Sometimes, it’s just in them; they can’t get out of the gym. It’s a self-imposed confinement. Hypnotic, irresistible.
Carlos Cancel put on the gloves for 140 amateur fights,
starting at age 9 in 1991. Then he quit. The ring, not the gym. Never the gym. Now, the 30-year-old trains fighters, in Framingham and Hudson, who chase the same dream he went after: To be a champ. Cancel knows the odds are long, the grind
unrelenting. But he also senses how his boxers, like Timmy Ramos, feel when they step into the ring on fight night, and deal with the fear and the intoxication they can’t experience anywhere else.
“But sometimes I’d rather be the fighter in the ring,” said Cancel, a Framingham resident. “When I stopped fighting, it was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”
At 20, Ramos is one of Cancel’s proteges. He played football at Framingham High, moved to Natick, and graduated from high school there. Ramos started boxing when he was 14 in the Framingham Police Athletic League, in a makeshift gym in the Danforth Museum building.
“My uncle Pablo took me there,” said Ramos. “He was a trainer. I didn’t ask to go. He just took me. I started working out and enjoyed it. It became a habit.”
Ramos, who now trains at the Bancroft Boxing Club in Framingham, captured the light welterweight title (141 pounds) at the New England Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions on Wednesday night in Lowell. With his three-round decision over Brandon Berry of West Forks, Maine, he advances to the national tournament in Salt Lake City in May.
“I’m real proud of him,” said Cancel. “He had to move up a class. He was fighting at 132 pounds.”
In junior high school, Ramos fought in the amateurs, won a couple of trophies, and got serious about the sweet science.
“I liked the individual part of it, being in the ring by yourself. I had a fight when I was 16, at the Brockton Fair,” he said. “I was real nervous, more than when I was playing football. I forced myself to get in the ring. I started throwing punches, and I won. It opened my eyes that this could be a career. I started training more. It has turned into a career.”
By his count, he is 32-11 overall. He’s never been knocked out. He doesn’t worry about the toll that boxing might exact from him. “I’m still young.”
Cancel felt that way once.
The top local fighter is Framingham’s Danny O’Connor, a professional light welterweight. Last month, he headlined a TD Garden card, winning a decision over New England welterweight champion Derek Silveira of Salem. Ramos, who has sparred with O’Connor, was one of three local fighters on the Garden amateur undercard. Joe Meuse of Millis and Julio Perez of Marlborough were the other two.
It was a surreal experience for all three.
“Wow, I’d never been to the Garden before, not even to see a game,” said Ramos. “I was nervous driving to the Garden. It was a big fight for me. Once you get in the ring, the nerves go away.”
Although Ramos lost his bout, O’Connor said, “I think Timmy has a lot of talent. He’s the next generation of fighters. He’s come a long way from the first time I saw him in the gym. I used to take him to some of my fights. We’d stay in a hotel. This is a special time for him.”
Ramos and Meuse had previously fought, Ramos winning by decision. The boxing fraternity is small. Ramos and Meuse were friends before the fight. The card was held at Trinity Catholic High School in Newton to benefit the John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club of Newton.
Meuse trains at the nearby Nonantum Boxing Club. “It was weird fighting a friend,” said Meuse. “It was just my second fight. It was Timmy’s ninth.”
The 19-year-old Meuse played football at Millis High. His mother, Cathy, got him started in boxing. “She loves it,” he said. “My dad’s not too thrilled with me getting hit in the head.”
Does Cathy even flinch? “Depends how hard Joe gets hit,” she said.
When Meuse was 12, his mother took him to the Nonantum club.
“She knew the area. She grew up in Brighton,” said Meuse.
“It was a tough workout, very tough, that first day in the gym. I had to learn to throw different punches and combinations.”
He fought for the first time at 128 pounds as an eighth-grader, in a bout at St. James Church in Watertown. “I lost a decision,” he said. “It made me train harder.”
When he turned 16, he could drive himself to the gym. “I had my dad’s old Ford F150 truck,” he recalled. “I love trucks.” It’s matched by his love of boxing. “It’s not like other sports. It’s a great adrenaline sport.”
His only injuries resulted from football and immaturity.
“I broke my hand punching a wall in middle school,” he said. “It was stupid. I was a punk.” A broken ankle caused him to miss his junior year of football.
Marc Gargaro is Meuse’s trainer in Newton. “Joe’s always exciting. He throws hard combinations with bad intentions,” said Gargaro. “He doesn’t wait for the fight to come to him.” Meuse’s fight night at TD Garden is an indelible memory.
“I remember walking from the dressing room through the tunnel and seeing how many people there were. The atmosphere made me think about turning pro.”
Meuse is an apprentice electrician and wants to be a part-time firefighter in Millis.
Perez, 22, started boxing in Puerto Rico when he was 10, under the tutelage of his father. It did not go well.
“I quit,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about boxing. I just wanted to play and run around like the other kids.”
At 13, he had a change of heart. He scored a knockout in his first fight, and won five bouts in a row. “I was more serious,” he said. “They called me ‘Diamante.’ Diamond. I have it on my robe.”
The family moved to Marlborough when he was 16. He hooked up with Cancel in Framingham where O’Connor trained.
“Carlos showed me some moves,” said Perez. “We became friends.” Perez works out at the Hudson Boxing Club now.
Perez still relies on his dad, an expert kickboxer.
“I always call him my trainer,” he said. “He knows more about me than anybody.”
Perez said he’s won most of his 66 fights, and, like almost every amateur, aims high. “I want to be a pro some day,” he said. “I didn’t do well in school. All I cared about was boxing.”
Perez works for a company maintenance crew in Shrewsbury.
Cancel said Ramos, whose day job is fixing vacuums, has “unlimited potential. He sparred over 200 rounds with O’Connor when Danny was an amateur.”
Now, O’Connor is getting paid for what he does. For Meuse, Ramos, and Perez, it’s a steep hill to become a headliner like O’Connor. It’s not for everybody, but fight dreams die hard.