He was one of those who was kind of chubby, but he always kept coming. He always ended up fighting guys who were bigger than him because of his weight, but he kept coming and coming. —Rick Montoya on Bladimir Estrada

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a discouraging loss and some tough love that transformed Bladimir Estrada from a boy who loved to box to a Golden Gloves national contender.

The West High honor student was looking to do something different when a cousin invited him to work out at Rick Montoya’s Salt Lake boxing gym.

“I liked it right away,” said Estrada, who grew up playing soccer. “Everyone in my family plays soccer. My uncle is a professional soccer player. But once I tried something new, once I tried boxing, it just clicked.”

Montoya said that while Estrada always showed up, he didn’t develop the commitment needed to succeed in the sport until about five years ago.

“He was one of those who was kind of chubby, but he always kept coming,” Montoya said. “He always ended up fighting guys who were bigger than him because of his weight, but he kept coming and coming.”

That changed about five years ago when Montoya took some of the boxers from his gym to a tournament in Idaho.

“He got handled by some kid there, and he felt really bad,” Montoya said. “I gave him some hard love.” He said Estrada was sitting on a chair alone when some of the parents on the trip wanted to comfort him.

“I wanted him to be by himself,” Montoya said. “I wouldn’t let anyone comfort him. It wasn’t because I was disappointed in his performance. I didn’t want him to ever feel like that again. He’d let himself down, had to cut too much weight too quick. I wanted him to feel this bad enough that he wanted to change. He did it, and he came through and he’s gotten better ever since.”

Estrada has always had passion for the sport and a commitment to the work required.

Nick Butterfield, who runs Fullmer Brothers Boxing Gym, called Estrada the best boxer in the state. He has the chance to prove that this weekend at the Utah Golden Gloves State Tournament at Sorenson Multicultural Center in Glendale. The tournament begins Friday at 7 p.m. and concludes Saturday at 7 p.m. The state champions advance to April's regional tournament, and this year Utah will host the Golden Gloves National Tournament in May.

Montoya and Estrada believe being able to box all three levels in his home state will present a perfect opportunity for the 18-year-old.

“He’s the best boxer, just technically sound,” Butterfield said. “He’s also very, very humble. … I can’t tell you what a good kid he is. He never shows off, very humble, just a great talent. He can win a national championship.” Montoya agrees.

“Right now, he’s the best fighter in Utah, but he’s also better than any of the ones I’ve ever had,” Montoya said. “And I’ve had some good ones. He can win a title.”

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Estrada, who maintains a 3.8 GPA, said he loves the discipline required by the sport. But he also loves an aspect of the sport that might make others abandon it.

“Honestly, it’s getting hit,” he said of his favorite part of boxing. “I like getting hit. …Everybody can play soccer; everybody can play basketball. Not everybody can take a hit and still continue.”

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