The encouragement wasn’t so subtle, as Ruben Villa IV looked up from his muddy hands and knees, wiping his sweaty brow with his forearm and wondering if the day would ever end. Ruben Villa III, Villa’s father, blurted out, “Do you want to do this for the rest of your life? You better start getting serious about boxing,” or working in sweltering 90-degree heat in the fields would become a fact of life.
Villa, the gifted featherweight southpaw, was around 15 years old, at the time, and boxing was just something to fill the time. Though sweating in the gym certainly beat toiling for his father in the summer, lugging boxes, landscaping in what Villa describes as a “big old yard,” and making deliveries.
“Boxing, to me, was hard at the time and I was too immature to understand the work that you had to put into it to be successful,” said Villa, who will turn 21 next week. “I had to learn sacrifices were needed in order to be successful. Nothing was going to be handed to me. Once my father took me to work that day, I decided, no, I’d rather get paid to beat someone up.”
That next someone for Villa (10-0, 4 knockouts) could be Colombian Marlon Olea (13-2, 12 KOs) in Villa’s first scheduled eight-rounder, from the Salinas Storm House, in Salinas, California, on Saturday night. This is the first time Villa will be fighting at home as a pro, as the main event.
“When I’m sweating and working my ass off at the gym, I think back to the times I worked with my father and I’ll always remember that,” said Villa, the only boy of five children. “I’m not afraid of hard work but there are better ways to get paid. There are worse situations than boxing and boxing for a living can be a hard life too. You’re away from your family for a month and you’re sweating just as hard as when I worked for my father, who has a job in the agriculture business, doing everything from driving a forklift to making deliveries.
“You appreciate hard work once you see what you’re are doing to keep food on the table. You get a greater appreciation when you do what they do. I used to help my father when I was in my mid-teens a couple of times. I did whatever my father told me to do. It meant doing all of the moving, boxes, wooden pallets and this yard that was always dirty. I helped my dad with deliveries and cleaning that big old yard of his. I never wanted to go back to that.”
It made Villa look at boxing differently.
“This fight with Olea is another step for me,” said Villa, whose patience belies his age. “My time will come eventually. I know that. Olea, I know, is a Colombian who is 13-2 and he has 12 knockouts, so he comes pretty heavy-handed. My sparring went well. I had some heavier guys come in and I’m ready to show what I can do.”
Villa is hoping his career continues on an upward trajectory, so he can one day professionally meet 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson, who Villa defeated twice in 2015, as an amateur. The 5-foot-6 Villa, who started boxing when he was five to curb his overly rambunctious behavior, and Stevenson, who is 5-0, with 2 KOs as a pro, are both featherweights.
After Villa beat Stevenson the second time in 2015, Stevenson made the photo of the referee raising Villa’s hand the screensaver on his cell phone. Stevenson got his revenge by beating Villa twice at the Olympic Trials, in December 2015, to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Somewhere down the line, I’m pretty sure me and Stevenson will happen again,” Villa said. “I want to see him again. Once we make a name for ourselves, it will happen. We’ll get that fight in and there is a rivalry between us. I know more people in boxing may know him more than they know me but I don’t care.
“I’ve always had the idea to push through with hard work. I’ll get mine eventually.”
Tickets for “New Blood” are priced at $75 & $125, and are available for purchase by calling 714-935-0900, or online at ThompsonBoxing.com.
All fights will be live streamed on TB Presents: New Blood via Thompson Boxing Facebook page and ThompsonBoxing.com.
The livestream starts at 6:00 p.m. PT / 9:00 p.m. ET with Beto Duran as the blow-by-blow announcer and Steve Kim providing expert color commentary.
Doors open at 4:30 p.m. local time with the first bout at approximately 6:00 p.m. The Salinas Storm House is located at 185 Maryal Dr. Salinas, CA 93907.
“New Blood” is presented by Banner Promotions and Thompson Boxing Promotions.