In just about every American city, you can find a boxing gym. Some gyms are big while others are small. Some are famous, like Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. And some are relatively obscure to the public, but they all tell similar stories. Stories of people looking to get in shape, a desperate parent is looking for an answer to help their bullied child, or a twelve-year-old kid was looking to learn how to fight so he can “whup the thief that took his bike.”
Lions Pride Boxing Gym on the Florida Palm Coast is such a gym. It is where up-and-coming Junior Lightweight Benigno “Tony” Aguilar walked in at the age of thirteen, upset because he didn't make his school's Junior Varsity soccer team.
Born and raised in Crescent City, Florida, the twenty-two-year-old pugilist has a professional record of 8-0, with 4 knockouts, and is promoted by Christy Martin Promotions.
I recently sat down with Aguilar to talk about his most recent win, his career, and what he wants to achieve in the sport of boxing ultimately.
I first saw Tony fight on a Christy Martin promotions card dubbed “Mayhem in Myrtle beach III.” That night, he fought an undefeated fighter out of New York City. At first glance, it seemed like Aguilar was overmatched in every aspect. His opponent was taller, longer, bigger, and had won all his fights by knockout. Nevertheless, Aguilar entered the ring in full Mexican regalia and was arrogantly trotting around to the sound of Mexican music blaring in the background.
What I interpreted as false bravado on Aguilar's part to make up for his small stature was quickly dispelled as soon as the opening bell rang. With an aggressive fighting style typical of Mexican fighters, he promptly entered his opponent's guard and had him fighting off his back foot. Then, he evaded his opponent's long reach and broke him down with a disciplined body attack by utilizing some slick head movement. Aguilar walked away with the victory and handed his opponent his first defeat. I was impressed, to say the least, and I knew I wanted to see more of him.
His most recent victory was against a tough and gritty fighter from New York, Christian Otero (4-1, 2 KOs). This was the second undefeated fighter from New York that Aguilar defeated. I'm from The Bronx, N.Y. So, jokingly and somewhat begrudgingly, I opened the interview by asking him, “What is it with you and fighters from New York? Why do you keep doing this to fighters from my hometown?”
We shared a laugh, and he said, “Whoever they throw at me, man! It doesn't matter where they're from; I love doing that! It was a tough fight.” “What made it a tough fight?” I asked curiously. “He can take a hit. There were times in the fight where I was like, ‘this kid got to go down!' He was hurt, and I put pressure on his ass. But he was smart, and he would grab me. He was slick and tough,” responded Aguilar.
Tony started boxing when he was thirteen years old. Although he always had an interest in boxing, it wasn't his first choice of sports. He was an avid soccer player looking to make the Junior Varsity team at his school. Unfortunately, he was cut from the tryouts. Feeling dejected, his friend suggested that Aguilar go with him to the gym and start learning how to box. “He said, ‘you should come to the gym now that you don't have soccer.' So, I finally went to the gym, and I fell in love with it”, recounted Aguilar.
Tony had over seventy amateur fights and won over fifty of them. However, a lot of the losses came early in his amateur career. “In my fourth fight, I fought a kid that has sixty-something fights. The fight after, a kid that had ninety-something fights. I have been to the nationals plenty of times, never got the championship. But I climbed up the ranks and earned my respect just like I'm doing in the pros now. I like to think I had a pretty good amateur career. It was a lot of fun”, said Aguilar.
Aguilar's team consists of head trainer Barry Stewart, assistant trainer Faustino Garcia, and family members who help him train and are also professional fighters. He humbly described his team as a family and a support system integral to his success. “I don't call it a team; it's a family. A lot of us are related, and the ones that ain't well, they might as well be because we've known each other our whole lives,” said Aguilar graciously.
Tony and his coach Barry Stewart share what seems to be a strong bond between a fighter and a trainer. I witnessed this bond firsthand after their fight at Myrtle Beach. Christy Martin and all the fighters she promotes went to a local dive bar to unwind, have some food, and celebrate another successful night of boxing.
Coach Stewart was passionately talking up his stable of fighters, especially Tony Aguilar. But, ever so, the protector, Stewart, kept one eye on me while we talked and another on his boxers, making sure everything was alright while they celebrated. “Coach is like grandpa,” said the young fighter. “I've known him since I was thirteen-years-old. He scared the shit out of me when I first met him. He's Italian, and he has this OG Mafia-style.”
