Northfield is home to many attractions that evoke feelings of peace and tranquil- ity, so when this small, quiet town comes to mind, professional boxing doesn’t typically accompany it. However, thanks to a passion- ate St. Olaf professor and an equally passion- ate boxing champion, that could change.
On Sept. 17, English professor Carlos Gallego coached local boxer Vicente Alfaro to victory in his defense of the Minnesota State Jr. Featherweight boxing title against the formerly undefeated Jonathan Perez. Alfaro, now 8-4, knocked Perez out in the fifth round, the latest chapter in an underdog story for a boxer and trainer who are quickly becoming the pride of Northfield athletics and Minnesota’s boxing circuit.
Alfaro grew up in Mexico where his father instilled the values of work ethic and tenac- ity and began boxing at age six. He moved to Minnesota 14 years later and met former trainer and St. Olaf philosophy professor Gordon Marino, who previously held a pro- fessional boxing contract and worked with Angelo Dundee, the famous trainer of box- ing legend Muhammad Ali. Alfaro felt his passion for the sport reignited after meeting Marino, and the two joined forces in pursuit of a professional boxing career for the young man.
Gallego also gained experience at a young age. Growing up in Nogales, Ariz., he earned a black belt in kung fu and then, about a decade ago, decided to translate those skills into boxing. When he moved to Minnesota and started teaching at St. Olaf in 2011, Gallego met Marino and Alfaro. Marino invited him to assit in Alfaro’s training after learning of Gallego’s boxing background. Together, the two professors coached the young boxing protege to a comeback vic- tory in February following a two-year hiatus, winning by unanimous decision over previ- ously undefeated John Franklin.
Although Marino and Alfaro split ways back in June, Gallego remained with Alfaro to carry out the preparation for the title defense fight against Perez. And prepare they did, albeit through unconventional means. Whereas boxers dwelling in big cit- ies take advantage of prestigious training gyms and sparring partners, Alfaro trained for months in Gallego’s cramped garage, his only training opponent an English pro- fessor turned punching bag. His makeshift training environment, small-town status and Mexican heritage eventually earned him the nickname of “Mexican Rocky,” inspired by the famous Sylvester Stallone film about the underdog boxer who became an inspira- tional icon.
The English professor set new goals and used positive motivation to maintain Alfaro’s mental focus and avoid complacency, much in the way he uses the idea of work ethic to motivate his students at St. Olaf.
“Regardless of whether you think you have natural talents or natural intelligence, if you don’t discipline and polish that with hard work and dedication, it could literally be wasted,” Gallego said.
This philosophy heavily influenced his training with Alfaro. Gallego preached that that becoming the champion is never the end of the road and that there’s always more to be done.
“I remind him, ‘You’re a champion, but let’s see if you really are one,’” Gallego said. “You’re never really a champion until you defend your championship.”
Alfaro quickly proved that his champion instinct remained very much alive in his convincing win against Perez. Months of training and mental preparation had paid off thanks to careful study of Perez’s habits and Alfaro’s overwhelming strength.
“From the corner/trainer perspective it lit-
erally went according to the blueprint, which included respecting Jonathan’s speed but pressuring him nonetheless,” Gallego said.
The boxing duo plans to take a short hiatus. Although they received fight offers immediately after the fight, they are wait- ing to see if a different bout develops in December in Las Vegas where they would face off against a top-ten contender. Victory on that stage would net them a precious chance to fight for the World Title belt in 2017. Becoming the world champion is Alfaro’s dream, a lifelong goal which is now closer than ever for the boxer and his coach thanks to intense work ethic and many hours spent training in a humble garage.
For now, Gallego, who runs the St. Olaf Boxing Club, hopes to invite more students to participate in the sport that teaches so effectively the work ethic that Alfaro dis- plays. He sees many personal values reflected in the student boxers on campus and is eager for the club to grow.
“Come and give boxing a try,” Gallego said. “It’s a great sport that teaches individu- als a lot about their lives and themselves. I think boxing helps people overcome a vari- ety of fears and how to deal with adversity.”