COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At 12 years old, Joe Guzman stepped in a ring for the first time at Eloy Boxing Club. In less than a month, he’ll step inside another ring on the other side of the world as an Olympic boxing coach.
This won’t be the first Olympics for the 41-year-old Guzman, who now lives in Buckeye. In fact, this is his third time participating on the most grandiose stage for athletics. He was an unaccredited assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic boxing team at the 2012 games in London and the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
However, this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo will be the first time he’s participating in the role of accredited coach — a big step up in his career.
“This one hits home for me,” Guzman told PinalCentral in a phone interview last week. “I’m a credentialed coach. I’ll be in the (Olympic) village and be in the corners for the fights.”
Guzman arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 1 to begin training with Team USA. He and the other coaches and trainers are working with 10 boxers — five men and five women. There are seven total coaches on the team, including head coach Billy Walsh.
With his flight to Japan just a few days away, the journey he was about to embark on was starting to become even more real for Guzman.
“This is one of my dreams ... to make the pinnacle of amateur boxing,” he said.
The path to Tokyo all started in Eloy. As a youth, Guzman was encouraged to try boxing because it was a way he could stay out of trouble.
Danny Montoya and Ronnie Rodriguez started the Eloy Boxing Club (now Taz Boxing Club), and he learned under their tutelage. Guzman said he picked up the sport fast and won some state and regional tournaments.
But the lessons Guzman learned in the gym went far beyond just throwing punches and avoiding them.
“I looked up to them as father figures,” he said of Montoya and Rodriguez.
Guzman said they treated him like “one of their own” and instilled him with discipline he lacked. That discipline helped him outside the ring as well, as Guzman said his performance in school also improved.
He went to Santa Cruz Valley and graduated in 1998. He then joined the Army, where he also boxed as part of its World Class Athlete Program.
Ultimately, injuries derailed Guzman’s career as a boxer. But another opportunity immediately presented itself when Guzman’s coach offered him a job as a boxing coach in August 2008.
“One day I’m an athlete, the very next day I’m a coach,” he said. “It took me about a year to get comfortable with it.”
One challenging aspect of the transition was he now had to coach boxers who were his friends. Guzman said that can be tough because a coach has to do the job and can’t be buddies all the time with the fighters he’s coaching.
He spent seven years as the assistant coach of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.
In 2016, Guzman took a few days of courses in Hamburg, Germany, to obtain a certification to be a cutman in the ring. The certification is through the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
The flight to Japan left Wednesday, and now another round of training will commence for the fighters.
They will start training immediately in Miyazaki, the capital city of Miyazaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. They will train about twice a day in the three weeks leading up to the start of the Olympics, Guzman said.
The opening ceremonies begin July 23, and the first day of competition is July 24. Policy on spectators is fluid. Only Japanese residents are eligible, and there will be a maximum 50% capacity at Olympic venues. Applause is allowed, but no cheering.
However, the option of no spectators is still on the table.
Outside of his job as a boxing coach, Guzman said he’s most looking forward to watching the opening ceremonies. As a Phoenix Suns fan who just bought a new Devin Booker jersey, he’s also hoping to run into Booker — who is on the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team — at some point.
Boxing, of course, is his main focus.
“I want all our boxers to win and do their absolute best and get on the podium,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m ready to go.”
Guzman added he wouldn’t be where is today without the support of his wife, Andrea.
“My wife holds it down when I’m gone,” he said, adding she’s a mother and hard worker who is finishing up a nursing degree. “I love her and couldn’t do it without her.”
The two have a son, Jovan, now 20 years old.
He also thanked his family and friends for helping him reach his dreams. A once-troubled youth from Eloy who is now a boxing coach for the U.S. Olympic Team, Guzman said he’s proof that anything is possible.