Irving—The Irving Police Athletic League (PAL) is sending eight boxers to various national and international boxing tournaments during November and December. The competitions include Youth, Junior, and Elite national Olympic tournaments and the first-ever Junior Pan American Games in Colombia.
The Irving PAL has become an international force since it opened, regularly attending these and similar competitions. The gym located on the corner of Rock Island Road and Rogers has seen numerous boxers turn pro over time. The walls of the gym are lined with more belts, trophies, medals, and ribbons than they can comfortably fit. Extras reside in whatever spaces can be found, including the door of an office that belongs to the PAL’s lead boxing coach, Irving Police Officer Rosario Solis.
“We’ve been doing this since 1992, and we’re still going strong, going stronger,” Coach Solis said.
Among the tournament-goers for the PAL are three brothers: Joseph, Ali, and Ahmed “Cheeto” Almajdi. The brothers are 18, 16, and 14 respectively, and about as decorated as they can be for their ages.
All three brothers will fight in the 2021 USA Boxing National Championships, starting Dec. 5 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Each event winner receives a spot on Team USA. Joseph and Ali both won 1st last year and look to retain their spots on Team USA. Ahmed will be looking to win gold for the first time. Joseph also won the National Junior Olympics in 2019.
Ali will be representing the Team USA at the inaugural Junior Pan American Games in Cali, Columbia. The Games take place from Nov. 23 to Dec. 5, and the boxing portion will be from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1. On Monday, he went to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado to start preparing.
“We started when we were like four and five,” Joseph said about himself and Ali. “We started karate at the same place. Then we started doing jujutsu, wrestling, kickboxing, and that led us to boxing. At the time, we were doing both of them. From the boxing gym, we’d go right to wrestling. Eventually, we just devoted everything to boxing.”
“Really, we started off [in boxing] just to learn some self-defense and get in shape,” Ali said. “As time went on, we just saw progress. We started taking it more serious, and now it’s a name. A family name.
“We do it for the excitement,” Ahmed said. “It also gives us new experiences we enjoy, like traveling across the U.S. and internationally.”
“There are three separate teams,” Ali said. “There’s an elite team, which is 18 and up, and then you have youth [under 16 years old] and junior [16-17 years] teams for the younger guys. We could possibly see, hopefully, multiple people for Irving PAL representing the United States.”
The Almajdi brothers are in their third year at the Irving PAL.
“It is a different gym,” Ali said. “There are a lot of good people at this gym for sparring, and the coaches are great here too. That’s really what helped us.”
“There are a lot of great coaches.They’re involved with the kids, as well as in the boxing sense,” Joseph said. “They could just take you under their wing and teach you and get you started.”
“I think it’s the coaching [that makes IPAL successful] and of course the boxers themselves,” Ali said. “Because everyday you come in here you see the same people always working hard. Training and trying to learn with the coaches. Over time, you do that everyday. Just dedicated, dedicated to the sport. You’re going to see results.”
“You can be really social [at the PAL] and the opportunities here are great,” Ahmed said. “You can do plenty of sports: archery, boxing, wrestling on the weekends. They have a normal gym. We can do cardio and lifting, or you can just join the fitness group and stay in shape.
“If you have a chance to come by, I’m pretty confident you would enjoy being here, putting it in your routine.”
“I would like to give a special thank you to the coaching staff for helping all of us come to where we have. A special thank you to Coach Solis and Coach Robert Hernandez,” Ali said.
In addition to the three Almajdi brothers, the PAL is sending Ruben Contreras (21), Emiliano Gandara (16), Carlos Martinez (16), and Héctor Beltrán, Jr. (16) to Shreveport’s national tournament.
In July, Beltrán, Martinez, and Gandara competed in the 2021 Mexican National Championships. If the athlete or the athlete’s parents were born in Mexico, the athlete can file for citizenship and fight in Mexican national events. Beltrán Jr. and Martinez took home silver medals, and Gandara took home gold.
“[Boxing] is something I love,” Martinez said. “I got a passion for it. I love learning everyday something new. This is keeping me on the right path of going to big things.
“I look forward to turning pro and winning belts. That’s something special.”
“[I love] putting in all the work and at the end seeing results come out positive,” Gandara said. “It feels good. Everyday with your coaches working, having fun, it’s little moments like that.”
“It makes friends turn into family,” Contreras said. “It’s not always just about boxing with us. We’re also a family. We do things outside of the gym. We treat each other like brothers and sisters. That’s also something that makes you love the sport. They care about you.
“There’s good people here. They don’t just care about themselves. They care about everybody here.
“Boxing is a hard sport. If you want to do it, you have to be dedicated. Dedicated and one hundred percent in it. You can’t just do 50 percent, because you spend more time in the gym and with your teammates than you do at home. You’re always with your teammates. Working out on the weekend. If you have dreams to be a world champion one day or make it big, you have to be really, really dedicated.”
“I’ve been around the gym my whole life,” Beltrán said. “My dad boxed too, and I just got into it. From there, I started going to the gym almost everyday.”
Beltrán’s father, Héctor Beltrán, Sr., was a boxer in his own right. Now, he trains world champion Vergil Ortiz, Jr. A couple other PAL dads also help Ortiz with his training and nutrition.
Every single boxer said Vergil Ortiz, Jr. was one of their favorite professional boxers. Ortiz is a 23 year old pro who’s a product of Irving PAL from Grand Prairie. He currently holds the World Boxing Organization’s international welterweight title. Ortiz was a seven-time national champion as an amateur.
“When Vergil was here he was eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. He was a teenager,” Coach Solis said.
“We look up to him,” Martinez said. “The way he is.The way he sets an example for us. Not just in boxing, but outside the ring.”
“When we’re with him, he’s himself,” Gandara said. “We go to his house and have cookouts and it’s nice to spend time with him. But it’s also nice to spend time with him in the gym, because we see how you have to work in order to become a world champion or a future world champion.”
“[Now that he’s pro], Vergil goes more to California to train, but if he needs to train here, Coach Solis or somebody will always let him use the gym,” Beltrán said.
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