Like most people, I am person with many directions but only one goal in mind: success.
Ever since I could remember, I have been afraid of failure. I am a bright and confident person who comes from a humble background. I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, CA, by my single mother. I grew up in a poor part of town, in an even poorer apartment. My mother raised four boys in that apartment; and until this day, I still cannot figure out how she managed to do so. My three brothers and I always had everything we needed, from clothes to food. We were all healthy, athletic and popular. Although we experienced many hardships growing up, my mother made it all seem smooth. I thank God for a lot of things in my life. I thank my mother equally as much.
Before boxing, I had aspirations of going to college and being the first one in my family to graduate with a degree. I was always fascinated by learning more, and school was something I actually enjoyed. After graduating high school, I began taking college courses. I really enjoyed reading, writing and drawing so much I didn’t consider them classes, but hobbies. Hobbies I still enjoy doing until this day.
I began boxing when I was fifteen years old. Before then the sports I enjoyed were football, baseball and basketball. Boxing was never an option until my friends and I got together and invented “barbeque boxing.” The neighborhood hoodlums, led by my best friend/promoter, Carlos, would bring us all together and match up the toughest guys. We would all pitch in money to buy meat to barbeque and gloves to fight with. After a couple of “barbeque tournaments” we all realized I was the only one winning. I was crowned the neighborhood champion after 15 of my friends were all knocked out. My best friend’s father realized I had boxing abilities, seeing that I was the youngest and smallest, and still I was beating up these bigger and stronger guys. That is when I began organized amateur boxing.

As an amateur I got off to a decent start. I was not beating up on other fighters as easily as I did on my friends; but I understood I was fighting more experienced opposition. For every bloody nose I received I began getting tougher, but not better. That is exactly when destiny intervened and I met the two most important people in my boxing career: my trainer, Dean Campos, the genius behind my unorthodox style of fighting, and a Montebello police officer named John Montelongo. The only father figure I have ever had.
After my team was assembled, I began sparring boxers like Terry Norris, when he was still champ, and 1996 Olympic gold medalist David Reid. I also sparred contenders like Antonio Margarito, Oba Carr and David Kamau. I even trained with Oscar de la Hoya in Big Bear while he was preparing for his mega fight with Felix Trinidad. All these opportunities I received were a result of destiny.
I am a firm believer of fate and that there are no coincidences in life. God is infallible and he proves it every day. My team and I sincerely believe we were brought together at the right time in all our lives to do something great. I began winning local tournaments, then state and regional tournaments like the Golden Gloves and U.S. championships.
After these tournaments came the nationals, and with competing nationally came what I really loved about boxing… the free traveling. I got to travel all over the country just for fighting. It was a great time in my life. At one point, I was even ranked high enough to compete internationally against Canada and Korea, winning both duels. I was ranked as high as #2 in the nation. That was when I qualified for the 2000 Olympic Trials in Tampa, Florida.
Only four years after my “barbeque” fights I was already competing against the best in the country. I was the least experienced with about 60 fights, and I was fighting for the ultimate award in amateur boxing… trying to make the Olympics. This was an opportunity that only eight fighters in every weight class got to participate in. Although I made it to the final bout against the Olympic favorite, Jermain Taylor, I lost a decision to him by a couple of points. Taylor went on to win an Olympic medal, and as a professional is currently the best Olympic prospect awaiting a title shot. As for myself, after the team trials, as a fighter who did not make the team I had two choices: quit boxing and go back to college, or make the transition into becoming a professional fighter. At nineteen years old, I decided to become a professional boxer.
After coming up short in the Olympic trials, I was excited about becoming a professional. I accomplished a lot in only four years as an amateur. A lot of people, including my friends and family, thought I had naturally unique ability with fighting. Although my mother never approved of me boxing, she never insisted for me to stop. God bless her for that!
My team and I decided to turn pro in the end of 2000. Fresh from the Olympic trials promoters around California began offering me contracts. The big names in promoting offered me long paper work, with no guarantees. What really depressed me about the sport at that time was the fact that absolutely no promoter offered me a dime to sign. Not one dollar!
My coaches were equally as disappointed because they knew as much as I did, I was worth more. I recall arguing with my trainer Dean about not signing, because I was not fighting. He and John insisted on not giving in to those slave contracts they offered. They were certain something positive will surface with patience and faith. And something did…
This was the time “Ferocious” Fernando Vargas had won the title and had just finished defending it against Ike Quartey. I remember my coach John, driving uninvited up to Big Bear, just to see if we could spar with the champ. I guess destiny followed us up the mountain because Vargas’ manager, Rolando Arellano, skeptically agreed to spar with us. I gave Vargas a really exciting sparring session for five rounds in high altitude. Both of our “Mexican bravado” came out and we were hired and invited back the same day. I was 21 years old, with only one professional bout on my résumé.
Although Vargas and his manager gave me a great opportunity putting me on three of his under cards, I still was getting nowhere. I was undefeated in twelve fights, unsigned, unmanaged and broke. This was about the time auditions for “The Contender,” NBC’s new boxing reality show, were being held. My team and I decided to audition, and after two months of screening and thousands of applications nationwide, I made the cast of 16 fighters. The show begins March 1, 2005.