We both laughed, and Aguilar continued, “I remember the first day I walked into the gym with my friend. We were laughing and walking, and out of nowhere, the doors opened, and standing there was this big mafia-looking dude wearing Italian chains, hair slicked back, an OG-looking dude. And he's rough. He was like, ‘who the hell is this guy.' I was 4'9″ 90lbs. I was scared to say anything. And ever since that day, he has been a great mentor to me. We kick it more like family instead of coach and boxer.”
Aguilar was twenty years old when he made his professional debut. Becoming a professional fighter was a goal that Aguilar set for himself at the start of his boxing career. His coach always knew that Aguilar could be a good fighter in the professional ranks.
However, before becoming a professional boxer, Aguilar took a summer off from the gym to earn extra money working at a construction site. His absence from the gym would leave Barry Stewart questioning the young fighter's focus and dedication. Aguilar returned to the gym as an opportunity presented itself for Stewart to showcase one of his fighters on a Christy Martin Promotions boxing card. Because of Tony's hiatus, Stewart considered giving another one of his fighters a chance. This not only upset Aguilar, but it also motivated him to prove his dedication to boxing and to his coach. After having a serious conversation and Tony convincingly winning his return fight, Stewart decided that Aguilar would fight on the Christy Martin card.
The Florida native is a skilled fighter with a local following, a combination that helps ticket sales. Shortly after his first professional fight, the young pugilist signs a contract with Christy Martin Promotions. A decision that Aguilar is satisfied with. I asked him to describe his relationship with Christy Martin and to tell the readers what sets her apart from other promoters.
“She's really cool. She likes my boxing style; she likes my following and thinks I'm a good kid. She's more than a promoter to me. She texts me to check up on me and makes sure that I'm on weight; she takes care of us. After the fight, we don't have to chase her to get paid. It's a done deal- everything is smooth sailing with her, and we are blessed to be part of this journey with her,” said Aguilar about the former World Champion and Hall of Famer.
In addition to being a proud boxer, Tony is also a proud Mexican American. Mexicans and Mexican Americans have a long lineage of champions gracing the boxing record books and the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I asked him to describe what it means to him to be a boxer of Mexican descent.
Aguilar proudly said, “To me, it's everything. That's what I am, and that's what my family is. My people, they work hard. I worked with Mexicans my whole life. Whether they're working in the field or in construction, they go 100%. So, I'm happy to be a part of that, and I'm happy to represent that because I'm Mexican-raised. But, I'm also representing my family, everybody here, and my people that are over there (Mexico).”
For as long as he can remember, Tony has worked at a construction site to earn money and help his family. Usually, Aguilar works up to ten hours a day and sometimes twelve, then he spends four or more hours at the gym. “I get up at four in the morning to be at work around five; then, after work, I go to the gym. Sometimes I don't get home until ten or eleven at night,” said Tony as he described his daily routine.
If he wants to realize his dream of becoming a world champion, I will presume that he will have to dedicate himself to boxing and quit his day job fully. He recognizes that the schedule is grueling and expressed that the goal is to quit his job and dedicate himself fully to boxing eventually. However, he didn't say how he was going to that, nor when.
Tony Aguilar's undefeated streak has the young boxer feeling confident that he is ready for television exposure and bigger venues. In the meantime, he wants to continue fighting undefeated fighters and handing them their first loss. “We got some big plans this year. We're moving up in the ranks. But, for now, I want to keep taking “Os” (handing undefeated fighters their first loss). That's what I feel will put my name out there, and that's what I tell my coach and Christy. There have been some talks about a ShowTime fight; hopefully, that worked out. I will represent well, and I will get noticed,” said Aguilar optimistically.
Benigno “Tony” Aguilar describes himself as a fighter who can do it all in the ring and adjust to any opponent he faces. So far, he has demonstrated that he can. He is confident in his skills, his team, and his brand. Aguilar sports a “million-dollar” smile and expresses himself well on camera. He is one of those fighters who can potentially do well on television and in bigger venues. Aguilar is a good fighter, has a good team, and has a solid promoter in Christy Martin. He has all the tools to be successful in the sport of boxing. All Aguilar has to do is keep winning fights. And he seems poised to do so.
You can follow me on Twitter @DABXBomber.