Meet Tony Luis, one of Montreal’s hottest young prospects, who balances a burgeoning boxing career with a full time job helping young men and women with drug and alcohol issues.
By Gary Purfield
Boxing is an international sport. All over the world young prospects ply their trade in the gym and on the road as they work for their chance to make it to the top. Many of these prospects come with interesting and varying stories to tell. Something about the sport of boxing attracts and draws those who have a fire inside them, an overwhelming desire to compete, test their abilities, and make a difference for themselves and others.
In recent years Canada, specifically the city of Montreal, has become a hotbed for boxing like no other spot in the world. While hockey will always reign supreme in the area, boxing has become a major attraction often drawing the eyes of the world with stars such as Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal.
Outside of Montreal, in Cornwall Ontario Canada, another talented young prospect is emerging with thoughts of becoming a champion and dreams of being a star in Canada as well as the United States. Twenty three year old junior welterweight Tony Luis 13-0 (5 KO) has begun making a name for himself in Canada as fighter to watch. Luis is well-spoken and well accomplished in and outside of the ring. I had the opportunity to talk with Tony recently to discuss his background in boxing and where he intends to go with his career in the future.
Tony first studied Karate as a kid but then began training with his father who runs a boxing gym along with running a business. His father Jorge Luis was also a professional fighter and now trains fighters in their gym in Cornwall. Tony was pressed to make the decision between Karate and boxing but for him it was an easy call once he found his father’s old boxing videos and saw what he wanted for his future.
“At 11 years old I had to make a decision to pick one and went with boxing and fell in love with it.”
Tony found tapes of classic fights including his father fighting. The first fighter he saw was Mike Tyson and was taken aback by his power. He stated the second boxing video he saw was the Rocky 4 movie and as a kid the movie inspired him. In addition he looked up to Sugar Ray Leonard and Ali for their “speedy flare”.
Luis quickly became a successful amateur fighter and had aspirations of making the Olympic team. Unfortunately for him his experience competing for the Olympics gave him an early lesson in the hardships and politics of boxing.
Luis was a six time provincial champion and competed in international events. He represented Canada at international meets and at 17, qualified for the Beijing Olympic trials where Tony stated that he lost a controversial decision.
“I opted to go pro instead of waiting four years. Figured if I was going to deal with politics of the game may as well get paid for it and not wait another four years. I wanted to go pro and had desire to be a world champion. Figured if I started young I would have more time to develop.”
Luis sees himself as being more suited for the pro version of the sport considering his desire to go to the body and fight on the inside which works in the pros but goes unnoticed in the amateur world. Luis believes he has the athletic skills and technical ability to make it to the top.
“I have hand speed. I can box, I can move, I can fight on the inside, I hit the body well. On the inside or outside I can hack it in the ring. What I didn’t have when I first went pro I settle down on my feet more, get the man strength and everything kicking in, along with my dad and plying trade and being in the gym I’m turning into a complete pro.”
“Always went to the body. When I was younger and first started watching tapes of boxing body shots and in fighting Julio Cesar Chavez was a big inspiration for me. Pressure, pressure, and just grind away and his commitment to the body was something you don’t see from a lot of fighters you see today. You don’t see a lot of fighters go to the body the way some of the fighters from previous errors did. It came natural to me. To be honest I always hit harder to the body than I did to the head. For some reason I just get better power on my shots downstairs than I do upstairs. From my very first amateur fight I stopped a kid with body shots. I always went to the body more than the head.”
Luis started with five wins all by decision. But as he has settled into the pros and physically matured the power has emerged. In his last eight bouts he has five knockouts including a first round knockout of Alejandro Barrera 21-9 (7 KO) to win the vacant WBC Continental Americas title.
“I’ve been doing strength training as well along with my running and everything else. Practicing in the gym and learning to turn the shots over properly and just the whole maturing process.
“A fighter should never look for the knockout because if you look for it you’re not going to get it. You set it up and get the knockout by staying busy, punching in bunches, and it is the punch they don’t see is what gets them. For me that is the mantra that has always worked for me. To be honest I have not changed my basic style at the root from when I first went pro. It’s just now everything else, growing up and developing the other factors, strength come into play along with the ability that I had before.”
While he learned in the amateurs and now in the pro game that the business of boxing can be difficult he feels protected with his father as his manager and trainer. Obviously they have the typical obstacles that come along with working within the family but together they feel comfortable and believe they have the recipe to be successful.
“Since day one. You couldn’t ask for a better guy than your dad in your corner. Especially as a manager in your career to make sure your career is being steered in the right direction. Your career is not being manipulated or mislead by anyone. As far as a trainer you couldn’t ask for a better trainer. He knows the sport, he loves the sport, he’s been involved in the sport as a fighter himself and has been a fan of it all his life.”
“Typical father-son, it’s an up and down thing. We’ve had our battles and we work through the bad times and work through the good times and we made it, we’re here.”
Luis may have a successful boxing career ahead but for now he has to earn a living along with fighting like many other prospects. While some fighters find a simple job (understandably so considering the demands of being a professional fighter) Tony opted for a challenging career that can wear down the most dedicated of individuals.
Luis works at a drug and alcohol treatment center in a field that often burns out its workers due to the stress of the job and the difficulty of helping addicts. But despite the pitfalls Luis has taken a liking to the job and takes pride in helping juveniles try to get their life on track. With the difficulties come success stories and relationships that drive those in the treatment profession.
“I work for a treatment center for Aboriginal teenagers on an Indian reservation. It’s basically alcohol and drug rehab. My job consists of counselor, slash coach, slash cab driver, slash big brother, but that’s pretty much what my job entails.”
