Ben Orozco bounced on his toes, his aggression fixed on the padded hands before him.
His trainer, Jose Ojeda, stood in the Police Athletic League gym’s ring with him, providing his targets.
“1-2, jab,” Ojeda instructed. “1-2, jab.”
Orozco ducked under a swinging hand, then nailed a combination, three punches all in one giant motion.
“Ughh,” Ojeda said. “I felt that one.”
Body shots are the casualties Ojeda has come to accept, even at 39, even after training Orozco, a 17-year-old Riverdale senior, for the past nine years. It’s part of the job.
“You get the wind knocked out of you sometimes,” he says.
But in this moment, any eagerness is celebrated.
This training session on Tuesday marked one of the duos last in Fort Myers as they wrapped a two-month long training program.
Orozco will compete in the Pathway to the Podium Qualifier III in Memphis, Tennessee, at the Cook Convention Center this week with a chance to qualify for the USA Olympic Trials in November. He flew Saturday with Ojeda and will weigh in Monday, when he will also find out his first opponent.
His first fight will take place Tuesday, and hopefully from there, he says, “I want to win.”
Orozco enters the qualifier, which takes place over five days, young but seasoned. He’s 43-11 over his amateur career, with a handful of championships and top placements to his resume, including a fourth-place finish at the 2015 PAL Championships in Oxnard, California.
The event takes place in conjunction with the women’s Olympic Trials, where Fort Myers Native Tiara Brown hopes to become the first boxer in city history to qualify for the Olympics Games, which take place next year in Rio de Janeiro.
The men’s tournament will feature boxers as young as 17 and men as old as 39. Orozco has fought mostly at 125 pounds over the last few years, but moved up to 132 to fight in the lightweight division. In June, he fought at the first Pathway to the Podium qualifier in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but came away empty handed.
Fort Myers fighter Orozco ready for Olympic qualifier
By Monday at 7 a.m., he will need to be at fighting weight, which will be just five days after Orozco weighed in at 138. He says his normal weight is around 143.
“Back when we first started, we thought losing weight was that ‘We have three weeks to fight, we have to be this weight,’” Ojeda said. “But that’s not the way it goes. We learned.”
Since then, old-school traditions have been thrown away. Like turning up the heat inside a hot van during a humid day to sweat out pounds, Ojeda said. Or simply eating less over a given period.
That’s not how they do it anymore.
“What you have to do, you have to eat more,” Ojeda says. “He already knows he has to eat, where to eat, what to eat, at the times you have to eat to lose weight.”
Prepared for Memphis
Right now in this moment, Ojeda says, Orozco is in peak physical shape. For the last two months, he’s woken up five days a week at his Riverdale Shores home and run three miles, a mile and a half up one empty street, then back around the other way.
He trains five days a week, flipping tires out of the PAL gym, jumping rope, running through agility drills. The work augments his exhaustive boxing, which see the teenager going to the heavy bag, hitting the speed bag, running through combinations with Ojeda and sparring with others.
This is the mental part of the sport Orozco understands. You have to put in the work to see the results.
“Boxing, it challenges you mentally,” he says. “Because a lot of the time, you could be training as hard as you want, running as long as you want. But if you’re not prepared mentally, you can lose a fight after all that work.”
That understanding wasn’t always there. At first he was just a 9-year-old kid who wanted to box. His father, Felipe, had suggested he give it a try after the pair watched a fight on television.
“I said, ‘Let me pick something that not many other people do,’” Orozco said. “I picked boxing.”
At first, like most new to the sport, he feared what most kids fear: Getting hit. But over the years, after becoming comfortable in the ring, those nerves just went away. By 12, he was on the other end of the pendulum, hitting someone so hard they dropped to their knees.
“They put me in with an older kid and I’m like, ‘Oh man, this is going to be tough. He’s going to drop me,’” said Orozco, who was 12 at the time. “And I hit a kid with a body shot. And I said, ‘What happened?’ He ended up quitting.”
Determined from the start
Orozco is quiet. He’s known for it. His former trainer said he was ‘silent but deadly.’” When he first started fighting, he barely spoke. “He was real quiet and didn’t talk at all,” Ojeda said.
But from the beginning, he loved the sport. He used to arrive at PAL ready to fight.
“Back in the day, we struggled,” Ojeda said. “We had less and tore up gloves. Whoever was there first got the good pair of gloves. But everyone wasted so much time wrapping. He would wrap his hands before he got there so he got the gloves. He wanted it.”
It didn’t take long for Ojeda to see the commitment Orozco would bring to the ring.
“You can tell when a kid has it,” he said. “You got to. He had something. The way he worked on stuff. He wanted to learn how to jab right. He’s a kid who’s so focused. You tell him something. He listened.”
Over the years, the pair have grown close working with one another. By now, Orozco says he considers Ojeda a mentor, but some days they seem more like brothers.
“When you’re in this sport, you need someone close to you and someone you can trust,” Ojeda said. “Not only am I a coach to him, I’m a friend to him.”
Outside the gym, Ojeda encourages Orozco to do the things a normal teenager would do, like take senior pictures or go to the prom. He’s met with Riverdale counselors with Orozco to go over college options.
But when Orozco wants to set up training during an off day, Ojeda won’t argue, either.
“One day I’ll be like, ‘Let’s do sprints or cardio in the pool,’” he said. “He’ll be at my house 20 minutes later.”
It’s what Ojeda says he would do for anyone at the gym. He, too, was a boxer once and understands what fighters like Orozco go through. So he tries to prepare as much as he can.
Finding the right urgency
That includes sparring with professionals. Ojeda thinks it’s one of the best ways to expose Orozco to different styles in the ring. So they’ve traveled to Dade County, Haines City and St. Petersburg. Orozco has boxed against fighters as old as 26.
The work builds ring experience, but it also adds toughness. Because at the USA Qualifiers, boxers don’t wear headgear. Orozco has been fighting without it for a year.
Yet, all that work leads up to a few moments in the ring – each bout going three rounds of three minute frames. Orozco will have only a few chances to really make a name for himself in Memphis, to prove he belongs.
“We know what to expect,” Ojeda said. “We have to go in there and we have to take it. Basically that’s it.”
Orozco says he’s not worried, despite each fight having its own kind of urgency. He won’t think about losing.
“I put it like this,” Orozco said. “At the end of the day, my hard work beat this kid’s hard work. If I worked harder than him, I’ll know it.”