By Thomas Gerbasi
Perhaps the true test of a fighter’s will and desire doesn’t come in the ring, but when the Thanksgiving dinner bell rings and he or she has to turn away, knowing that weigh-in day is 24 hours away.
That’s the situation junior welterweight prospect Daniel Gonzalez was in this week as he awaits Saturday’s bout with Danny O’Connor at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, but he wasn’t bothered at all.
“I’m not much of an eater at Thanksgiving,” he laughed. “I try to stay healthy all year round, so I try to stay away from things like that. I might have splurged a little bit, but it’s not that big of a deal. Thanksgiving will be after the fight.”
That’s not the attitude the Queens native would have had ten years ago, just before he stepped into a boxing gym for the first time. Back then, it was eat first and ask questions later.
“I used to weigh almost 230 pounds, so I was a little fat boy and I used to splurge all the time on Thanksgiving,” Gonzalez said. “But after boxing, my whole mindset changed, my discipline changed, my life outlook changed. Now it’s no big deal for me.”
Ten years and ninety pounds later, Gonzalez is 14-0-1 with five KOs and on the verge of a big 2018 if he gets by the veteran O’Connor in his first 10-round bout. It may sound like the story of every prospect about to take that step-up fight, but it’s more than that with Gonzalez, considering his move to boxing had nothing to do with winning world titles, but to change his life. Within a month, that mindset changed.
“I first joined the gym just to lose weight and within the first month, I lost almost 40 pounds,” he said. “I really went into it and got so obsessed about it. And I think the first sparring session we had, my coach, Moses Roman Jr., was like, ‘There’s something special about you. You’ve got something.’ I just went in the sparring session and threw a million punches and didn’t know what I was doing (Laughs), but I stood there, and the guy was more experienced, but I kinda beat him up. After that, I thought, ‘Maybe I like this.’”
A decent amateur run followed, and in September 2012, he turned pro with a second-round TKO of Anthony Smith. But as the wins piled up, maybe that whole world title thing wasn’t so far-fetched.
“Initially, I just wanted to fight, win fights, and it was more of a hobby,” Gonzalez said. “Then as I grew and I started winning more and I realized how much work I was putting into it and how much I loved it – I loved the training, I loved the running, I loved the sacrifice. People don’t realize that every camp, every time you go through training, the way you think changes. It made life have a purpose, it made life more enjoyable than it was before. It gave me something to do every day because I had a dream, and the dream just grew. And it kept growing as I got better and achieved more, and it seemed more realistic.
“I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” he continues. “And I have a dream to become world champion, so I’m gonna go after it and give it everything I have and live life with no regrets.”
Changing his life the first time a decade ago was an accomplishment in itself. And now as he’s chasing another life change, he feels he’s right on time, with the motivation coming from the outside as well as within to get to that championship level.
“I’m a big guy on listening to motivational speakers like Eric Thomas, Les Brown and stuff like that,” he said. “And they always tell this story about a Chinese bamboo tree. Basically, it stays in the ground for five years and you have to water it and take care of it every day, but you don’t see it come out until the fifth year. In the fifth year, it grows like a hundred feet in a few weeks. It’s similar to my story and it’s funny because I’ve been pro for five years.”
And here comes his biggest fight to date against O’Connor, the 32-year-old New England veteran who is 2-0 since a 2015 loss to Gabe Bracero. The Framingham southpaw is making what could be his last run at a belt, so he’s expected to come out with all guns blazing on Saturday. That’s just fine with Gonzalez, who has his own response to that possibility.
“People know me already, they’ve seen me fight,” he said. “I’m a pressure fighter, I’m coming to work and throw a lot of punches and I’m coming to break you. This is my first ten-round fight, so I feel like I have an advantage. Most people won’t think that, but I have an advantage because I have ten rounds to make you rethink your life and say, ‘Man, maybe I don’t want to do this.’ My goal is to make him realize he’s done and he don’t got it now more and there’s a new guy coming up. That’s my mission in this fight.”
So for Gonzalez, it’s not all physical in the ring. In fact, the way he sees it, it’s all about the mental game and where a fighter can push himself in the ring.
“The human body is only meant to do certain things, and once you take it to a certain point, then it’s just your mind, and how strong is your mind?” he asks. “Everyone has conditioning and is in shape, but there’s a different level when you’re exhausted. Who’s gonna stop? Who’s gonna give in? My goal is to make the other person exhausted and make him quit. I’ve done it before and I’m sure I can do it again.”
Sounds like a fight is about to break out in Uncasville, and the 27-year-old Gonzalez welcomes a war.
“Everyone has the will to win, everybody wants to win,” he said. “But people don’t have the will to prepare, take your whole life, all year round, and devote it to something. That’s the difference. I’m willing to pay the price to prepare and I’m also willing to deal with whatever I’ve got to deal with in there. I’ve been through ups and downs in life and it’s made me really strong. So mentally, I know I’m on a different level than everyone else.”