Las Vegas • In a dimly lit brick and concrete building just east of State Street on the outskirts of downtown Salt Lake City, a hulking, muscular young man who looks like he should be playing professional football, like his uncle, shadowboxes in one corner. Music blares as dozens of other boxers try to carve out their own space in the cramped, sweat-stained space.
Welcome to the world of up-and-coming Utah amateur heavyweight boxing champion Siala-Mou "Bubba" Siliga, a 20-year-old bruiser who trains at the anything-but-glamorous State Street Boxing Gym in hopes of one day realizing his dream, which, simply put, "is to be the heavyweight champion of the world."
National Golden Gloves tournamentWhere » Las Vegas Hotel, Las Vegas
When » Monday through Saturday
Utahns who will compete:
165 lbs. » Danny Galloway, Salt Lake City (Muay Thai Institute)
201 lbs. » Tyrell Rousch, West Jordan (Fullmer’s Boxing Gym)
201+ lbs. » Siala-Mou “Bubba” Siliga, Kearns (State Street Boxing Gym)
Siliga, who is the nephew of former University of Utah football star Sealver Siliga, despite being just a few years younger than the current New England Patriots defensive lineman, takes the next step toward what seems like an impossible goal this week. Despite having just five amateur fights under his belt, the 6-foot, 255-pounder will compete in the 2014 Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas.
The annual tournament begins Monday and runs through Saturday at the Las Vegas Hotel. Highland High graduate Danny Galloway (165 lbs.) and 201-pounder Tyrell Rousch of the Fullmer Brothers Boxing Gym in South Jordan will also represent Utah and Rocky Mountain region in Las Vegas, after the franchise hosted the event at the Salt Palace Convention Center last year for the second time in four years.
The bright lights of Las Vegas will be a far cry from the State Street Boxing Gym, a nonprofit facility owned by former Salt Lake City boxing champion Dave "Fireball" Ramos and operated by his son Mario and grandson Juliano. The gym is designed to help at-risk and inner-city youth "move in the right direction," according to Mario Ramos, and it appears to be doing just that with Siliga, who moved from the gang-ridden streets of San Bernardino, Calif., to Kearns two years ago after plans to play football beyond high school didn’t work out.
"I like boxing because I am a competitive guy, and it is a good sport for me," said Siliga, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his uncle, Sealver. "I played football in high school, but my grades weren’t too good, so I decided to go back to boxing. I like it because it is an individual sport. You don’t have a team you can rely on. It is just yourself."
Besides, boxing is in his family’s blood — even more than football is.
Siliga’s father, who is also named Siala-Mou Siliga, is a well-known California kickboxer, boxer and mixed-martial arts fighter who goes by the moniker "Mighty Mo." Mighty Mo’s brother, Mike Siala, will be in Bubba’s corner on Tuesday, along with Juliano Ramos. They are hoping that former Ute Sealver — 15 to 20 years younger than his four older brothers — will be in attendance like he was last month when Bubba defeated Montana’s Teddy Lopez in the regional finals at the Sorenson Center.
Bubba got his nickname from another uncle because he weighed more than 11 pounds when he was born.
As soon as he could walk, Bubba started accompanying his father to gyms in the San Bernardino area along with some of his nine other siblings. Although he didn’t have any official bouts, he trained and did a lot of sparring from the time he was 5 years old. He gave up boxing in favor of football when he was 13 or 14.
While working at a warehouse in Salt Lake City for $10 an hour last year, Bubba decided to give boxing another shot and dedicated his comeback to his divorced parents. His mother, Tafia Siliga, lives in Utah now while his father is staying busy on the MMA circuit, despite being 43 years old.
Juliano Ramos said it is rare for someone with just five bouts to make nationals, but believes Bubba has a chance to do something big in the sport because of his self-discipline and desire.
"He has a big heart," Ramos said. "He’s really dedicated, and he’s hungry to succeed. You have to be starving [for success] in this sport, and he really wants this."
Bubba’s style is similar to that of Mike Tyson. He’s short by heavyweight standards, and stocky. He likes to work inside, delivering body blows to wear out his opponents.
"He’s got power and stamina," Ramos said. "As long as he’s in top condition, that’s all that matters."
While Siliga was preparing for his nationals debut, about a dozen Utah youngsters were in Los Lunas, N.M., competing at the USA Boxing Junior Olympic Regionals last weekend. One of those young fighters, 13-year-old Mateo Holt, is also a product of the State Street Boxing Gym.
Holt, who is 4-2, said boxing keeps him calm and out of trouble, and helps him get better grades in school.
"My mom wouldn’t let me do any other sports, so I tried boxing and I love it," he said.
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