I AM really settled in Seattle now but it hasn’t always been that way. For real long periods in my life all my family did was move around, from one place to the next, because my dad wanted the best for me and my brother, Jose.
My early life was spent in a place called Phoenix in Arizona, but everyday felt the same when I was living there. The weather was always hot and the coolest day would still be around 75 degrees so when you live in somewhere like Seattle then you appreciate the variety in weather. Out of all the places I’ve lived, and believe me there’s been a lot, this is where I’ve been the happiest.
My father first put boxing gloves on me when I was three years old and I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. My father wasn’t a boxer when he was a young man, but he loved the sport and he was desperate for me and my brother to be fighters. That was always a big dream for him and you could tell how proud he was whenever me or my brother achieved something in the sport. My dad took the family everywhere when Jose – now a welterweight contender – was fighting in tournaments throughout the country because boxing became the family business in a way. There were jobs and school, things like that, but I always believed that boxing was so important to my dad that he gave everything to get me and my brother ahead in the sport.
I loved watching boxers as I grew up. My favourite was Prince Naseem Hamed. It was something else the way he could combine being a fighter with being a showman, and I learnt from Hamed that boxing has more layers than just being a fighter. There was a duty to entertain and put on a display and I don’t think anyone pulled that off quite like Hamed. All I did was watch boxing and I was impressed by many fighters, but Hamed was the one that stood out for me.
Another fighter I loved growing up was Marco Antonio Barrera but whenever I watch his fight with Hamed, even now, I’m getting angry with him because I loved Hamed so much and wanted him to win! There’s a documentary on that fight on YouTube where it reveals Hamed isn’t putting it all into training. There’s a bit in the documentary where they interview Emanuel Steward and he’s so honest about Hamed’s poor preparation.
As a teenager, I weighed around 260lbs at one point, but because of my experience going everywhere with my dad and spending so much time in gyms, I could look after myself against bigger guys. The sparring I got as a young man growing up in this sport was going to take me a lot further than any school education could.
I decided to make boxing the most important thing in my life the way my dad and brother had. School just wasn’t for me. I was bright, but there was just too much there that didn’t interest me and I believed I had a great chance of becoming a success in boxing.
The gym was always where I’d rather be instead of school. It’s hard putting into words the type of experience I picked up when on the road with my family. California was a special place for me growing up. I was big for a young kid, but I could fight, and the amount of world champions that would use me for sparring when I was still a kid learning was one way to boost my confidence. My amateur career was nowhere near the level of my brother’s, but I made sure that I was always learning in the gym and made every single sparring session count.
Can you imagine being an overweight teenager sparring top fighters in California like Kelly Pavlik, Gennady Golovkin and Peter Quillin? That was some crazy s**t and I still can’t believe how blessed I am to be able to have such an experience like that. These weren’t contenders or guys just playing with boxing, this was as real as it gets, they were champions, and it showed me at such a young age what was going to be required if I wanted to get to the top and make my dad proud. You can’t begin to explain how valuable those sessions were to me back then and even today when I look how far I’ve come.
Pavlik was such a good fighter. The way he fought in his biggest fights was exactly what he was like in the gym. He was a tough guy who loved to fight and he had power in both hands. His jab made you realise the level he was at immediately. Golovkin was another tough fighter who knew how to punch and the same can be said about “Kid Chocolate.”
These were world champions in a hard division who were seen as punchers and I was there with them, so desperate to prove myself. I’d like to think that I impressed them back then and hopefully they’re all happy that I went on to do alright for myself.
Turning professional with my dad in my corner still makes me smile today. I was 16 when I went to the pros so I had to fight across the border in Mexico like a few young American fighters have done in the past. Fighting grown men as a 16-year-old made me feel bigger and older than the age I really was, but it was those times I had spent in the gym with great fighters helped me overcome the guys down in Mexico and there was never a time where it felt like I was a boy going in with men.
I felt close to a world title around 2016 or 2017 and it was at a time when 168 was deep with great fighters. James DeGale and Badou Jack had a great fight in New York. There was the likes of myself and Callum Smith right behind trying to become world champions and put our own marker down on the division. I finally got that chance to be world champion in 2017 when I beat Ronald Gavril on points in a tough fight. Since winning the WBC title, I’ve not looked back.
Being world champion has allowed me to take the rewards from what has been virtually a lifetime in boxing and the sacrifices made by myself and my family have all been worth it so far.
I’m still a young fighter who’s learning and at 23 my best years are most definitely ahead of me. I have a young son who is due to be born on September 4 and that is going to be another reason for me to give my all to this sport.
My motivation has always been to be the best and to make my family so proud of me. You see the way people have fallen over themselves in the past to recognise the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De Lay Hoya and Manny Pacquiao as the best fighters in boxing? That’s what I want.
Being world champion has been my proudest moment as a fighter, but I want to take on all-comers until people say that I’m the best fighter in the sport.
Benavidez on British super-middleweights
I actually love him as a fighter and that’s the biggest praise I can give him at this moment. His rise was very impressive and the way he looked after himself in that World Series tournament was something that really stood out. He was favoured to do well in that, but I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the way he went through George Groves. Smith can fight several ways and his inside stuff is so good for such a tall guy. Me and Smith is the best fight in the division right now and I’d love the opportunity to prove that I’m number one against him.
Billy Joe Saunders
Saunders is something of a veteran in boxing these days so that means he’s done a lot and he’s seen a lot. A fighter like that is always going to be a dangerous opponent. He seems like he’s all in for a fight with Canelo, but that could be any fighter from middleweight to light-heavy so who knows what’s going to happen there? If it’s a fight that can be made then I’d certainly like the opportunity to take the challenge on.
Chris Eubank Jnr
There’s some losses on the record of Chris Eubank Jnr, but he’s a fighter who always backs himself so he’ll always be in fights until the very end because he’s 100mph. It feels like Eubank Jnr has been around the top level a long time so he’d have no problem at all mixing it with the champions and top guys at 168 if he decides to make the move here full time. He’s one of a number of top fighters in Britain at the moment and going over there to fight any of them is alright by me.