There are hungry boxers, and then there are boxers who fight hungry. Junior welterweight prospect Jose Peralta Alejo has been both.
It wasn’t long ago that the now 22-year-old Alejo (9-1, 5 knockouts) was living with his infant daughter, Tiffany, and girlfriend in a green ’97 Nissan Maxima, which he parked near the Passaic Police Athletic League in New Jersey, dreaming of the prosperity that comes with a successful boxing career. The mean faces he encountered once leaving his car to train weighed heavily on his mind as he entrusted all of his worldly belongings to their mercy.
“I didn’t like parking the car because I was watching a lot of people in the group with too many tattoos on their necks and faces, yelling too much and we didn’t feel safe,” said Alejo, who faces Christian Steele (3-4, 1 KOs) this Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., underneath the Tomasz Adamek-Travis Walker heavyweight main event.
Alejo, known as “Mangu” to his friends, was born in the Dominican Republic but raised in Puerto Rico, where he excelled as an amateur boxer, winning gold at the 2008 Junior Pan American Games in Ecuador. Alejo began his pro career in Puerto Rico, making it to 3-1, with the lone loss coming to Walter Castillo in Castillo’s hometown of Managua, Nicaragua. Despite knocking Castillo down in the second round, Alejo ended up on the short end of a majority decision that he disputes to this day. Today Castillo is 18-2 and rated in the top 15 by the WBA at 140 pounds.
Times were hard, and with little family to help him and his growing family, Alejo and co. flew to Lynn, Massachusetts, where his mother lived in a senior citizens home. There they stayed for a month, before building restrictions forced them to leave.
Alejo knew just one way to earn a living: with his fists. Looking for the next place to search for a better life, Alejo texted his former trainer Michael Skowronski, a former Arturo Gatti assistant. Skowronski implored him to come train with him, and with just $200 to his name, Alejo drove down to New Jersey.
“I was training during those struggle days because I was thinking about getting a fight to get money and rent a bedroom for us,” said Alejo. “During those days I couldn’t sleep at all. I was making sure that my family were protected by me. When I fell asleep the sun was right on my face. My body was sore but I kept going to the gym.”
Eventually Skowronski caught wind of Alejo’s plight and allowed him and the family to take up temporary refuge in the gym. With help from some friends, Alejo, his girlfriend and baby found a room to live in.
Alejo hadn’t fought in about a year and a half when manager Pat Lynch, who had steered the career of Arturo Gatti and a number of other upstarts, took note of the hard-working fighter in the gym. Lynch offered him a spot on a boxing event he was affiliated with on October 30, 2010, but it’d be no easy tryout. The opponent was Christian Martinez, a 4-0 prospect who had won the New York Daily News Golden Gloves and was signed with promoter Top Rank.
“I wasn’t scared, I was ready to get what is mine,” said Alejo.
Martinez, who had knocked out all four of his previous opponents, started the fight strong by nearly knocking Alejo down with a damaging left hook in round two. Alejo, who was fighting in his first six round bout, recovered, and boxing behind his left jab, began to beat the straight-ahead Martinez to the punch. Alejo counterpunched effectively for the rest of the fight and was awarded a unanimous decision.
After the fight, Martinez left all of his gear in the locker room and hasn’t fought since.
The win earned Alejo a manager in Lynch, and the following year he signed with New Jersey-based promoter Main Events. He has since won five straight, but had to find a new trainer when Skowronski left the boxing business to work in the security industry.
Alejo is now training with Alex Devia, who in addition to creating standout junior Olympic amateurs also constructs the ring for Main Events and other local promoters. This will be Devia and Alejo’s first fight together.
“Without a doubt, he is one of the hardest working kids I’ve been with,” said Devia, a taskmaster known for his grueling conditioning work. “Whatever you tell him to do, he does it 100 percent. He just wants to please you.”
Lynch has already planned out the next six months of Alejo’s career.
“He is going to fight again in December, then we are stepping him up and putting him on the NBC [Sports Network] show some time early next year,” said Lynch. “He is the kind of kid you enjoy working with because he will fight anybody.”
Today, Alejo is hardly living in luxury. He rents a two-bedroom attic apartment without a bathroom or kitchen, but it’s far better than where he was in the not-so-distant past, and it leaves him with something greater to strive for.
“I’m not as comfortable as I want, but I’m better than yesterday,” said Alejo. “I’d rather be here than go back to the car. I’m working so hard every single day of my life to give my family the life they deserve. A better life.”
Photo / Main Events
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
You can vote for Songalia in the Outstanding Filipino Americans of NY Awards media/publishing category via Facebook: http://bit.ly/VOTE4RYAN