Brooklyn, N.Y. – Roughly 10 years ago, the welterweight boxer Gabriel “Tito” Bracero would wake up every morning in Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York. He would fold his mattress in half then stack the few possessions that lined the concrete floor of his cell on one side of his bed.
Bracero would tie plastic bags to his body and run in place for an hour in order to build up a sweat. He kept a strict regimen.
“I would act like I was running on the track,” Bracero told Fox News Latino last week. “I would listen to music and daydream about days like this, looking forward to the day when I was training for a title fight. Running would free me and keep me strong-minded.”
Bracero, a two-time Golden Glove champ and amateur boxing powerhouse, had visions of world titles, even while behind bars. Boxing, a sport that he started at age 9, would not be derailed, even if he had been convicted of attempted murder, aggravated assault and criminal possession of a weapon and sentenced to four to nine years in state prison.
Bracero is no longer working out in prison. These days, Bracero (23-1-0) is training at Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn, preparing for his fight on Saturday against the Dominican Félix Díaz (16-0-0) at the Barclays Center.
At Gleason’s, he jumps rope with an actual jump rope and stares intently at his reflection in the mirror while he listens to self-help recordings in his headphones.
“Fighting at Barclays is a dream come true,” he told FNL. “I’m ecstatic. I’m a Brooklyn boy … It’s like being able to perform in front of my hometown crowd.”
Surely he’s ticked off a few locals along the way?
“I’m a success story in the neighborhood,” he said. “The people who like me are rooting for me; the people who don’t like me are rooting for me. There aren’t too many people like me who make a comeback.”
He talks about his upcoming fight like he’s his own hype man. “I’m ready for whatever he brings to the table, he’s [an Olympic] gold medal winner, so really I’m fighting for a gold medal and I’m amped up,” he said.
“I adapt,” he added. “I fight when I need to fight; I box when I need to box. If he tries to be slick, I’m gonna be slicker.”
He’s quick to point out that Diaz has never had a shot at world title, which is curious considering Diaz won Olympic gold in 2008. That’s a long time to go untested.
“It just means [his handlers] don’t have confidence in him, which is good for me,” Bracero said. “When I get in the ring, I’m thinking about taking this kid out—he’s the only thing standing in my way, and really I’m like a pit bull in a cage waiting to be let loose.”
Bracero pointed to a faded picture taped to his locker, a clipping of an ad he’s in for an event that his trainer Tommy Gallagher organized in 2002—“Black Tie Boxing.” In it, there’s a line of shirtless boxers wearing bowties, all of them were on the come up back then: Yuri Foreman, Paulie Malignaggi, Luis Collazo—contenders that Bracero fought against and sparred with when he was climbing the ranks. They all went on to win titles.
“I don’t have a thing in common with anyone right now,” he told FNL. “I’m so focused on the fight. There’s nothing to joke around about, to talk about, I just need to stay in my own zone and stay focused. It’s the toughest and loneliest sport in the world. It’s only you in the ring.”
Bracero mentioned that the last time he saw Malignaggi, now a Showtime boxing announcer, his friend pulled him aside and said that his time, it was his turn. That he had a real shot to win this fight and to contend for a title.
“Being in prison for six years preserved me as a boxer,” he said. “When you get hit and knocked down, can’t nobody get in the ring and help you up and pump life into you. You have to have it within yourself.”
About Díaz and his Barclays Center debut, Bracero sad, “Boxing saved my life. This is a day I dreamed for, I prayed for, and it’s happening. It’s bigger than destiny, this is a vision I had.”