Salaam Gonzales: Scratching The Surface

DENVER (December 30, 2017) For Denver’s Salaam Gonzales, 2017 was an outstanding year that culminated with his best amateur boxing performance ever (Just this year moving up to the Elite Class), during the 2017 USA Boxing Elite and Youth National Championships & Junior and Prep Open, held December 3-9, at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Salaam Gonzales is the 2017 USA Boxing Elite Amateur Champion at 108 lbs. (ages 19-40) after an outstanding week that culminated with him getting a 3rd and final round knockdown against Stephen Acosta from Dallas, Texas, that was icing on the cake. The fight was scored 5-0 by the USA Boxing contingent of judges who were obviously impressed by the Gonzales performance. What most don’t know is that Salaam Gonzales is just beginning to scratch the surface of his boxing abilities.

Boxing since the age of 10, Salaam Gonzales has always been impressive but somehow managed to come up just a bit short, although immensely talented, in national competition. Gonzales’ dedication and resolve would pay off, him a product of Denver’s legendary 20th St Boxing Gym, where Denver legends Ron Lyle, Billy Parks, Larry Bonds, ‘Lightning’ Lonnie Smith, Mike ‘303’ Alvarado and Stevie ‘lil But Bad’ Johnston, just being a few that honed their skills at the 20th St Boxing facility, located in downtown Denver.

(L-R) Azizz Gonzales, Salaam Gonzales, Robert Baca and Shon Mondragon of 20th St Boxing

Longtime 20th St. Head Boxing Coach Robert Baca has another star (Shon Mondragon) performing admirably under his guidance, but this year of 2017 belongs to Salaam Gonzales. “It’s been the story of Salaam’s career”, begins Coach Baca. “Salaam is the most talented boxer I’ve ever had but the other side of that comes with hard work. Every year we’d win the Colorado Silver Gloves, Junior Olympics, Golden Gloves, the Regional (CO/New Mexico) Golden Gloves, but for whatever reasons, in National competition we just couldn’t get the judges’ attention. Salaam was in the best shape I’ve ever seen him as we prepared for this tournament. He worked hard and had decided this was his year. It’s hard for kids to understand that in 80% of fights the guy in the best shape will win. In this tournament specifically, Salaam was that guy. For years I’ve been preaching to all of my kids about power and how you make it happen and when it does, it’s a beautiful thing. Salaam needed to trust me and believe that eventually what I was saying would happen. It’s been a slow process but after knocking down Rodriguez in the finals, he got to see it all come together exactly the way we’d envisioned”.

Azizz Gonzales is the father of Salaam and having boxed himself (a student of U.S. Army’s Charles Mooney), was looking for the right fit for his son. “I used to do a lot of screaming at the fights when we began boxing”, begins Azizz. “Like Coach Rob said, it’s been frustrating to see Salaam lose at the hands of judges but Coach Baca always looked to focus on our own shortcomings. He was the right coach, at the right time, for my son to relate to, develop and move forward to the goals we hope to attain. We just had a great overall vibe this year. I saw Salaam giving not 100% but 150% in his boxing efforts. In high pressure situations Salaam has shown a superior footwork that enabled him to get in between his opponents punches and do what he does. It’s a natural God-given talent but being in top physical condition is now, and rightfully so, his focus. His mental preparation has evolved as his physical preparedness has progressed. Coach Baca asked, and I agreed, that I’d give him more control and back up just a bit. I give a lot of credit to Coach Rob for seeing this was that time I needed to allow my son to grow without me constantly being in his ear. I have other children and needed to share time with them as well and Coach Baca was that someone we needed to help my son sharpen the tools he had to be the best he could be. He came and picked my son up to go work out when he was just 10 years-old. That’s when I knew he was the right man for the job. I too know the boxing game very well but now it’s much easier to watch and enjoy Salaam fight, later being able to pinpoint what I see as areas we need to work on. Having taken that step back has helped in Salaam’s development. I’m actually enjoying seeing his improvement with Coach Baca always allowing and appreciating my own input. I think we are all in agreement that Salaam has nowhere near approached his potential”.

Salaam Gonzales is soft-spoken but don’t be deceived. Once in the ring he’s that ‘sniper assassin’ that uses his lightening quick hand speed and superior footwork to break down his opponent. His boxing abilities have matured, him showing that ‘IT’ factor seen in some of the greats. Salaam is not given enough credit for his eyes, the ability to see things and react quickly. That ability and his physical conditioning is what got him this far and will eventually earn him a spot on the USA Men’s Olympic Boxing Team headed to Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.

(L) 20th St Boxing Head Coach Robert Baca and 2017 USA Elite Amateur Champion at 108 lbs. Salaam Gonzales

Salaam feels just as his dad and coach, that everything came together at the right time leading up to the 2017 USA Elite Championships. Salaam will never brag on his achievements but the record speaks for itself. He’s been one of the best in Colorado from age 11, at 60 lbs., to age 18, at 108 lbs. Gonzales is a 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 (Outstanding Boxer) and 2015 Colorado Junior Olympics Champion. He’s a 2013, 2014 and 2015 Colorado Silver Gloves Champion. In 2016 and 2017, Salaam won the (Class A) Colorado State and Regional (CO/New Mexico) Golden Gloves at 108 lbs. and was the runner-up at 108 lbs., in the Youth division at this year’s USA Boxing Eastern Qualifier in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Salaam Gonzales is no ‘one hit wonder’.

While preparing to participate in the 2017 Elite & Youth National Championships & Junior and Prep Open, the competing in the Elite Class became more viable as some USA Boxing rule changes forced a restructure of the Elite Class. Says Salaam, “Me, my dad and Coach Baca were aware of the confusion but all of that never changed my focus.This entire year I just felt I was more prepared, focused and ready to get the job done than in years past. Losing in the quarter finals, semi-finals and finals of national tournaments was discouraging but my dad and Coach Baca remained positive. It became obvious that it all rested in my own hands. I worked hard and it all came together earlier this month in Salt Lake City, Utah. I now understand the all-around effort this journey will take and I’m more motivated than ever to grab ahold and take full advantage of this opportunity. I can’t say enough about the support of Team Colorado while in Utah. Everyone pulled for one another and it was definitely an awesome team effort”.

The USA Amateur Elite Boxing Team has a rigorous schedule ahead with 2018 offering excellent International competition opportunities.They will be a busy group working primarily in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but traveling Internationally to Bulgaria, Russia, Kazakhstan, Finland and Germany. Best of luck to all of our USA Boxing competitors. May they have safe travels as we wish them well.