Jose Campos grew up a fight fan and competed as an amateur. For years now, he’s applied his ring savvy teaching the Sweet Science at Jackson’s Boxing Club, 2562 Leavenworth Street, where he’s head coach.
He’s worked with kids-adults, amateurs-pros, journeymen-champions. When he looks at Ralston High School senior Juan Vazquez, he sees world-class potential.
“I’ve only had four or five kids that I said, ‘For sure, he’s going to be something,’ and Juan is one of them. If he sticks with it, he’s going to be a world champion for sure.”
Vazquez, 17, won the National Junior Olympics title at 152 pounds earlier this year in West Virginia. He made it to the semifinals of a regional qualifier in Tennessee in October, Campos sees similarities
between four-time world pro world titilist Terence Crawford of Omaha and Vazquez at the same age.
“I coached with Terence’s coach, Esau Dieguez, for four years. I see a lot of things Juan does the same way Terence used to do it. It’s exciting to see that in somebody I’m coaching now.”
The first week in December, Vazquez lost in the semis at USA Boxing’s National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. Despite finishing in third place. he’s still been invited to train with the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado Springs next May. He’s next man up for international competitions should either of the two fighters ahead of him not be able to travel.
Campos has another promising fighter in his own son, 142-pounder Marco Campos, who, like Vazquez, is nationally ranked. Marco competed in Salt Lake and will join Vazquez in training with the Olympic team.
“Being part of the USA team is everything,” Jose Campos said. “Promoters are paying attention to them. Once they turn 18, there are contracts waiting for them.”
Win or lose, fighting for one’s club or country or for money, the coach wants his boxers prepared for life.
“I tell all my kids they have to go to school, they have to get a degree. Boxing, one day you’re on top, the next day something happens to you. They need to have something to fall back on.”
Besides being a student of the ring, where he’s progressed from slacker to prospect, Vazquez also applies himself at school. Campos said his prodigy is mature for his age.
“A lot of people think he’s older than what he really is.”
Campos describes the dramatic transformation his star pupil made.
“Usually, kids come because they want to do it and they want to be part of this. Usually, parents are like, ‘If my kid doesn’t want to do this, I’m not going to make him.’ Well, with Juan, his mom brought him to me because he was so overweight and he didn’t do anything after school. He just sat down at home playing video games. His mom wanted him to do something. It didn’t come from him.”
All it took to get Vazquez motivated was his coach challenging him.
“If you’re going to come train with us, you’re going to train,” Campos said. “We don’t do things half way. I don’t let the kids compete unless they’re prepared. It’s a way of life, it’s hard, it’s not for everyone.”
Even when pushed to his limits, “Juan kept coming back” and improving, Campos said. “Some guys advance faster than others and Juan picked things up quickly.”
After shedding pounds and learning the ropes, Vazquez decisively won his first few fights. He was hooked.
“He started to work really hard,” said Campos, who also coaches at Premier Combat Center.
Vazquez’s early bouts were in upper weight divisions. As he moved up in competition, he didn’t have the strength to dominate anymore. He still finished as runner-up at 165 pounds in a national tourney. “He was outsmarting them in there,” Campos said, “but at the end of the day they were too big for him. We decided to go down to 152 and that’s where we’re going to stay. That’s where his body feels more comfortable and he’s at his strongest.”
Should Vazquez eventually turn pro, he’ll fight lighter yet, perhaps at 135-pounds.
So far, Vazquez’s work ethic has not wavered. If it does, Campos will call him on it.
“If you don’t train hard, you’re going to get hurt. One fight can change the rest of your life.”
Campos knows Vaquez dreams of going pro but he also realizes “that could change,” adding, “It’s hard to predict. Things happen in life. You never know what’s going to happen with these kids. I’ve had other Juans in my gym before with his talent. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, they didn’t continue in boxing.”
Like his gym-mates, Vazquez usually depends on donations and scholarships to travel to tournaments. “He doesn’t have the money to do these things,” Campos said. “His mom’s a single mom.” USA Boxing will pay for Vazquez’s and Marco’s Olympic training.
For Campos, it’s not about the titles won but the growth young people make at Jackson’s Boxing Club.
“It inspires me watching these kids develop. It makes me happy. They validate me in what we’re doing. It’s not just me. Coach Christian Trinidad works with the kids, too. Christian used to box for me. He was an outstanding fighter. For medical reasons, he had to stop.”
Trinidad, he said, is “the other half of the coaching we do with Juan – we have brought Juan up together.”
Similarly, Campos said his son and Vazquez “have come up together and make each other better.”
Those two are the most high-profile competitors, but they’re not the only ones making noise at Jackson’s.
“We have a really good crop of fighters who are fighting at a very high level. Five are nationally ranked. I’m not sure if there’s another local gym that can say that.”
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.