Teen takes national title after two years of disappointment

by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOCELYN TAYLOR - Cruz Solano won the 2014 Silver Glove Championship in St. Louis on Jan. 29, knocking off three opponents for his first ever title belt. Second place sat squarely in Cruz Solano’s craw for two drawn out years.

Twice, in 2012 and again in 2013, the Silver Gloves Championship belt Solano went to bed dreaming about every night, the one he sweated blood for and gave up so much to chase, was wrapped around another competitor’s waist as he sulkily shook his head, wondering what could be done to turn the tables in his favor.

Humbled by defeat and fired with enthusiasm to never lose another SGC, Solano and head coach Charlie Rios went back to the drawing board. The duo studied film of Solano’s fights, breaking down faults and fine-tuning strengths. It wasn’t enough to just throw punches anymore, Rios said. Solano had to define what he was looking at in the ring, absorb it, respond to it and overcome it to become a champion.

Solano’s maturation as a fighter began to meet his promising skill set and staying power as he plowed through three months of torturing training and the regional championships. Then, at the Silver Gloves Championship in St. Louis, Solano exacted the retribution he worked toward, winning three bouts against national-level talent to rightfully claim the 2014 National Silver Belt Championship.

“This year, I really had the hunger to win,” said Solano. “When you lose in the finals, it’s like, ‘Ugh, so much training for nothing.’ But, when you actually win it, it’s such a great feeling. Hard work

pays off.”

Solano’s work ethic and dedication to the sport are so renowned at the Silver Gloves event after competing there for four years that the coaches and fellow competitors went bananas over the obtainment. Solano qualified for the SGS by winning matches at the state and regional level before advancing to the national level. In all, Solano won five straight times to capture the title, including three consecutive wins at nationals. Each of the three rounds in Missouri was one-minute-long.

“When he won it, it was like mayhem,” said Rios. “It was like he was some movie star celebrity. It was terrific because of his reputation. He put in the time to get there. He really paid his dues to get there, and people appreciate that. He didn’t walk in off the street and win a championship. He did it big.”

Stepping up

Solano said most of the national participants were runners, so he utilized his speed to cut the ring in half to get to their bodies and not let them flee. Deploying three-punch combinations, one-two hooks and stick-and-moves, Solano stung his first two competitors to set up his third championship match in as many years. His championship challenger was very aggressive, getting in Solano’s grill from the opening bell. Cruz had to adjust his style and bounce around the ring to avoid body shots and big blows to the head.

“I couldn’t be in front of him or else he’d start holding,” said Solano. “I had to step around, use a right-hand hook and step around again. Speed and movement were my keys, and throwing a lot of jabs to keep my opponents controlled, so they didn’t come after me.”

Solano won the first round by constantly dancing around the ring and applying the right-handed hook. But, in the second round, Solano said his opponent pushed him to the ground and tried to mentally wear him down and make mistakes. With the match tied 1-1, Solano stuck to his plan and maintained focus for 60 seconds for the win. As Solano walked back to the corner where Rios and his father were waiting, a feeling of jubilation surged inside him.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I won that round,” said Solano. “All the training I did, and to win? It’s a great feeling. Knowing I put in all that time and effort, that was the best part.”

Beginning in December, Solano woke up long before school and the sunrise to run three miles a day for six days a week. The determining change to Solano’s training regiment and arguably the difference between gold and silver was sparring with heavier kids at the Beaverton Activities Center in the months leading up to the title match. Squaring off with Beaverton Police Activities League competitors 15 to 20 pounds bigger than him put the pressure on the 95-pound Solano, so the fights against teens his own size wouldn’t be so sizable.

“After sparring with bigger kids, the punches at nationals weren’t as hard,” said Solano.

Lessons in discipline

In the week before nationals Solano was 3 pounds heavier than his weight division at 98 pounds. With weigh-ins every day prior to the match and quarterfinal and semifinal bouts to compete in, Solano had to carry out a strict diet of chicken, fish and vegetables to get down to the allotted 95 pounds. Rios put him through a ringer of one-hour training sessions, shadow boxing, jumping rope and running 30 minutes to lose 2 priceless pounds a workout.

“The discipline to do that is just as important as the fighting,” said Rios, who leads the popular Beaverton PAL boxing program. “His attitude had to stay way high. The pressure was on him, but there wasn’t one time the whole week that we were out that he said anything negative to me. It was a total attitude of moving forward, winning it, taking it.”

It was a lot for any teenager to handle, but Solano never complained. He knew championship glory isn’t for the weak. If it was easy, everybody would be boxing, Solano said. Title belts come to those who forgo comfort and contentment for top honors and acclaim.

“I had to keep going because there was no quitting in me,” said Solano. “It was the last week. I couldn’t quit. I had to win.”

Something Solano did before the championship bout — which Rios said he’d never heard from his star pupil’s mouth — was verbalize and stake claim that the title was his alone. Part of a champion’s makeup, Rios said, is visualizing a win and truly believing it will materialize in the ring before a fighter can go about fighting.

“He said, ‘This is my year, coach. This is it. I’m going to take it this year,’” said Rios. “In the years past, maybe he was thinking that, but he wasn’t as confident. This year he put the effort in. He worked his butt off, and he claimed it.”

‘Will to win’

Solano was no Muhammad Ali, strutting around talking game, standing 6 inches away from his challenger and shoving his index finger his chests. But, as Solano and Rios watched the first day of competition, the 13-year-old’s confidence began to bloom.

“I knew they weren’t as good as me,” said Solano. “I knew I was going to win. I was in the gym six days a week for three months. And with all my training, I was really confident in my will to win.”

Now that Solano is back in Beaverton and looking toward the future, he’s excited about pursuing the boxing dream all the way to the highest level.

“Some day I want to go to the Olympics,” said Solano. “I want to make the Olympic team. Then, after that, maybe go pro.”

Solano — a student at Whitford Middle School — started boxing five years ago with a straightforward physical purpose that developed into more of mental game as he aged.

“When I was small, I thought it was pretty cool punching a kid in the face,” said Solano. “That’s what got me into it. Over the years, I’ve liked it because it’s more using your mind, using your head in boxing. You have to throw the right combinations, know when to throw a hook to the body because maybe by the time you’re going for it, they can catch you. You have to know when to throw the right punch.”

There’s a lot of time between now and the 2020 Olympic Games when Solano would be eligible to compete. But, Rios said Solano has the mental focus to set aside the distractions that come along with being a teenager to be great. There are lots of fights and rounds to go in Solano’s youth and plenty of championship details that need to be duplicated again and again to be an Olympic-caliber contender. Rios said, because of Solano’s skills and ability to stay focuses on the prize, the 2020 games are within reach.

“The sky’s the limit with somebody with his skill level,” added Rios. “Cruz isn’t just a champion this year. He’s an exceptional talent. His talent level is beyond the limit. He follows direction so well, that it’s just a question of time, staying in the gym, keeping your mind’s eye on the goal you want to accomplish. He has the talent. It’s just a matter of can he stay on the pathway.”by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOCELYN TAYLOR - Cruz Solano came in second place for two years at the Silver Glove Championship before breaking through with a big victory in January.

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