By Austin Killeen
When I think of my earliest memories, I think of Springfield, Massachusetts. I was was born and raised there and many of my cousins also lived there. For the most part my memories were happy ones. All of my little playmates had similar backgrounds. Irish and Italians made up the majority of the population, but we had Polish, French, Greek, etc. Almost all of my little friends were first or second generation children of parents or grandparents who had migrated from Western Europe. For the most part all of us had very little difficulty speaking English and easily mixed in with each other. Sadly that’s not the same experience that many small Mexican born children experience today; the result of being brought here as babies from Mexico. This isn’t a story about building twenty foot walls, families hiding in the shadows or people living in poverty. It’s about a young man I met seven years ago when he was seventeen.
Christian Cabral is the third oldest of six children, and was born in Zacatecas, Mexico. Zacatecas is located in the north central part of the country. Noted for it rich deposits of silver and other minerals by Native Americans, it was developed as a mining camp in the mid-16th century by Spanish explorers. Hard core boxing fans also know the city as the birth place of Yaqui Lopez, the light heavyweight contender of the late seventies and early eighties. I’m sure Cabral knew little of Lopez when as a four year old his little feet first touched soil in the state of Idaho. His father brought him there and they stayed with his grandmother. Little Christian didn’t have to be an expert in barometric pressures to know that the “Potato State” is a lot colder than Zacatecas. Cabral also learned very quickly that most of the kids at school had no idea what he was saying when he tried to talk to them.
Fortunately his mother’s side of the family had relatives in Albuquerque and he soon found himself living in the “Duke City.” Suddenly Cabral had a lot of little friends who also spoke Spanish as well as English and learning English made life more tolerable. Christian soon discovered he had natural leadership qualities, but not as part of the school debate team. The kind of disputes he was involved in were settled on the playground and after school. Cabral quickly realized he had two compelling points to settle any argument; a left and a right. This resulted in new problems for Zacatecas’s native son and by middle school he was identified as a major disruptive force in the school system. Compounding the problem, his middle school was one of the worst in the state.
Luckily this particular middle school had a principal and a school resource officer who believed they could make changes that would turn things around. The school resource officer assigned to the school by the Albuquerque Police Department was Ray Zamora. Ray spoke to the school principal about the possibility of acquiring some used boxing equipment for an after school program. The principal, Mary Cade, loved the idea of rechanneling this negative outlook on the part of some students into a more positive attitude. In fact she suggested a student for the program by the name of Christian Cabral. As they like to say in the movies, it proved to be a match made in heaven. When I asked Christian about this, he said; “Ray Zamora became my first and only boxing coach.” He also had high regard for the principal Mary Cade because she saw what he could be not what he was.
I witnessed Cabral’s pro debut, on December 2, 2011, a majority decision over Shaun Lee Henson at the Route 66 Casino. “El Puma” quickly scored three more wins all by stoppage. In his fifth bout, on October 27, 2012, his opponent was Michael Coca Gallegos who had an unblemished record of ten bouts and ten loses. Surprisingly all the local boxing trainers and managers were calling this a dangerous assignment for Cabral. I couldn’t figure what all the hype was about; it looked like the promoter was trying to sell dish water as ice tea. I would soon learn Gallegos was an anomaly to the sport, whose boxing record was mostly the result of fighting on the ‘B’ side of most boxing promotions. Christian commented “I considered Gallegos to be the first significant opponent of my career.”
In the opening two rounds Cabral looked like Mr. Slick giving Gallegos a boxing lesson, and looked to be on his way to an easy win. The bout did a one eighty when an overhand right exploded off “El Puma’s” jaw in the opening seconds of the third round. Suddenly Cabral looked like the first Hispanic Astronaut to be sent to the moon and he was flying there without the benefit of a rocket ship. Somehow he was able to survive the round in spite of Gallegos’ bad intentions. The fourth round was a track meet with Cabral running backwards. In the final two rounds both boxers were at their best and the decision was called a draw. Showing many of my friends a video of the fight, about 60 percent of them agreed with a draw verdict. The other 40 percent were split down the middle in selecting a winner. Clearly it was the fight of the night on that evening.
Christian’s next bout was against undefeated Donald Sanchez who also was a very successful MMA fighter. Once again the boxing community felt Sanchez would prove to be too much for Cabral, with his corner man Ray Zamora the only dissenting vote. Leading up to the fight I had the opportunity to talk with Sanchez, who like Gallegos is a classy person. He explained to me the importance of having a junk day. Basically you eat clean six days a week with one day is set aside for pigging out. The theory being you’ll have the discipline to eat correctly if you can break the dietary rules once every seven days.
Although Cabral and Sanchez are both nice people, there friendliness did not extend to each other. At the weight in I thought they would start throwing punches while standing on the scale. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and they entered the ring before any punches were thrown. From the opening bell Cabral was able to handle the pressure of Sanchez’s infighting, while controlling the action at long range. For his part Sanchez never became discouraged and just keep pressing forward. Sanchez persistence was finally rewarded in the final round when he exploded a right cross to Cabral’s body. Suddenly Cabral was in big trouble and his feet appeared to be incased in cement. It was a big round for Sanchez, but he was unable to drop his foe in the final round.
Before the verdict was announced Sanchez grabbed Cabral’s arm and raised it the air, in a gesture of victory. Although the bitterness displayed before the fight was real, so was Sanchez’s gesture of sportsmanship after the bout. The Cabral express was heading down the tracks at break neck speed, but around the bend someone had placed a rather large bolder labeled Joe Gomez.
On June 28, 2013 Cabral faced the veteran Gomez. It would be the first time Cabral would be entering the deep end of the pool against an opponent who had 27 pro fights versus his 7 bouts. Christian clearly won the opening round, but did he actually win it or was Gomez just sizing him up. Each round Gomez seemed to be picking up the pace, while Cabral failed to answer with something new of his own. By the fourth round, even Cabral’s relatives would have had a difficult time awarding him a round. Pinned on the ropes in the fifth round, Cabral was on the receiving end of a Gomez attack. Seeing that Cabral was not throwing anything in return, the referee halted the contest. Although Christian was no longer undefeated he was not disappointed. Commenting on the fight he said; “I thought I proved something because Gomez had fought some pretty tough guys.”
Following the loss to Gomez, Cabral has had only three bouts in the last four years. At times I felt he was wasting his future and seemed to lack any goals. I’ve always liked Christian, but time waits for no one. Even if Cabral was unaware of what was going on around him, it was obvious he would be celebrating his thirtieth birthday before he would be celebrating number twenty again. He kept telling me how he was going to fight this opponent or that rival, but I just thought it was a lot of words and little more.
But things have changed and Christian seems to be focused again. A young lady by the name of Michelle, who Christian had known since he was a teenager, made him a proud father of a little boy by the name of Jeremiah. On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending their nuptials, where Michelle and Christian became husband and wife in front of family and friends. It’s obvious from observing them; they want the very best for their little boy. Also Cabral displays a maturity that was missing early in his career. Sometimes the sum is greater than its parts, with Michelle and Christian 1 + 1 = 3.
I have no idea how far his new dedication will take him, but you will never find where you’re going if you’re on the wrong road to begin with. Although they were not world beaters, “El Puma’s” three bout win streak has shown he still has some fire in his belly. Watching him in the gym, Cabral has new found dedication. Regardless what task he works on, he repeats it over and over again until he gets it right.
Regardless how far Christian’s boxing career takes him, he’s already successful in my book. Christian has a beautiful family and a little boy who calls him daddy. The highest honor a father can have is a loving child who calls him dad.