“It pretty much depends. Some weeks they throw forty-fifty hours at me, some weeks I’m only working twenty four. The training is around that sometimes but at the same time I couldn’t ask for a better employer because he’s actually very supportive of the boxing and I can take a couple of weeks for training camp I don’t have to even ask twice. He’s always been very supportive of the boxing and makes things as easy as possible for me.”
“It’s a rewarding job, sometimes it’s challenging. It’s not always easy and sometimes you want to go somewhere else, but for the most part when the kid trusts you, you’re cruising.”
I asked Tony the question I ask many young fighters who have to balance the demands of training with a full time job. How do you manage to accomplish all the aspects of training, running almost every morning, training in the gym almost every day, and throw in sparring and strength training along with a full time job? What drives someone to mentally and physically continue such a rigorous lifestyle.
“I only have one answer for you. I love the sport. If I didn’t love the sport I wouldn’t be putting myself through that. It does drain you sometimes, mentally if anything. Especially with my job its shift work so sometimes I am working days but sometimes could be working evenings or overnight. When a fight comes up, I still got to get up and do training. The body clock is off, but I go to gym anyway and do what I have to do. It’s hard. If I didn’t love the sport I would not be doing it. That’s the only answer I can give you that I love the sport. You got to be a little crazy to be a fighter and I’m no different.”
Luis got his boxing genes and knowledge from his father. But other parts of his life, including his work ethic and ability to work with juveniles seem, to have been passed down from father to son as well. Tony Luis describes his father, Jorge Luis, as a busy full time entrepreneur running a gym and hair salon. That gym like most boxing gyms has been a place where youth can avoid the streets to stay out of trouble, something the family takes pride in.
“Plenty of kids whose life could have gone another way for the worse. Even if they don’t go on to be champions in the ring, they became champions in life and boxing played a part in that so the gym has been nothing but positive for a lot of the youth that came into that place.”
But the rigors of training and working were hardly as difficult as what Luis had to deal with five days before his third pro fight. Luis had to bury his mother right before the fight and then decided to go on with the fight. Tony didn’t bring this up in my interview with him but later decided to pass this information along. Despite the difficulty of putting the situation out in the open, Luis hopes that his experience can help someone going through a similar situation.
So on he moves with his father by his side, an undefeated record, and an improving skill set. Luis is already making a name for himself in Canada where boxing has heated up in the last few years. But he is hardly content to stop there. Luis looks south to the States as well where he wants to bring his talents to the bright lights of Sin City.
“Montreal is basically Vegas north. It’s the Las Vegas of Canada. To be honest, Canada’s always had good quality fighters dating back to the eighties.”
“Recently Montreal is hot again. Guys like Bute and Pascal put boxing back on the map again internationally. For guys like me and up and coming guys to get on these cards and big shows it’s come alive again.”
“It’s amazing thinking about that (fighting in front of big crowds in Montreal) but at the same time I still want to crack the states to. My dream has always been, my friends and I have always wanted to make it to Vegas one day and watch a fight. I always told myself I wouldn’t spend all this money in Vegas, I want to make all this money in Vegas.”
Currently Tony is being looked at by several big name US promoters and looks for a deal to come soon.
“I have some promoters looking at me right now. We had a couple options looking at we’ll see what happens. We want to hit the US market and it’s all part of taking the step up as well.”
For now, it is still a growing process. Learning the skills and gaining the experience needed to take on bigger challenges is part of the process for a developing fighter. A fighter with talent is not enough and has to build his craft against the right opposition and challenge himself with a higher class opponent when the time is right.
“The last fight got us the WBC Intercontinental title at 140, got me ranked. There’s still the climb, now the climb is going to start. It got us ranked thirty in the WBC. Just want to keep developing and leave it up to my promoters and managers but I would like to make a couple of defenses and hopefully get some more TV time next year. Climb the ladder and get closer and closer to achieving my ultimate goal of becoming a world champion.”
“It’s something that is a combination, it has to play itself out and one fight at a time. But at the same time the advantage for me is I’m still young and I have time to develop and get the right fights at the right time. I’m in no rush but at the same time I do know it is time to take a step up soon. I would like to say by the time I have had twenty fights I will be ready to take on the best in the world.”
So outside of boxing and work:
“I’m a good guy. Like to go out and have laughs with friends. I have a big heart and am very giving. I do have that fighters temper. Very passionate guy that likes to laugh and have a good time.”
In many ways it is the typical fighter story. He dealt with loss, trains hard, fights hard, and has to work hard outside of boxing to make ends meet. But to make it so simple trivializes his and every fighter’s story. Because Tony Luis, like every one of these fighters that steps into the ring putting so much on the line for the fan’s entertainment and in pursuit of a better life has their own unique story.
- While interviewing a top fighter is great I have to admit that interviewing an up and coming prospect takes the cake for me. The problem with speaking with an established fighter is you already know his story. But learning the details and background of what makes an emerging prospect tick, what makes him fight, and what motivates him to enter this crazy profession is what makes me enjoy interviews.
- Considering the above note, Tony Luis provided a great interview. He spent nearly an hour on the phone with me, part of it interview, and part shooting the shit. Considering I work in the same profession outside of the ring as the young fighter my opinion is biased as we shared a common interest in working with at risk youth. But I found him to be as kind and down to earth as you can get and can’t help but root for him in his boxing career. While there is no way to know how successful any prospect will be when they face the best in the ring it is clear Luis will be successful in life whether he is in the ring, working with kids, or pursuing any endeavor he sets his mind to.
- For a video of Luis in action, click HERE
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