SALT LAKE CITY — Most people want help now and then.
They appreciate a hand, and when circumstances are toughest, they long for company.
But cruiserweight contender B.J. Flores is not most people.
The 33-year-old calls the boxing ring “the most lonely place,” and yet he made that place his home.
“I’m a very stubborn person — good or bad,” said the accomplished pro boxer who was in Salt Lake City this past weekend to watch amateurs compete for national Golden Gloves championships at the Salt Palace. “But in boxing, it actually helps me because I’ve had to be very independent. You’re in the ring by yourself. It’s not a team sport. If you aren’t ready, it’s going to show when you go up there. There is nowhere to hide when you’re in the ring.”
The last thing Flores wants to do is hide.
In fact, he sat ringside at the Golden Gloves tournament chiseled and ready to take on the world’s champions, if only they’ll give him a shot.
“I’m not trying to fight anyone else,” said Flores, who now lives in Las Vegas. “There’s only two guys I want to fight, and those are the two champions.”
If his next fight isn’t for a title, then it isn’t his next fight. And with a record of 22-1-1 and national rankings that have him as high as the No. 2 or No. 3 boxer in the world, he feels like he deserves a shot.
“These things are tough to negotiate sometimes,” he said. “You’ve got to stay ready. I run, lift weights, do plyometrics, CrossFit — everything. ... I put in a lot of years of grinding.”
Now 33, Flores, who also works for NBC as a commentator, believes he has four or five quality years left in the sport, and he wants to make the most of them.
Flores' ties to Utah begin with his faith. Born in California, he was raised in Missouri where he became an all-state football player worthy of an offer to play football at BYU. It was a dream that many young LDS athletes nurtured, including Flores, and he accepted the offer.
His senior year he was named an all-state wide receiver in the fall, and then he won the national Golden Gloves championship as a heavyweight.
That was the moment he first began believing he could earn a living in professional sports. And while he loved football, he said he always felt he had more talent in boxing.
Still, he accepted a scholarship to BYU because he felt it was the right place for him to be. He redshirted his freshman season and then went on a mission to Culiacan, Mexico. He said the poverty was almost unimaginable, but the spirit of the people was inspiring.
“We didn’t have running water most places, not a lot of floors, houses built out of (particle board), no carpet, no tile, and people were just happy. It was actually amazing. It was a great experience.”
He returned home and competed in the Olympic trials in 2000.
“I got a bronze medal in the Olympic Trials,” he said, “but I didn’t make the USA team. I thought, ‘What am I going to do? My boxing career is over.’ Needless to say, I was only 20 years old and I didn’t look at the big picture.”
He enrolled at Snow College that fall and played football for the Badgers. In the spring, he went to school at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College and he boxed.
“I won the U.S. Championships in 2001 and 2002,” he said.
And USA boxing was sending him checks, asking him to represent the U.S. in fights.
“I thought, ‘Gosh, this is great!’” he said. “I turned pro when I was 23.”
He was a semester shy of graduating with his communication degree, something that still bothers his father. But as he finds success in both broadcasting and the ring, his mom sees the value of practical experience.
“I’m going into my second year with NBC, and I love it,” he said. “It’s always what I wanted to do.”
He sees boxing as a sport that is holding its own against sports like mixed martial arts. He believes there is room for both — among athletes and fans. For boxing to continue to be viable, youngsters have to start with amateur programs like Golden Gloves.
“If the kids aren’t coming up, then they aren’t going to be in the pro ranks,” he said. One issue is the perception that the Olympic trials are too political. It’s led to more and more talented fighters heading straight for the pros rather than to the Olympics.
“There’s a lot of politics. ... It’s not necessarily the best fighter winning, and that’s discouraging,” he said. “You wait for four years to get your shot, and if you don’t get a fair shake, that’s tough to swallow. Kids, I think, are starting to realize that and saying, ‘Hey, I need the money now.’”
Earning Olympic hardware can make turning pro much more lucrative, he said. But so is winning.
Flores said he isn’t “super active” in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints anymore, but he still feels the influence of his beliefs in his daily life.
“Life is such an up and down, so many things that can change and turn in life,” he said. “But those values, those beliefs are always going to be there for me. Whether the road winds or not, it’s still there. So I have that foundation.”5 comments on this story
And what he’s learned in the ring is that he has to stay dedicated, has to stay strong, so that when the call comes, he can answer.
“It’s something very different from football,” he said. “You have to take the responsibility yourself for the training, the preparation, everything. There are no corners to cut in boxing. Not that there are in football, but there’s no one to bail you out, no one to help you. It’s the most lonely place in the world in there, so you’ve got to be ready.”