Photo via Westside Boxing
In the summer of 2014, amid the sweltering 90-degree heat of Los Angeles, California, Rafael Gramajo walked into the Westside Boxing Club in search of a new team and a second chance at a professional career.
The journey from his hometown of Garden City, Kansas, had been long and arduous, filled with the contingencies of a sport that can make or break a young fighter.
Gramajo, however, was not broken.
The 25-year-old Featherweight is on a better track now with his new team—the Saucedo Brothers—and will fight on the undercard of the March 20 showdown between Alfonso Gomez and Yoshihiro Kamegai at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
Getting the opportunity to finally fight on a Golden Boy card took a lot of twists and turns, but Gramajo is excited about the opportunity.
RBRBoxing sat with Gramajo to learn a little about his journey.
A Young Start in Garden City
Gramajo’s story starts at the young age of 11 while training at one of the prominent gyms in his hometown.
“I started at the age of 11. We had two gyms—one was Garden City Boxing Club, the other was Bad Boys Boxing Club. We had a coach—Ignacio “Bucky” Avila—at Garden City Boxing club. That’s where it all started,” said Gramajo.
The gym was also home to the likes of Brandon Rios and Victor Ortiz, the latter of whom was trained by Avila.
“I trained around them [Ortiz and Rios]. I was just a young kid and they were a little older than I was, but we were around the same people and same coaches,” said Gramajo.
Avila was a well-known boxing coach and manager of the gym. He taught Gramajo the fundamentals of the sport and was in his corner for nearly 40 amateur fights.
Unfortunately, Avila passed away when Gramajo was only 14 years old and things at his old gym were never the same again for him.
Gramajo left the Kansas City Boxing Club to train at the Bad Boys Boxing Club where, under the guidance of Robert Gonzalez, competed in major tournaments such as the Golden Gloves and the Blue & Gold Tournaments in the Bantamweight and Featherweight division.
Gramajo had around 100 amateur fights when he decided it was time to turn pro, and left Garden City to pursue his career.
“That was a choice I had to make to go on with my career. I chose to move on. I went on an adventure to look for some kind of professional management. That’s when I moved to Ann Harbor, Michigan with Eric McGuire. He got me started professionally,” said Gramajo.
McGuire trained and managed Gramajo for his first three professional fights, but Gramajo noted that his management wasn’t doing the best job in ensuring that he have a chance at a successful career.
Good management is necessary for a young fighter to develop into a contender and potential champion, but often times managers either are too inexperienced or are merely looking into their own best interests rather than fighter’s.
Gramajo doesn’t like to point any figures and realizes that he was relatively new to the game.
“As far as what was management, I wasn’t aware. I was new to the game. I didn’t exactly know what was going on. I felt I was ready and I wanted to turn pro, but I didn’t know I was making the wrong move.”
Despite his move, Gramajo would win his first fight via knockout in Round 2.
“We took care of business and knocked the guy out in the second round. We went on from there, we went back to training,” said Gramajo.
The following two fights, however, did not go Gramajo’s way and the fighter blames his previous management’s ineptitude.
“From thereon, I had to make another choice. I decided to go back home and think things through,” said Gramajo.
Moving to Los Angeles
Gramajo moved back to Garden City and, after a year of thinking things through, decided to give his professional career another shot.
“That’s when the big move to LA happened. I had to make the move out here and find somebody that I could trust and, now that I was in the game a little bit, I felt I could see and know who would be the right persons to train and manage me,” said Gramajo.
“I looked around and I found the Westside Boxing Club with the Saucedo brothers, who are now training me and managing me. I’ve been here since the summer of last year and everything has been going great. I feel totally different. I feel like a whole new boxer,” said a rejuvenated Gramajo.
Gramajo credits his new trainers Jose and Nacho–the Saucedo Brothers–for getting him back into fighting shape and for pushing him to be a better fighter.
The Saucedo Brothers, whose along with their father, Jose Manuel Saucedo, own the Westside Boxing Club, also train Featherweight prospect and Golden Boy Promotions fighter Nick Arce, with whom Gramajo trains and spars.
“As far as dedication, they’re always there for me. They push me. They make me feel strong and they make me feel like they’re there for me. We’re up at six in the morning and we get up to run and do sprints. That’s a totally new thing for me—I never really did sprints. These guys, they motivate me, they get me and pick me up. They push me to be at the gym. It’s a totally different experience,” said Gramajo.
Indeed, when Gramajo first arrived at Westside, he told the Saucedo brothers that he’d spent most of his career fighting at or around 125 and 126 pounds.
When asked a few months later about making 122 pounds–the weight he’d potentially fight at if he were to earn a title shot–Gramajo said he didn’t know.
This past Friday, with over a week until the weigh-in, Gramajo had unexpectedly made 122, a few pounds below his contracted limit. The pounds are dropping and his six-pack stands out like never before.
Needless to say, Gramajo is in the best shape of his life and with the hard work of him and his team, is focusing on making the most of his second chance.
“I’m willing to prove that I have something and I want to show everyone what I’ve really got,” said Gramajo.
“I’ve tightened up on a whole lot of things and we’re ready for March 20.”