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In The Shadow Of Giants, Long Beach Boxer Fights For Olympic Gold

Published: 6/20/2018

Grampas Boxing Gym in Westminster is a shrine to the art of boxing. Photos and drawings of boxing champs past and present line the walls, and the cavernous gym echoes with the sounds of ropes being jumped and heavy bags being hit. 

Here, for three hours a night, middleweight boxer Raul Salomon of Long Beach hones the craft that has earned him three consecutive California Golden Gloves titles, two national Police Athletic League belts, the amateur middleweight championship of northern Baja, California, and many other amateur boxing tournament championships.

Salomon, commonly known as "El Venadito" (Little Deer), trains under the watchful eye of his father, Raul Sr. The two Rauls have already received numerous offers to turn pro but are thinking of first going for a berth on the USA Olympic Boxing Team, which begins its selection process in late October. Either path will require strict discipline and very hard work.

"Boxing is a lonely sport," says Raul Jr. "The long runs, making weight… no one sees that. Like they say, 'champions are made when no one's watching.'"

Raul Sr., a former pro soccer player from Veracruz, Mexico, got Raul Jr. into soccer at age eight, and soon, the younger Salomon found himself often getting into fights with the other players. He jumped at the chance to channel his aggressive instinct into the boxing ring.

"I got hit in the face a couple times," says Raul Jr., "and I fell in love with the sport."

The charismatic and multi-talented fighter—he sings very well and isn't hesitant to demonstrate—is also a solid baseball player, and was the starting catcher on the Wilson High School baseball team in his senior year. Four-hour baseball practices followed by three-hour boxing sessions were wearing the young man out though, so Raul Sr. told him that he would have to choose between the two sports.

Raul Jr. chose boxing, and that decision is paying off handsomely, with an impressive stack of championship belts and a solid foundation for a boxing career. He will be taking some fire science classes this summer, because he'd be just as willing to fight fires for a living as he is willing to fight people.

Raul's mother, Luz, is often at the gym while he trains, too. She has seen every one of Raul's fights and describes herself as "muy orgullosa"—very proud—of her son. Raul's grandmother Alicia says that she feels "very secure about Raul because this young man has his stuff together,” and is “very proud and happy that he's going to be a champion."

Grampas Boxing Gym is run by Jessie Rangel (nicknamed "Grandma" by the fighters), whose late husband Rene founded the gym seven years ago.

"We're very proud of Raul," says Rangel. "Grandma is Grandma and she loves all her kids, but Raul is special because he's 'up there.'"

A large photo of Raul is up there on the wall at Grampas, looming over the ring, not far from a shot of Long Beach's Mando Ramos, the youngest world lightweight boxing champ in the history of the sport. Nearby are photos of two of Raul's favorite boxers, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Raul is keen on taking his place among boxing's champions, and recently fought 35-year-old Argentine WBA welterweight champ, Lucas Matthysse. Raul lost the decision but gained valuable experience fighting Matthysse, who is battling the legendary Manny Pacquaio this summer.

Raul has some fights scheduled leading up to the first Olympic elimination tournament this fall, so he'll be doing his roadwork every morning and spending hours at Grampas. He loves the energy of the gym and the grind required to become a champion.

“It's better to suffer outside the ring," says the young contender, "than inside of it." 

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