Call him gutsy but outgunned. Call him a road-warrior. Call journeyman boxer Daniel Gonzalez of Billings anything but an easy night’s work.
“My record is not the best,” said Gonzalez, a 35-year-old coal miner by day. “My record sucks. But whoever is in there with me will have to earn their paycheck.”
With a six-round unanimous decision loss to Mexican fighting legend Luis Ramon “Yory Boy” Campas two weeks ago fresh on his mind, Gonzalez talked about the good things he retained from the experience.
“I had fun in there,” he said. “It went to the scorecards, and he had to earn it. He’s a three-time world champion, and 79 of his opponents can’t say that they went the distance with him. Seventy-nine other guys didn’t get to go to the scorecards. It wasn’t a short night for him.”
In the opening moments of his bout with Campas, held at the Silver Spur Arena in Belgrade, both men showed a healthy respect for each other. They circled and probed with tentative jabs. But that didn’t last long. The big difference was in Campas’ reach and hand speed.
“Yory Boy is an intelligent boxer,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what people don’t realize, that boxing is a chess match. It can go, ‘pop the jab, pop the jab, and hit the body,’ with lots of repetition. And just when you anticipate that repetition, someone goes ‘jab, jab, and then uppercut.’ Now that throws you off. You have to stay focused every single second. I thought I had a chance to beat Yory Boy.”
Gonzalez said the beauty of the sport is that the boxer can’t pretend a loss was anyone else’s fault.
“You can’t blame the pitcher, or the outfielder. You can’t blame a teammate or the crowd,” he said.
Gonzalez understands that in boxing, when you don’t have the right connections or cornermen, there are ceilings, limits on how high you can expect to rise. He’s a journeyman, an opponent who promises to keep the night honest and interesting.
But he has never looked like a man who was just going through the motions.
“Daniel Gonzalez is a true warrior,” said Campas’ trainer, Joe Diaz, who was also in the corner of Kane Rentfro, an Olympic hopeful from Belgrade. “I have nothing but respect for Daniel and his family. He is an honorable boxer, and the kind of man that the fight game is supposed to be about.”
Gonzalez, who has had just nine wins in 43 professional bouts, hasn’t won a fight since 2008. But there is no disappointment in his voice when he speaks of his stats. His record doesn’t reflect his love of boxing and all its painful intensity.
“It’s very upsetting to lose and sometimes that takes the drive from me,” he said. “That’s hard because you have to be focused to box. But I make sure I put on a good, competitive match. I believe I have a lot left. Win or loss, I have a lot of experience, and I’ve been in there with the best of them.
“A couple of fights ago, Abraham Han, he threw everything at me but the kitchen sink and the water bucket. Han stopped a guy the same night I fought Yory Boy, he fought a world-class guy and scored a TKO. I went to the scorecards with him, while working in the coal mine.”
Gonzalez started amateur boxing at 9 and continued through age 14. He estimates that he had 80 matches, and at least 65 wins.
“I quit at 14,” Gonzalez said. “I got invited to Junior Olympic regionals at one point. Then I caught up in unsanctioned boxing matches in the streets. I made mistakes, and I was away from boxing from age 14 to 25, and I was incarcerated for seven years. I used to be a fool and made dumb choices. But I’ve learned from them — and I’ve been sober for eight years.”
There was a time in Gonzalez’s life when everything seemed unmendably broken, but he has worked hard to overcome his troubles. At the start of his professional boxing career, fighting out of California, he had three wins, two draws and a loss.
“Being from Billings, I don’t have the resources,” he said. “The dietitians, the trainers, they all cost money. In my seventh fight, I fought Dominic Salcido, with Emmanuel Stewart in his corner. I took a lot of fights on short notice. Fights where when I got there, I had no hotel, or where I was flying in the same day as the fight. That all leaves you in a difficult mental state.”
He has pursued his career while working full-time and raising four children, ages 7 to 13.
“My children are my life,” he said. “There is never a dull moment. I closed on a house on my 30th birthday. We have nice vehicles. I have a good job. Life is good — definitely.”
Gonzalez has worked in demolition and roofing and for a time he was a union carpenter, building scaffolding for oil refineries. For the past year, he has worked near Roundup in Signal Peak Energy’s underground coal mine. Most days, he works 12-hour shifts setting up heavy pumps.
“The mine called and said I was hired. That was that,” he said. “I box in my free time, you know.”
It can be tough work.
“There are cave-ins and collapses, and the walls can give. You’ve got belts that can snap — a lot of tension and pressure. It’s dangerous for me to go to work every day. I have more fun at boxing than going to work. Look at it this way: driving home from work can be dangerous. You are not guaranteed to see tomorrow. I live for today.”
For his fight with Campas, Gonzalez trained and exercised in his cousin’s basement and bedroom.
“Campas had his own gym in Three Forks,” Gonzalez said. “He lives and breathes boxing.”
Promoters like to do business with fighters who are dependable. And Gonzalez said he plans to keep fighting.
“At 42, which was Yory Boy’s age, I may still be doing it,” he said. “I enjoy the sport. In my career, I’ve never said no. I’m not in there with no bums. But I need the training to bring the ability I know that I have out. I thank God that I may be able to box again. There isn’t is a man in the ring that I’m afraid of.”
Gonzalez said the love of the sport is what takes him into its danger zone. He knows the outcome of any bout could be devastating, but he still carries with him more than a glimmer of hope.
“I’ve definitely had the ability to beat every one of those dudes I’ve lost to,” he said. “My resources aren’t tuned, because I don’t have the facilities available to me. I’m in the process of trying to open a boxing gym here, so others can experience the joy of the sport.”
Boxing is as much about maintaining good habits as it is about discarding bad or ineffective ones. And most successful fighters have others who are focused on their self-interest.
“If I had the proper strength training, or cardio and diet training, that would help me. Right now, with my schedule and time, I make a lot of hamburger helper, or we go out to eat. There are not a lot of home-cooked healthy meals with my schedule. No dietitian. I don’t take vitamins or supplements.
“I go underground with a turkey sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” he said. “I sit down on a big chunk of coal and I eat in the mud. That’s my training for the fight.”