Arguably the most decorated amateur boxer from New England to enter the professional ranks in quite some time, Jamaine Ortiz of Worcester, Mass., is eager to get on the fast track in his career.
He’ll encounter obstacles and deal with inevitable change along the way, but there’ll always be that one constant, that calming influence in his corner, his longtime coach Carlos Garcia, Worcester’s world-renowned trainer and the heart and soul of the city’s Boys & Girls Club, where so many fighters before Ortiz honed their craft.
The bond between Ortiz (1-0, 1 KO), 20, and Garcia, which began when Ortiz was just 7 years old, goes far beyond boxing.
“Carlos is a guy that teaches you more about life than he does about boxing,” said Ortiz, who made his professional debut in May and will return to the ring Friday, July 15th, 2016 at Twin River Casino on the undercard of CES Boxing’s summertime spectacular.
“He’s a great coach. Everybody knows him. He’s been in boxing forever. He teaches you discipline and he teaches you respect, so when you’re in the ring and you’re in the gym, it’s serious. I’ve always looked at him like a father figure because he always gave me rides when I was walking home from the gym and fed me whenever I was hungry when I was younger.
“I could never, ever disrespect Carlos. He teaches you how to love. He teaches you about God. It’s never about money with him. He’d give his last dollar from his wallet to someone who’d use it on drugs just because he has that kind of heart. You can’t run away from that.”
Thirteen years since Ortiz first stepped foot inside the Worcester Boys & Girls Club, where Garcia has been an instructor for more than three decades, he and his coach have been inseparable. The 66-year-old Garcia remains a father figure to Ortiz as the 5-foot-8 lightweight begins a journey many believe will take him to the top of his class.
“Not only do I want to be world champion,” Ortiz said, “but I want to one day be pound for pound the best fighter. I want to break records. I want to do the impossible, whatever my body allows me and whatever God has in store for me, I’m willing to do and go as high as I can in boxing.”
Ortiz’s improbably journey began as a youth growing up in the Great Brook Valley Projects in Worcester, a neighborhood notorious for a series of riots in the late 1970s due to increasing racial tension between Latinos and police officers. Ortiz got into a lot of fights in elementary school, so his father told him to put on a pair of gloves instead of using his bare fists.
“One day, he had me outside in front of the house boxing everyone in the projects,” Ortiz recalled. “Me versus everybody, one by one, taking turns.”
Shortly thereafter, Ortiz’s mother signed him up at the Boys & Girls Club, where he eventually met Garcia and began his amateur boxing career, a whirlwind journey that led him to a New England Golden Gloves championship in 2015 and a spot alongside the nation’s elite at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in Reno, Nev.
Ortiz made it to the fourth day of the trials, where he lost to eventual Olympian Gary Russell, the younger brother of current World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight champion and 2008 Olympian Gary Russell Jr.
After winning the Western New England Golden Gloves in February, avenging an earlier loss to Jeffrey Torres with a split-decision win in the rematch, Ortiz turned pro three months later on May 13th, stopping Josh Parker at the 3-minute mark of the opening round.
Fighting without headgear in front of a crowd of more than 2,500 fans didn’t bother Ortiz, who also boxed without headgear at the Olympic Trials in Reno after the U.S. Olympic Committee announced all fighters at the 2016 Rio Games would box without headgear for the first time since 1980.
“It wasn’t much to me,” Ortiz said. “It was my first pro fight, but it wasn’t my first time fighting without headgear. I had fought without headgear over 10 times already and I fought in there with more quality opponents, with the best, people who are going to the Olympics, people who’ve been ranked in the country without headgear, so I felt pretty confident going into the ring.”
“I believe the amateurs were for me great because when you’re fighting in the Nationals you’re always fighting the best at all times,” he continued. “The Olympic Trials, the Olympic Qualifiers, when it comes down to it, you’re always fighting the best of the best and you don’t have time to prepare for who you’re fighting. You don’t have time to prepare. You just go in there and do what you know.
“Now in the pros when you actually have time to train for one specific guy and you have two months ahead of knowing when you’re going to fight, it’s an advantage.”
With his second pro fight less than three weeks away, Ortiz remains thankful for that one constant in his corner, Garcia, who has helped teach him right from wrong while making sure he stays on the path to success.
“Carlos, ever since I met him he always kept me on track,” Ortiz said. “Anytime I was ever going to do something bad I just always thought about Carlos. ‘Would Carlos be happy with the decision I’m making? What would Carlos say?’ I would always have his picture in my head and his voice speaking and I would always hear him and it would always prevent me from doing anything bad when I would see his face.”
The sky’s the limit for Ortiz, whose improbable climb from Worcester to Nevada puts him in elite company as one of the city’s — and New England’s — most celebrated prospects.
“I always believed in myself,” he said. “You can’t get far in life without believing in yourself. I feel like I could’ve won the whole thing and gone to the Olympics. It was all in the making.
“When you work hard and you believe in God and keep having faith in yourself, anything is possible. That was always in my mind and is still in my mind to this day.”