COOLIDGE — Conner Goade began his boxing career by losing his first seven matches in a row.

The thin, lanky boxer from Florence lacks a traditional build; Goade describes himself as “a little white ginger boy.” His coach, Randy Robles of Coolidge’s Robles Boxing & Fitness, said some people were telling him he was wasting his time with Goade.

“I told them, ‘Wasting my time? This kid’s going to be a champion someday,’” Robles said. “The kid is always here, every day, he never misses practice and he has more heart than anybody in this gym.”

Now, the hard work is paying off.

The 21-year-old Goade is a regional champion, but he’s not done yet proving the naysayers wrong: Next month, Goade will be competing in the Golden Gloves of America National Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I’ve always liked boxing,” said Goade, who started taking the sport seriously when he was 17. “I thought it was one of the best sports. What other sport can you get knocked down and come back up and beat somebody?”

Having at times been underestimated by both coaches and opponents, Goade said he turns those expectations into an advantage.

“People expect me to know how to fight,” Goade said. “I hit the body pretty hard. This game is about your shoulders, twisting your hips. I just need to learn how to plant my feet, I’ll be solid.”

Robles said that in addition to drive, Goade has strong mechanics and believes the only thing that was keeping Goade from winning earlier was experience.

“We don’t have to worry about Conner doing his road work,” Robles said of his coachability. “We don’t have to ride him. Conner listens. At regionals, he was doing everything we’ve taught him and he looked like the best boxer there. When they can do what you ask them, that’s what is great about being a coach.”

Goade was prevented from going to regionals last year because of the pandemic. This year, Goade was able to travel to Las Vegas and defeated an opponent who’d made the national quarterfinals in 2019.

Robles said over the past 20 years, he’s coached around seven to eight boxers who’ve gone on to nationals, including two champions. Another boxer at Robles Gym & Fitness, Joseph Rivas, made his professional debut in Phoenix this past weekend.

Goade said he tries to get time in the gym every single day, having followed Robles from Mesa, training everywhere he could: in garages, in farms, at volleyball courts, even at the Florence Library.

The constant effort to improve hasn’t come without a cost. Goade said it’s been difficult to find time to hang out with his family or have a girlfriend, although he says “that will come later on.”

When he’s not training, Goade works locally at Florence Copper; he says his co-workers and friends have been very supportive of his boxing ambitions, including buying tickets to his fights. Goade’s roommate, Caleb Cantu, is also a boxer, and Robles thought he might have gone to nationals, but Cantu had work obligations.

Goade said his ultimate goal is to turn pro as a boxer. In the meantime, he just wants to get more fights in.

“The national fights will be nerve wracking, but I didn’t come this far to lose. If I win at nationals, maybe I’ll get signed,” Goade said. “That would be really cool.”

The Golden Gloves event will take place Aug. 9-14. Before that, Robles Boxing & Fitness will be holding an amateur fighting event, the “Cooltown Throwdown,” July 31 at the Coolidge Youth Center, in which Goade will also participate.

“It’s going to be a great show,” Robles said. “Now we get to show Coolidge what amateur boxing is all about. We’re gonna win some, lose some, but I think all the kids have grown from just getting in the ring and being able to show all their hard work.”

Admission for “Cooltown Throwdown” is $15 at the door but those looking to reserve tickets beforehand can call 488-438-7976 or purchase them in person at the Robles Gym at 640 N. Arizona Blvd.

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.