Dedicates Win To His Late Brother
Amateur star Christian Camarena’s pro debut was a longtime in the making. Just 20 years old, the Southern California fighter was supposed to enter the professional ranks over a year ago. But his plans were derailed when his stepbrother was murdered in December 2015–shot to death in a senseless tragedy that shattered Christian and his family.
After his stepbrother Robert Calderon, 27, was killed–still unresolved with no arrests made–in this shooting, Camarena (who was not there at the scene) had just turned 19 at the time and was rocked by this tragedy. After the loss of his bro, he needed to take a step back and put his boxing career on hold. His family was broken. Life as they knew it had changed in an instant. Young Christian felt he needed to get a steady job to help out more so he took a break from boxing. A tragedy like this can, understandably, rip a hole in your soul. But Christian is a slugger with the heart of a champion. And now as a professional prizefighter, the lanky super lightweight is fighting back with a vengeance–and fighting for his family.
The pugilist’s long-awaited pro debut took place on Friday, February 24 (on his late stepbrother’s birthday) at the famed Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. This nine-bout card dubbed “Valley Fight Night” was promoted by Bash Boxing, PR Sports and Lights Out Promotions. Christian faced off against Tijuana’s Mario Aguirre (2-7, 2 KOs), a tough kid who always comes to win. The audience was a star-studded one with superstars Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence sitting in the VIP section along with boxing stars Sergey Kovalev, Carlos Palomino, Vanes Martirosyan, Murat Gassiev, Ryan Garcia and more also at ringside.
In Christian’s corner was his longtime trainer Fausto De La Torre (Pasadena Boxing Club) and cornermen Mando Valenzuela and Steve Harpst. Representing the Villa-Parke Community Center, Christian had a huge group of Team Camarena supporters in the crowd. This fight was in memory of his stepbrother so the emotions were even stronger on this night.
When it was time for the walkout, the team was ready to go. His veteran coach De La Torre never stopped believing in him, having faith that his prized pupil would return to boxing. Coach Fausto has spent almost three decades at Villa-Parke. He’s seen a lot of athletes come and go, some swallowed up by drugs, gangs and street life. And after the tragic shooting, Christian could’ve chosen a different path. But the young man is back in the sport, focused and hungry for success. Camarena had over 80 amateur fights en route to wins at Golden Gloves, PAL, the Olympic Qualifiers, etc. He’s already been signed by noted manager Cameron Dunkin and the team is optimistic for the future. De La Torre is happy that Camarena’s debut finally took place.
“After his stepbrother was killed, Christian wanted to get a job and help his family,” Fausto told me. “Boxing (as a career) offers sporadic paychecks so, at the time, he felt like he wanted to focus on his family, the best way to help them heal and help put food on the table too.”
I’ve known Fausto for many years and anyone who’s ever met him knows his dedication to the youth. He says he loves working with the amateur kids and teens, guiding them whether they want to pursue their Olympic dreams or go pro. And by keeping them in the gym, he keeps them off the streets.
And his latest puncher to go pro is Camarena. Scheduled for four rounds, Christian squared off against the durable Mario Aguirre, who seemed set on scoring an upset. After the first bell, new pro Camarena quickly began to duke it out with his foe. After an initial flurry midway thru the opening frame, Camarena then took a step back as he went to work figuring out his opponent, looking for openings and using a strong jab and good defense. Connecting with body shots and combinations, Christian aimed to score a knockout, raining down punches in rounds three and four. But his ring rival engaged in the battle and the bout went the distance. When ring announcer Barrie Eget took to the mic, it was a unanimous win for Christian with all three judges scoring it 40-36 for Camarena in a fun action fight.
“Christian has great boxing skills and I’m happy for this win,” his trainer said after the fight. The team plans to keep Camarena busy with a fight scheduled later this month on March 18.
As he walked back to the dressing room, Camarena received a hero’s welcome from his friends, fans and family lining the tunnel entrance. This was a bittersweet victory honoring his stepbrother.
A day after his win, I spoke with Christian to hear his thoughts on his “W” as a brand new pro. This hardworking, humble young lion was already back in the gym just hours after his fight. As our phone chat continued, Camarena revealed to me this tribute for his murdered stepbrother, why he’s keeping his long hair a little while longer, and what motivates him to continue.
Michele Chong: Hi Christian, congrats on your win last night! How are you feeling this morning?
Christian Camarena: Thanks, I feel good. I felt comfortable in there; in the first round I relaxed and was ready to go. And in the third and fourth rounds, I just let my hands go.
