Young Boxing Champs Keep Their Eyes on the Prize: A Better Life
Portland Press Herald – March 21, 2016 - Susan Kimball
Gabriel “Tito” Morales and his half brother, Barry Wilson, are pummeling each other.
The boys, both wearing protective headgear, bob and weave, bouncing on the toes of their bright red Nikes as they circle the ring at the Portland Boxing Club.
Tito, 17, may have 30-plus pounds on 12-year-old Barry, but when they spar he doesn’t take it easy on him. That’s not his style.
“If he starts slacking off,” Tito says, “I tell him, ‘If you want to change our family’s life, you gotta work.’ ”
That commitment to hard work – the boys train for three hours every day after school – has paid off.
In February, Tito won the New England Golden Gloves championship in the novice class.
Barry is the New England Junior Champion in his 90-pound weight class.
The brothers are among the best young fighters Portland Boxing Club owner Bob Russo has trained in 25 years.
“At this age,” Russo says, “I’ve never seen anything like their talent.”
That talent has been nurtured since they were toddlers.
The boys’ stepfather – and biggest fan – is Jorge Abiague, the 2008 national Golden Gloves flyweight champion. The Cuban-born Abiague, 36, came to Maine in 1996 – a shy, quiet teenager who found a home at Russo’s boxing club.
Today he has big dreams for his stepsons.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Abiague says. “I want for them something I couldn’t achieve, going to Olympics, world champion, you know?”
Abiague noticed Tito’s talent early on.
“I had a pair of gloves, and I gave them to him when he was like 4 years old. … He was punching perfect.”
It’s the same aptitude Russo saw when Tito first started visiting the boxing club with his stepfather.
“He’s got like a natural radar, the ability to judge distance,” Russo says. “You can’t teach that.”
Barry has that inner compass, too – and, like his brother, a fierce devotion to boxing.
“I’m just happy to be in the ring,” says Barry, a sixth-grader at Lyman Moore Middle School. “I love it.”
Tito, a junior at Deering High School, played basketball for a while but wasn’t a big fan of practicing.
“That’s the difference with boxing,” he says. “I could be at the gym, like, year-round. If I don’t have a fight I still have fun.”
“Fun” is not a word their mother, Elsi, uses to describe watching her sons in the ring.
“When I go to the fights I’m so nervous,” she says. “Especially (with) Barry, because he’s small. … He’s my baby boy.”
But that baby boy can take care of himself.
“He’s got a lot of heart for a little kid,” Tito says of his brother. “He’s grown up with me so he’s used to playing with older kids.”
While the Abiagues are proud of their sons, they’re quick to point out that the boys can quit if they tire of the sport.
But when it comes to school, there’s no such option.
“I’ve told them school is first,” Abiague says. “You need to get an education.”
Tito’s got that covered.
“My grades are excellent,” he says. “I take really hard classes, so I’m going to college, too.”
Both Tito and Barry have their eyes on what they consider the ultimate prize: turning pro. And turning things around for their parents and four sisters.
“We’re not rich, and everything’s not easy for us,” Tito says as he sits in the small living room of the family’s Portland apartment, where a framed newspaper article about Abiague’s 2008 Golden Gloves win is prominently displayed.
“My mom has been working since she was 16, like two, three jobs. So seeing that just gives us a lot of motivation to work hard so when we’re older we can take care of her and give her the life she deserves.”
In the meantime, they’ll continue to focus on the path to get there.
“I do believe that I’m good,” Tito says. “But I believe I can get way better. … So I kind of just stay humble and keep training.”
He pauses and looks at his little brother, sitting beside him.
“When we’re older, you never know. Me and him could be the ones to change everything.”
Unfortunately it takes more then enthusiasm, desire and commitment to sustain a program that produces success like the Portland Boxing Club. If any of these stories inspire you, we ask that you consider donating to the Portland Boxing Club to help us with general operating costs. We rely entirely on donations to operate our facility. Every donation can make a big difference. If you would like to make a donation, please use the link below or contact us a 207-761-0975.