By Rick Assad
Taking the walk from a stark dressing room and then ascending a few steps up a short ladder and then stepping foot into a boxing ring requires a great deal of mental toughness and intestinal fortitude.
Being a pugilist isn’t easy because it can often be savage, extremely brutal and can result in permanent damage or in some cases, even much worse.
Miguel Malonzo is a local amateur boxer and a 2016 Burbank High graduate who has more courage than most.
This wasn’t initially evident during Malonzo’s time in high school. “Back in Burbank High I didn’t play sports at all,” said Malonzo, who has carved out a 9-4 record while fighting at 132 pounds and has claimed a Golden Gloves Regional title and the state championship in 2019.
“I was really unathletic and not anywhere in shape. I was in the marching band for all four years and in jazz band for the last two,” he said. “I was in the percussion section and although I knew how to play the bass drum, the quads and the drum-set, my specialty was the marching snare drum.”
Malonzo continued: “I would say that all those years studying and playing music has really helped me in boxing because rhythm and timing are two really important things to have and understand if you are a fighter,” he said.
Malonzo was born in the Philippines and has lived in Burbank for the last nine years, but didn’t begin his ring career until he was 20, which is rather late.
In March, Malonzo, who trains at the Burbank Boxing Club which was founded by Steve Harpst in 1996, was supposed to compete in a Golden Gloves competition.
But like so many sporting events, it was canceled because of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
“COVID-19 has really been a major obstacle in me pursuing my boxing goals this year,” he said. “The biggest example was me training and dieting for eight weeks for the Golden Gloves, which is one of the top tournaments an amateur boxer can participate in. I was really amped-up for it and was really upset when it was announced to be canceled due to the coronavirus concerns.”
Harpst, who is Malonzo’s trainer, chimed in: “This virus hit home when we were leading up to this year’s Golden Gloves and the message came in that both Northern and Southern California had been canceled,” he said. “Miguel had a really good camp getting ready, so it was natural for him to be disappointed.”
Nonetheless, Malonzo finds ways to keep in shape. “Despite all the gyms being closed I still manage to train at home,” he said. “I shadow box for 30 to 40 minutes a day. Also, every three days I run from my house all the way up to the Castaway restaurant and back which is about four miles.”
Malonzo wants to continue and make a name for himself in boxing.
“My immediate goals during this quarantine is to stay in fighting shape so that as soon as this whole corona thing is over, I will be able to pick up where I left off and not take a month or two to get back in rhythm,” he said. “I am aiming to coast at 129 pounds during this quarantine so that cutting down to 123 pounds wouldn’t be as hard as last time.”
How did Malonzo, who describes his boxing style as very similar to Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao, his hero, in that he’s quick with his hands and feet and aggressive, begin his path to the sweet science?
“I first got started in boxing during the spring break of my senior year in Burbank High,” he explained. “Finally free from homework and school events, I decided to try out the boxing class offered in the gym that I go to. A couple classes later, I was obsessed with getting better and being more in shape. I chose to do boxing because growing up I remember every time Manny Pacquiao fought, our household, and the whole country stopped to watch. Every fight he had was an event and I guess that’s why in the back of my mind it was the most exciting sport to try.”
When did Malonzo first remember Pacquiao in the ring? “My earliest memory of him fighting was when he fought Erik Morales for the first time,” he said. “Soon as the fight was over, I got out of the house and started talking with my neighbor who said that it doesn’t matter that Pacquiao lost. The important thing is that we support him no matter what.”
Malonzo then added: “Pacquiao is such a big inspiration because for a man who looks like a regular person from where I grew up, ended up becoming one of the greatest boxers of all time, having won world championship titles in eight weight categories, the most of all-time,” he said.
That fight took place on March 19, 2005 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and was the third loss for Pacquiao, who has compiled a 62-7-2 record with 39 knockouts.
Malonzo believes that after 10 to 15 more amateur bouts, he’ll be ready to turn professional and that in three to four years, he’ll be a top prospect in the 123-pound weight class.
Humble, just like his idol, Malonzo said he owes Harpst much credit. “Everything I know about boxing I learned from Steve Harpst,” he said. “He spends his free time running with us on the Burroughs track and field and gives good one-on-one coaching when we do go on our runs. He also spends his free time getting us sparring with other gyms in the Southern California region, where sometimes we drive all the way to the Reseda/Winnetka area.”
Malonzo said that Harpst’s words of wisdom have helped him in so many ways. “Some of the things that he teaches are not just boxing related. He teaches us that no matter how sore you are, you still have to show up to your fight or training without complaining,” he said. “That lesson will stick with me long after I retire from boxing because that is a mindset. And I think that it is more important than any other boxing technique that any coach can give their students.”
Harpst sees a very bright future for Malonzo in the ring and out because of his high boxing IQ and willingness to work with others.
“His work ethic and passion for the game is contagious in the gym,” he said of the 22-year-old. “It really inspires the new boxers and he will take time to work with them. I can see him being a successful coach for us.”