Ever since he was a little boy, John Bauza wanted to be just like his father, Juan.
When Juan Bauza was still a competitive boxer in his native Puerto Rico, young John used to mimic his father, throwing punches left and right, bobbing and weaving.
“I always wanted to do it,” John Bauza said.
“In the beginning, I thought it was a tough sport for him,” Juan Bauza said. “But since he was small, he was always picking up gloves and throwing punches. He was interested in fighting.”
So it was only natural that the father would teach the son.
“He would come to the gym with me,” the elder Bauza said.
“Five days a week, I’d go to the gym,” John Bauza said. “There were a bunch of other boxers there to spar with and learn from.”
At the tender age of 10 years old, John Bauza went to the finals of his weight class in the New Jersey Silver Gloves amateur tourney.
“That just made me more determined,” John Bauza said.
Young John, now living in North Bergen, trained regularly at the recently closed Union City Boxing Club. He also hooked up with Luis “Mosquito” Gonzalez, who has been working with aspiring boxers at Middle School No. 7 in Jersey City.
“I’ve known them both for a long time,” Gonzalez said. “They come to the gym to help with our kids. That’s what it’s all about, coming back to help other kids.”
Bauza is a 17-year-old senior at Union City High School. After his classes are over, he trains at 5 p.m., mostly now at the Ringside Boxing Club in Jersey City, but also at School No. 7 for about three hours a day. He’s trying hard to juggle his high school class work and his boxing regimen.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Bauza said. “But I know it’s what I want to do.”
Miguel “Zeke” Borrero of Jersey City has been working with Bauza since he was 10.
“Zeke has been around a long time,” Gonzalez said. “He knows his stuff.”
“He has such raw talent,” Borrero said. “He’s God gifted. He’s an amazing kid. He does things that most boxers don’t do. He makes you say, ‘Wow! How did he do that?’ It’s fun to watch.”
Recently, Bauza has been taking his game to the national level after winning the New Jersey Diamond Gloves championship last year for a remarkable seventh time.
“We decided to take him on the road,” Borrero said. “We wanted him to see the top competition.”
Bauza competed at the Ringside Tournament in Kansas City and the Paul Murphy Title competition in Atlanta last year, giving him a taste of the national amateur scene. He also boxed at 141 pounds at the Wilfredo Gomez International Competition in Puerto Rico and won that tourney.
“We decided to take him to a bigger class,” Borrero said.
So the Bauzas and Borrero went to Reno, Nevada Jan. 5 through 9 to compete in the USA Boxing Youth National Championships.
There were almost 300 boxers in attendance for the tourney, but Bauza made sure he was going to stand out.
Bauza won the 141-pound youth national championship, unanimously defeating Philadelphia’s Branden Pizarro, three rounds to none, in the title match and was named the Most Outstanding Boxer of the entire tournament.
The victory has enabled southpaw Bauza to be on the USA Boxing National Team that will travel to Russia later this year. Bauza is now ranked the No. 1 amateur boxer in the country at 141 pounds.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Bauza said. “I was dreaming that I could win this tournament, but I never knew it could really happen. It’s been amazing. I’ve trained really hard for it.”
“We did a lot of research about the competition coming in,” Borrero said. “I was shocked how easy it was.”
Bauza said that he will remain an amateur for another “one or two years,” which means that he will definitely get a chance to earn a spot on the USA Boxing team for the Olympics in Brazil.
“In my eyes, he’s ready to be a pro tomorrow,” said Juan Bauza. “But he’s only 17. He can’t become a pro until he’s 18. But the goal is to be champion of the world some day.”
Bauza will take some time off after winning his national title and then begin training in earnest for the New Jersey/New York Golden Gloves that begin in March.
“I know I have to keep working hard if I want to be the world champ,” John Bauza said.
Who knows? Maybe he’s already on his way…
The St. Peter’s Prep football family suffered a gigantic loss last week, when former All-State offensive lineman Bill O’Donnell, the starting right tackle on the Prep great NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship in 1994, died tragically in his sleep. O’Donnell, a Bayonne native, was only 38 years old.
O’Donnell was as good as it gets as an offensive lineman in high school and later at Syracuse University, where he went to five bowl games, including the Orange Bowl, with the Orangemen. At the time, it was believed that O’Donnell had all the makings of becoming a player in the NFL, but that never materialized.
Still, O’Donnell had a spectacular career as the best lineman on the greatest football team in Prep history, a team that defeated No. 1-ranked Bergen Catholic in the state title game in Giants Stadium. He was selected to both the Associated Press and Star-Ledger All-State First Teams.
News of O’Donnell’s untimely passing hit his teammates very hard.
“I’m shocked in disbelief,” said Anthony Verdi, the former Prep wrestling coach who was also a member of that astounding offensive line, a line that has the distinction of being the only group of athletes to ever be named as Hudson Reporter Co-Athletes of the Week as a unit.
“My first reaction was shock,” said Verdi, who lined up at left guard directly next to O’Donnell for four years. “I wanted to make sure it was true. After it settled in, I talked to my teammates and friends. I can’t describe the feeling, except that we were all pretty sad. He was just a friendly guy to everyone.”
Added Verdi, who was a football player at Monmouth before returning to the Prep, “A lot of people remember him as a football player, but he was a big lovable guy. He was great with friends, parents, teachers. He respected everyone. We all had a great relationship, a great partnership that made for a great team. He was the anchor of that line, the leader, no question. Everyone looked up to him. I’ve been around Prep football a long time and he’s the best offensive lineman I’ve ever seen. He was the total package.”
Rich Hansen, the current head coach at Prep, had vivid memories of O’Donnell.
“I think I’ll always remember that he was just such a good guy,” Hansen said. “He loved life. He loved having fun. He loved playing football and as a player, he will always be the role model for what we want our offensive linemen to be. They don’t come any tougher than Billy. He was a dynamic kid who played with such fire. He had a great mental state in order to be ready to play. You would be hard pressed to try to find someone better. He had it all.”
Jeff Skinner was the starting quarterback on that great team.
“Billy was the security blanket,” said Skinner, who went on to play quarterback at Wagner. “You never had to worry about Billy, because he was the best lineman in the state. He saved my butt a lot of times back then. It’s just not right that he’s gone. He was always there when we needed him. You always knew he would be there. But now he’s gone. Just like that. In times like this, we need our entire Prep family to get together. We need Bubba there and he’s not. I’m so proud of what he did at Syracuse.”
David Nagy was a nose guard on that 1994 team and had to line up against O’Donnell many times in practice.
“I had the honor at every practice to line up every day against that beast,” said Nagy, who went on to play at Fordham. “He made me a better player and made it much easier for me. He was such a likeable guy, a good friend.”
Nagy pointed out that O’Donnell had a gift as a player, perhaps the best footwork of any player his size. When he was asked to get out and serve as a lead blocker or protect the quarterback, O’Donnell certainly got there.
“He had the quickest feet I’ve ever seen,” Nagy said. “He’d shuffle, get back and get there. He was an excellent run blocker. He opened up holes you wouldn’t believe. That’s what I remember the first time I saw him as a freshman.”…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Anthony (9-0). 2. Hudson Catholic (7-3). 3. Union City (10-2). 4. St. Peter’s Prep (6-4). 5. Snyder (6-4).
Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (10-2). 2. Lincoln (10-1). 3. Marist (8-4). 4. Secaucus (9-3). 5. North Bergen (7-4)…-Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.