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Hackensack Boxer Who Escaped Poverty Eyes World Title

"With all I've been through, this is easy." - Boxing champion Jonathan Maicelo, of Hammer Hands gym in Hackenasck. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Maicelo's coach, Butch Sanchez, lathers him in sweat-inducing cream before training. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Maicelo will face Jose Felix, Jr. on Friday. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Beads of sweat pour off of Jonathan Maicelo's face and onto the ring of Hackensack's Hammer Hands gym.

The Peruvian fighter is 30 seconds into the second portion of the day's training, and he went for a two-hour run first thing in the morning.

Maicelo, 33 of Jersey City, has five pounds to lose before his lightweight bout on Friday in Texas against Jose Felix, Jr. If Maicelo wins, he'll be ranked third in his weight class by the World Boxing Organization.

"With all I've been through," he said, "this is easy."


The match won’t be, though. Maicelo is facing his the toughest competition in the ring yet: Felix has won his last eight bouts and boasts a career record of 35-1-1.

Maicelo holds the Latin American lightweight title and won the World Boxing Council Intercontinental in 2016.

He first learned martial arts to defend himself back in Callao, Peru, a region he says is so bad the police choose to keep out.

"You learn to fight before you learn to walk," he said.

The house Maichelo shared with his mom and grandmother didn't have a bathroom — just some holes in the flooring.

"People here don't know what they have," he said. "They complain they don't have the newest pair of shoes when there are other people working with no arms or legs, doing what they have to do."

Seven years ago, Maicelo and his wife moved to the U.S., right before the birth of their son. That's when the fighter said his career really took off.

"Even though I started later in life, all of the opportunities were here," Maicelo said.

He's since been able to build his mother a new house, launched his own clothing line and opened a gym to help the youth in his community.

Maicelo was recently featured in commercials for Fritos and Pepsi.

"It's like a 360-degree turn," said Maicelo's trainer, Butch Sanchez, who translated the entire interview from Spanish to English for Daily Voice. "He's a kid who came from nothing."

Maicelo says he owes everything to boxing. It's made him mentally stronger and more appreciative for all he's earned.

"I just tried to do things the right way," he said. "I never knew I'd be famous. I was never a follower, that's why I never got involved in drugs — I wanted people to follow me.

"If I can do it, anyone can do it."


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