By TITLE Boxing
Boxing's Fathers and Sons
For a child, there’s no replacing quality time spent with a father and the love and support that comes with it. And for many, that bond is strengthened through sports. Dads are often the ones to teach us how to ride a bike, how to throw a ball and even throw a punch. In boxing, the dedication and discipline it takes to succeed is unmatched in sports, so to have not only a coach in your corner, but your father, is quite an advantage and one that’s obvious in the gym, in the ring and in life.
When former lightweight title contender and WBO Latino Super Lightweight champion David Sample is working with his son DJ at Fight Capital Gym in Vegas there’s just something different about the way they connect.
“We’re just on the same page. I feel like I can see what he’s thinking, and it’s like he knows what I’m going to call before I call it,” David Sample said.
There are certainly times where it seems like the Samples, and other father-son teams in boxing, are in each other’s heads, but there’s no shortage of teachable moments like any other parent-child relationship.
“He sometimes thinks he knows it all,” Sample said. “So there are times he’s not doing what I want him to and he’ll blank me out just like any other son would do with his dad.”
Children know (think) “parents just don’t understand” as they deal with the ups and downs of everyday life. But when it comes to getting work done at the boxing gym, “you don’t understand, Dad” just doesn’t fly when your old man is a former professional fighter like three-time world champ Fernando Vargas, a father of three sons and a daughter, who now trains fighters at the Feroz Fight Factory in Las Vegas.
“I don’t care if they become world champions or if they even box. But if they want to do it, they have to do it 100%,” Fernando said. “I know what it takes to compete at the highest level. I can relate to what they’re going through or how they’re feeling about the sport and that’s comforting to them.”[caption id="attachment_3451" align="alignright" width="300"] Fernando Vargas (center) and sons Emiliano (front left) and Amado.[/caption]
With the world class training that comes from having a former champion as a Dad also comes the immediate name recognition in gyms, tournaments and fights around the country. And while that fact isn’t lost on the kids, it can still be odd to have the man you see every day praised by strangers.
“It’s still shocking when people come up and talk about how great of a fighter my dad was,” DJ Sample, David’s son, said. “Now, he’s just my dad. All he’s focused on is me and the other fighters at our gym.”
Being recognized as a famous fighter’s son can mean some doors are opened for you but it can also be a challenge that puts a lot of weight on a young fighter’s shoulders.
“It’s an honor to have that name and to have people tell me about watching him fight. I don’t take it lightly,” Amado Vargas, Fernando’s second oldest son, said about his father. “It can be a challenge, the pressure of the name…but he’s taught us nothing comes easy. You always have to work hard. Nothing is ever given to you.”
A father’s accomplishments and the expectations that come with it can be overwhelming, but for Aaron Pryor Jr. (19-9-2), son of Aaron Pryor, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time, his father’s accolades mean Jr. has a fan base everywhere he goes.[caption id="attachment_3455" align="alignleft" width="263"] Aaron Pryor (left) and Aaron Pryor Jr.[/caption]
“It’s a special feeling,” Pryor Jr. said. “It’s flattering to hear the stories. It makes me very proud and I’m very honored because everywhere I fight he has fans, which means so do I.”
In addition to the name recognition and the expectations children of former fighters inherit when they start their careers and look to build their own legacy, there also comes the comparisons.
“I get respect out of the gate because of my dad. I appreciate that a lot,” DJ Sample said. “But I get compared to him. People say I don’t have the hand speed like he did. I think it’s there. It’s not too far off.”
“You should fight like him,” people say to Pryor Jr. when talking about his father. Easy to say but unrealistic to execute. Aaron Pryor is 5’6 and was one of the best to ever step in the ring. Jr. is 6’4. That’s a huge difference and obviously lends itself to a completely different fighting style.
“I can only be me,” Pryor Jr. said. “I’m always going to be in his shadow. My dad was one of the greatest. I may not be that, but I have his heart. I know that.”
Each fighter is different. Some are blessed with natural talent and charisma putting them on a skyrocket’s trajectory. Others battle and dig and fight for their one opportunity. And in boxing the fact remains that for most fighters, the stardom will never come. What will remain, no matter the level of fame or number of times a fighter’s hand is raised in victory, is what was ingrained from day one by their father/coach.
“If I don’t have the energy or the skill I know that I’ll always have the will because of him,” DJ Sample said.
As long as there have been parents and children, a father’s role has been to raise strong, hardworking and kind kids who strive to be the best person they can be. And whether you’re the first in your family to put on a pair of gloves or your father is one of the most iconic names in boxing, what we learn from our fathers and father figures will guide us for the rest of our lives inside and outside of the ring.
“The coaching is going to end someday,” David Sample said. “Being a father is never going to end.”