Boxing and the Florida Keys will be forever linked. After all, Ernest Hemingway’s passion for the sweet science has been documented around Key West with handed-down stories of sanction brawls in his ring. And more than a handful of Monroe County fighters have forged their way through the professional ranks during the past century. But Armando Alvarez, a 28- year-old born in Marathon (who says he “represents all of the Florida Keys”), is on the verge of stardom – perhaps superstardom – in boxing’s most talented division.
Yet to face the giants of the welterweight division, the 18-0 Alvarez must first pass the most daunting challenge of his career on one of boxing’s most visible stages. On July 20, Alvarez will face undefeated Jaron Ennis on Showtime’s “Showbox” in Sloan, Iowa. Ennis, a 21-year-old from Philadelphia, is poised as Showtime’s up-and-coming darling. He carries the Philadelphia boxing pedigree, along with 10 consecutive knockouts. And perhaps that is all the edge Alvarez needs as he steps into the ring. Because for Alvarez, who also has knocked out six of his last seven opponents, Ennis simply serves as a stepping stone from the fringe of stardom to possibly fighting some of the most notable names in the sport.
Alvarez is Conch. He went to elementary school here but graduated on the mainland. He’s worked in Marathon and his dad is a representative for Amerigas here in the Keys. So while Alvarez now lives and trains from Homestead, his fighting trunks bear the crest of the Conch Republic and when he is interviewed, he consistently represents the Keys. Like many locals, we will be in his corner, cheering from our television sets here in the Florida Keys on July 20. And having an opportunity to catch up with him before the big fight only made us bigger fans of the fighter nicknamed, “The Gentlemen.”
Keys Weekly: How did you get started in boxing?
Armando Alvarez: I think I was 17 or 18 and a buddy invited me to the gym. I told him, “No, I’m a baseball player, not a boxer.” But I went and sparred with a professional and got my butt kicked. I left with a bloody nose and a busted lip. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, thinking about what I could do to be better.
KW: Who have been your biggest influences in the sport?
AA: My first coach — Gustavo De La Paz. To this day, he’s still in my corner. And my coach now, Maury Ramos.
KW: Who are your favorite fighters?
AA: In terms of fighting style, I look up to Tommy Hearns. But I love all the guys from the ’80s — Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar de la Hoya.
KW: How did your nickname “the gentlemen” come about?
AA: A lot of boxers don’t have any class — they aren’t able to speak or carry themselves outside of the ring. But I’m a true gentleman. Now, when the bell rings … there’s no more gentleman.
KW: At 18-0, you are fighting another undefeated fighter and you both are coming off long consecutive KO streaks. Is this the biggest fight of your career and does a fight this big change the way you prepare for the fight?
AA: This is definitely a life-changing event. We are both the toughest competitor either has ever faced. He is a better boxer than me, but I’m going to run him over. I’m the bigger guy. I’m gonna get on top of him and run him over.
KW: Is the training different?
AA: My training is the same; it’s just a different strategy for this fight.
KW: You have earned a reputation as a guy with serious knockout power. Do you go into a fight like this looking for the KO?
AA: The knockout will come. You gotta stay busy in the ring, the power is always there, no matter what round it is. Right now I am at the peak of the training, doing short and high-intensity workouts.
KW: You are arguably in the deepest weight class in boxing, with some of the biggest (and most talented) names in the sport. And you have a similar record to those in the top 10. If you win this one, and could pick one of the top guys, who would you like a shot at among Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman or Danny Garcia?
AA: I guess Thurman. He’s from Florida, too.
KW: Who is your pound-for-pound best in the sport right now — Vasil Lomachenko or Triple G (Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin)?
AA: [Laughing.] They’re both the best. Wow. In terms of skill overall, I’m going to have to say Lomachenko, but I love Triple G.
KW: You know a lot of locals, from Marathon to Key West, who will be watching you and supporting you on Friday. What does this fight mean to the Florida Keys and your fans and what message do you want to relay to them?
AA: This fight is everything. It’s my biggest fight in that it is my first nationally televised fight. I want everybody to know that I’m going to give it my all. I’ll give it 100 percent. Everything I have.
KW: If you have a day without boxing or training and can do whatever you like in the Florida Keys, what does that look like?
AA: Spearfishing with my dad. I learned to do it as a little boy when I was hanging off his neck. This one time he shot a barracuda that was bigger than me. It scared the crap out of me.