Victor Diaz, a freshman at Taos High School, stands in a ring with 18 young boxers, leading them in a half-hour sequence of stretches, sit-ups, push-ups and other cardio exercises. The boys and girls belong to the Los Tigres Boxing Club, which has trained amateur boxers in Taos since the 1990s.
"One friend told me he wanted a friend to work out with -- to not be alone here. So I was like, you know, I'll join him. Since then, I've liked it," said Diaz, who began boxing with the club two years ago. "The exercise and the team work."
Former competitive boxer Roy Madrid, 59, has been the head coach of Los Tigres for the last 20 years. "I do it for the kids. I try to keep them safe, and occupy their playtime in a positive way. My main interest is doing something for the youth of our community," said Madrid, who lives in Ranchos de Taos.
The club trains around 35 athletes, ages 7-26, year-round. It doesn't advertise, and it doesn't have a Facebook page -- it's all through word-of-mouth.
Boxers younger than 16 years old compete as juniors. In the fall, they compete at the Silver Gloves, a national amateur boxing tournament for kids ages 10-15. In the spring, they compete at the Junior Olympics and the Junior Golden Gloves.
"And then the 16-year-olds and older, jumping into the Men's Division," said Madrid. "You would have the USA Tournaments, which are all advancing tournaments from the state level on up, to nationals, like the US Open, the Golden Gloves."
Los Tigres also compete in local tournaments throughout New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. The club operates under the rules and regulations of USA Boxing, the national governing body for Olympic-style boxing. USA Boxing is a nonprofit organization, and is overseen by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Boxing Association.
"In the beginning, when they're first starting off, what we do as coaches, we match them up, according to age, weight and experience," said Madrid. "Once they're beyond that part of it, they're just fighting their weight and age. When they enter the Men's Division, they're an open boxer, and they're just fighting their weight."
Boxing matches have differing durations based on competitors' age. For boxers 14 and older, matches are three 2-minute rounds. For younger athletes, matches have shorter rounds, either one-minute or one-and-a-half minutes apiece.
Like other collision sports -- judo, karate and wrestling -- young boxers run the risk of concussion and other brain injuries. USA Boxing requires approved headgear and gloves for all matches to reduce that risk.
Ricky Fresquez, a seventh-grader at Taos Middle School, started boxing with Los Tigres in the spring of 2020. "A little before COVID started -- when it was just starting," said Fresquez, who likes to get out of the house to come practice. "I've got anger issues, and I come here to help with that."
The club shut down in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and didn't reopen until May of 2021. "A lot of them were pretty frustrated," said Madrid, who would frequently talk to his boxers on the phone over the 14-month shutdown.
Los Tigres Boxing Club grew out of the Taos Boxing Club, founded by Bob Gonzales in the 1970s. A decades-old trophy, won by the Taos Boxing Club in a competition with Peñasco, can be found in the trophy case at Taos High School today.
The club's practice space moved around a lot in those early years, including El Taoseño Restaurant. "Back then, it used to be a bowling alley," said Madrid.
Now, the club practices three nights a week (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6-7:30 p.m.) in the off-season ice rink at The Taos Youth and Family Center during the summer, and in the winter, they move to the gym at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in downtown Taos.
Zsolt Szilagyi, a former boxer who also ran a kickboxing program at the Defender Academy, is one of several assistant coaches for Los Tigres. His son Adam, a freshman at Taos High School, has been boxing with the club for the last few months.
"He's a lot more humble now. He thought he was so tough, but boxing definitely taught him a lesson -- that it's not as easy as it looks. They do a lot of running and jump rope and push ups and sit ups, and from the outside it looks like, that isn't boxing," said Szilagyi.
"But now he knows that being in the ring for a few minutes is just so tough without those exercises. To last three minutes? That's impossible without putting in hours of running, jumping rope and hitting the bags."
For more information, call Los Tigres Boxing Club at 575-741-0803.