If there’s one thing we boxing journalists do, is talk a good game. We can watch a bout ringside, pinpoint the exact moments of shifts in momentum and even delve into the psyche of the fighter. But the key word in that previous sentence is “watch,” as the majority of writers, despite all the time spent around gyms and fighters, have limited if any experience actually getting in the ring and trading punches. For writer and podcaster Michael Montero, whose covered the sport for over 10 years, that changes this Thursday (September 16) when he makes his in-ring debut at Atlanta’s long-running series Corporate Fight Night.
Montero, a former Marine, is not looking for personal glory or clout. In this exclusive interview, the Ring TV journalist explains how a tragic loss inspired his decision to get between the ropes.
It’s one thing to talk and critique boxing, but it’s a whole other animal to actually get in the ring. What pushed you to move from writer and podcaster to actually getting in the ring?
My brother Anthony died from a drug overdose late last year. It shook me to my core, put me in a dark place. For a few months I was drinking heavily, eating poorly, barely doing any exercise. I was unhealthy. But in January I told myself that I was going to get out of that. I decided that I was going to get my butt to the gym, get in shape, and do a fight to honor Anthony’s memory. I didn’t know when or where, but I made a commitment to fight within a year of his death.
Fight night is still to come, but just the boxing training itself is enough to break most regular people. What’s been the hardest training aspect for you and how have you overcome the difficulties?
There has been a lot to juggle. I’m a grown man, 42 years old, so I have responsibilities. I still have to show up for work, I’m renovating a home, I have a wife, I have people who depend on me. The balancing act has been tough. But another aspect has been the injuries. I broke two ribs in my first sparring session; that’s how out of shape I was. I tore a pectoral muscle. I’ve had to work through all of that. The body just doesn’t recover as quickly at 42 than it did back in my twenties.
Your opponent is named John “Lil John” Ochoa but he’s anything but small, one of the few guys that can look you right in the eye. You’ve already had a ceremonial faceoff. What’s been your overall vibe about him and what do you expect from him on fight night?
I sized him up during our stare down at the presser a couple weeks ago. He’s my height, has long arms like me. So I’m going to have to work my way to get inside on him. I’ve been told he hits like a truck so I’ll need to be prepared for that. But I’m confident in my boxing skills and athletic ability; I was a jock in my youth. My experience in the Marine Corps will come in handy as well. And, due to my work in boxing media, I’ve spent countless hours in gyms around some of the best fighters and trainers in the world. Hopefully a little of what I’ve observed and trained around has soaked into my brain a little bit, and I can bring that out in the ring on September 16.
I know you pushed for a regular pro bout, but this will be fought under USA Boxing rules, meaning 3 2-minute rounds with headgear. How has that influenced your fight strategy?
It means I have no time to waste, I need to get busy right away. I must’ve put in a thousand rounds in the gym, but it will all come down to three rounds on fight night. I need to touch my opponent early and often, punches in bunches.
It’s one thing to have the jitters you’d normally expect with it being your first fight, but you have a little more pressure with this being the main event. What do you plan to do to keep yourself level-headed during fight week?
I do feel pressure because not only am I the main event, but I know a lot of my peers in the boxing community, as well as my readers, are going to be watching. On top of that, I’m doing this fight for my brother. I don’t want to let everyone down. But that’s why I’ve prepared so diligently. I’ve run hundreds of miles, put in two-a-days for months. I’m confident because I’ve put in the work. The only question is can I keep my emotions in check, considering what/who I’m fighting for.
If all boxing critics were required to have at least one fight before covering the sport, how different, if at all, do you think boxing reporting would be?
I can only speak for myself, but I’m the type of person who learns by doing. It’s good to be an observer of a subject, but nothing can replace true real-life experience. For me, all my hours in the gym over the years, the hundreds of rounds of sparring, that has absolutely helped me be a better analyst, writer and commentator on the Sweet Science.
I just wanted to thank everybody for their support. The crew at Buckhead Fight Club, Amy Green, my coach Christian Steele and all my sparring/training partners at Steele Boxing, my supporters on social media, and my wife. This experience has been therapeutic for me; I’ve been able to physicalize the mental and emotional pain that I’m going through. Truth is, I’m still grieving the loss of my brother.
ATL Corporate Fight Night 15 will air via WBC streaming platform. Live ticket and donation info is also below. Follow Michael Montero on Twitter via @MonteroOnBoxing and his podcast at https://www.youtube.com/MonteroOnBoxing.