Sixty thousand community college students participate in athletic competition, according to the NCAA. Another 400,000 compete if you include four-year college students. Only two percent will ever become professional athletes.
Twenty-year-old Bronx native Ismael Villarreal (1-0) has already beaten those odds. The two-time New York Golden Gloves champion won his first bout as a professional boxer in November in his debut at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Villarreal returns to the big stage again at The Garden on Saturday, March 3 on the non-televised undercard of Sergey Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin in a four-round junior middleweight bout against Anthony Woods (1-5) of Douglasville, Georgia.
“I never thought I was going to return (to Madison Square Garden) that quick,” said Villarreal. “It’s pretty cool, and I get to fight in my hometown, so I like it.”
Villarreal remains in New York between fights in order to balance his full-time training schedule and full-time course load at Brooklyn Community College. He is a physical education major, studying subjects including biology and education, with the goal of becoming a teacher. “You’ve always got to have a backup plan. Anything can happen… I can’t drop school.”
Villarreal competed as an amateur while attending Belmont Preparatory High School, founded in the Bronx in 2002 for academically talented students throughout the community. Many of his teachers there became boxing fans, and Villarreal expects to see many of them for his second fight at Madison Square Garden. “They’ve always been supportive,” said Villarreal.
His community college classmates and instructors aren’t as aware of Villarreal’s second full-time job as a professional boxer: “Sometimes they find me on the internet. I would have told them, but I don’t want to interrupt class saying ‘hey, I’m a boxer!'”
Juggling the demands of training and his school obligations makes time management critically important for Villarreal. “I have to go every day, my only day off is Friday. I still have to focus on running, on homework, on the gym. It’s tough but I’ll make it through,” said Villarreal.
Villarreal says the real exhaustion is mental more than physical. “When I go to school and I’m boxing, it’s definitely hard. Some can do it, some can’t … Sometimes it’s hard to manage… no one can say it’s easy, it’s a challenge.”
But Villarreal has discovered the value of discipline, and he says it benefits him in multiple ways. “I’ve always been disciplined when it comes to schoolwork. If anything, I become more disciplined with boxing from the schoolwork,” explained Villarreal.
For his upcoming fight, Villarreal is dropping from middleweight to junior middleweight (154 pounds). He says he’s working on being more active and throwing more punches, especially working to the body. Villarreal’s plan for 2018 is to stay active in the ring. But he also understands at this stage of his career, “sometimes you get tired of waiting, but patience is important … I know everything will pay off in the future.”
About March 3: The Saturday, March 3 main event between Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and Igor Mikhalkin is a 12-round match-up for the WBO Light Heavyweight World Title at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The co-main event features WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion Dmitry Bivol versus Sullivan Barrera in a 12-round title fight. Tickets range from $50 to $300 and are available at TicketMaster.com and the Madison Square Garden box office.
The event is promoted by Main Events, Krusher Promotions and World of Boxing in association with EC Box Promotions and will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing® at 10:05 p.m. ET/PT.