he hoped to achieve “closure.”
Michael looked away for a second. His eyes glassed up, but like a true Marine, he fought back the tears. Finally, he took a deep breath and answered. “ I hope so, man. I'm almost kind of scared because I don't know what will happen after the fight. I don't know if I'm going to have some sort of breakdown. I feel like I have been holding onto my brother a lot. I come home with headaches, shit's busted up, it hurts. I don't want to go back some mornings, some mornings it's early, I'm stiff, cold, I don't want to go sparring at 9 in the morning like I am tomorrow. But I've been talking to my brother. I say, ‘Hey man, help me push through this because I'm doing this for you.' What I hope is that after doing this, I can turn the page to a new chapter. I don't know if it's closing the chapter, but at least I'm turning the page. I'm the only one in my family doing this because I'm the older brother and feel the responsibility to honor him in a special way.”