MC: Your fans were loud and spirited, cheering for every punch. You had a lot of supporters there.
CC: Yes! This fight was for my stepbrother Robert Calderon; it was his birthday (February 24). I was thinking about him, my stepdad and my mom. I kept it quiet though, I didn’t tell a lot of people it was his birthday…I just wanted to stay focused on my fight.
MC: For those that don’t know, your stepbrother was shot and killed a little over a year ago. And then you took a brief hiatus from boxing?
CC: Yeah, it really humbled me; it changed me my whole state of mind. It was a such a shock when it happens to you. Before that, it had happened to other people, someone we knew maybe. You never think it could happen to you…and when it happened to us it was just a horrible thing. It’s shocking.
MC: And they still haven’t caught who shot your brother?
CC: (Long pause) No…no they haven’t.
MC: My condolences to your family. Switching gears…Now that you have one pro fight under your belt, what was the biggest difference fighting pro versus fighting amateur? You fought without headgear at the Olympic Qualifiers so besides that, if anything, what was the biggest change in fighting pro last night?
CC: Yeah, I’ve fought with no headgear before. And I have also faced a high level of competition in the amateurs and I’ve sparred with pros since I was a teen. So I’d say the biggest difference were my feelings of wanting to put on a really great show for my mom and for my family. It wasn’t so much that there was more pressure, but for me, I knew I really wanted to put on a great show in my debut.
MC: Your debut was a long time coming.Tell me about your early start in boxing.
CC:I first fought when I was about 10 or 11 years old but it wasn’t until I was around 12 years old that I began to take it seriously and that’s when I first started training with Fausto in Pasadena.
MC: And who were your boxing heroes growing up?
CC: I was raised by a single mother but I used to watch boxing all the time with my uncle Carlos Real. And back then, I really looked up to the styles of Oscar De La Hoya and Tito Trinidad.
MC: And you’ve already signed with a manager, Cameron Dunkin…
CC: Yes! I first met him through Mando Valenzuela. After the Olympic Qualifiers, I went to Vegas to meet with Cameron. I felt really comfortable with him and it’s been great working with him.
MC: So you have one fight logged in now. Looking ahead to the future, who would be your dream opponents in your weight division?
CC: Well I might drop lower in the future but in the future, I hope to be ready for whoever has the WBC belt in my division!
MC: I knew you from back in the amateurs. I was surprised to see you with really long hair at the weigh-in. (Laughs) Your cornrows got a lot of attention at the fight. Are you going to keep your long hair for a while?
CC: (Laughs) I’ve been growing it out for while. I’m planning on donating it to charity. I have a few months more before it’s long enough for me to donate to an organization (that will use it to make wigs for kids with cancer, etc.)
MC: Oh that’s great! So I can hear in the background you’re in the gym now…the morning after your fight?
CC: Yeah, I’m a rec leader at Villa-Parke so I’m back this morning working with the kids and I’ll be back training Monday morning.
MC: You’re very disciplined. I noticed you had a big group of fans cheering for you last night. What would you like to say to everyone who’s been there for you through the years?
CC: Thanks for all of your support! It was great to have everybody there….and I’d like to say: THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING!
Christian Camarena’s hand was raised in victory on Friday night. And in his mind, in his heart, he did it for his brother Robert.
Every boxer I meet has a backstory. This is Christian Camarena’s story. The death of Robert Calderon has scarred Camarena for life but he is striking back against this awful tragedy. It is noted that his stepbrother Robert would often grow his hair out to donate it to charity and now like his hermano, Christian is opting to do the same thus the braids he’s sporting during fights. After his stepbrother’s murder, the heartbroken pug could’ve fallen into depression and despair. He could’ve turned booze or drugs to ease the pain. But he came back to his passion, returning to the sweet science to make a better life for himself, his beloved mother, his stepfather and family. The sport of boxing rarely attracts upscale, wealthy, coddled kids into its clutches, it’s the wayward kid raised in poverty, it’s the rugged teens growing up in the hardscrabble hoods looking for a way out.
The tragedies and heartbreak they experience only fuels their desire for more. The freezing cold mornings of road work, the lonely hours in the gym, the monotony of hitting the bags over and over, the countless times their body absorbs punishment all leads to their goals to triumph, to rise above in the fight game. Young fighters like Christian who must dig deep while overcoming adversity.
Just 20 years old, this Pasadena boxer will continue to aim high.
Keep an eye on Christian Camarena as he fights the good fight.
Photos by Michele Chong