Matthew Guerrero was already a winner by qualifying for last week’s 40th Annual USA Boxing Junior Olympic Championships in Mobile, Ala.
The bronze medal he returned home with was a bonus.
The 15-year-old sophomore at Manteca High took a big step forward in his amateur boxing career with the third-place finish. Guerrero is a two-time Junior Golden Gloves champion, but he said this latest achievement surpasses anything he previously accomplished.
“It’s the biggest tournament I have been in,” he said. “For Golden Gloves, you go over there, register and you’re in. But for Junior Olympics you have to fight your way in.”
Guerrero (35-17), campaigning at 119 pounds for the second straight year, won the Central California Association and Central Pacific Region 11 — in Madera and Arvin, respectively, last May — to qualify for the Junior Olympics, which is restricted to 15 and 16 year olds.
He was one of two combatants awarded first-round byes in the 14-man bracket. In the quarterfinals last Wednesday, Aug. 3, he outpointed Roberto Tamez of Houston, Tex., 15-14. That set him up with a semifinal showdown against fellow Californian Gary Salazar, an accomplished amateur from Fresno. Salazar captured the Junior Olympic gold medal last year at 114 pounds and entered the 2011 event as the top-ranked 119-pounder.
“I told him that either way you can’t go wrong,” said Rick Guerrero, Matthew’s dad. “If you win, you just beat the No. 1 kid in the nation. And if you lose, you got beat by the No. 1 kid in the nation.
“He was in a no-lose situation.”
Salazar was at a disadvantage height-wise against the 5-foot-6 Guerrero, but his hand speed, head movement and polished skills more than made up for it.
The slick Salazar, who often switches from the conventional stance to southpaw, won 27-15 on Thursday. He went on to defeat D’Andres Hockerson of Rochester, N.Y. even more convincingly, 33-13.
“I was just trying to stay on the outside because he’s shorter than me and he likes to brawl a lot,” Matthew said.
Overall, the experience was priceless. Guerrero saw a step up in competition, watched the U.S. Olympic Team Trials that went on simultaneously, trained with USA Boxing coaches and got to pose for pictures with Evander Holyfield and famed trainer Freddie Roach.
“I learned a lot from it,” Guerrero said. “Next year I’ll be real determined to come back with the gold.”
Guerrero will take time off from competition for the rest of the summer but will continue training as he readjusts to his school schedule. The honor-roll student may compete in the National Police Athletic League Championships in Toledo, Ohio this October and is considering joining the Manteca High wrestling team over the winter.