Gabriel Robledo doesn’t give up.
“Right…left…faster,” yells Nicolas Robledo, his father and trainer, as the 17-year-old boxer goes through a sparring session at a community gym in Carson.
Gabriel dedicates more than 20 hours weekly to training at the same gym his father did when he was a teen and he arrives focused on pummeling the punching bags.
Gabriel did not allow a lack of money or upscale training facilities to stand in the way of an invitation to the 2012 Olympic tryouts. He knew that it was a long shot for a novice fighter to get invited, but those who watch him say his physical strength has brought him unexpected success.
Competing at the 2012 Olympics in London seemed far-fetched for Gabriel, who comes from a single-parent home. “Coming from Wilmington we may not have all the money or the right resources,” said Gabriel, “but what we do have is the heart and the strength and faith.”
He began boxing in his garage when he was six with the help of his father, a part-time longshoreman. The fight that changed his life was in Kansas City, Mo., where a recruiter invited him to the 2012 Olympic tryouts after he knocked out his opponent.
Most amateur fighters invited usually have about 150 fights under their belt, said Ivan G. Goldman, former boxing columnist for The Ring Magazine who trains at the same gym as Gabriel. But Gabriel’s unnatural strength and skill at winning a rapid knockout drew attention, and he was invited to compete after just 13 fights, said Goldman.
“I feel honored and glad. It’s a good feeling. Not that many kids can do it, and to be one of those kids, it feels good,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel first fought when he was 15 and is undefeated; winning six fights by knockout with the rest draws and decisions.
“He’s real good, he’s fast and he’s really strong,” said Nelson Melendez, 22, who trains at the same gym.
Gabriel is 5 feet 4, soft-spoken, shy, and seems gentle by the way he interacts with his younger siblings, but he has proven fearless in the ring.
Weighing in at only 110 pounds he has knocked out many of his opponents, something rarely seen at amateur fights, especially at his weight.
“I feel kind of sorry for the guys he fights because none of them have ever faced that kind of power…it’s freakish,” said Goldman.
Gabriel trains daily with his father, who ended his boxing career early after joining a gang – a mistake he does not want Gabriel to repeat.
“I was a teenager once, and I did some negative things, and I just pray and hope that my son doesn’t do the things that I did or even worse,” said Robledo.
Since Gabriel was invited to the Olympic tryouts, which will take place in Colorado Springs in March, he’s had to train more than usual, sacrificing fun time with his friends.
Gabriel attends Banning High School, but he will begin home schooling in order to dedicate more time to training. For a longtime, most of his teachers and colleagues weren’t aware of Gabriel’s boxing. Gabriel never bragged about his successes in the ring.
“There was something about Gabriel that looked different, that inwardness and that athleticism, and I couldn’t picture what he did … but as soon as somebody said a boxer then I was like, that was it!” said Marcy Lischer, Gabriel’s former history teacher at Banning High School.
Nowadays, Gabriel has gained local fame.
When he jogs at the neighborhood park, people recognize him and give him thumbs up. Cars passing by honk to get his attention.
“I think he’s going to be a very good boxer just by the way he does things very methodically. He thinks things through, he seems to have that structure,” said Lischer.
Boxing is a tough and dangerous sport, but Gabriel said he is committed to preparing himself physically and mentally for the competition that could get him closer to his lifetime dream.
“My ultimate goal in pursuing boxing is to go pro with it and make something out of it so everyone can remember me,” Gabriel said.