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Sandy • Bladimir Estrada, an 18-year-old senior at Salt Lake City's West High School, probably should have been a professional soccer player. After all, several uncles on his mother's side of the family played the sport for money in Mexico, and Estrada has been one of the better players on the Panthers' varsity soccer team this spring.
But about 10 years ago, some cousins introduced him to the sport of boxing, and he was hooked. He still loves soccer, but boxing will pay the bills, he believes, when he turns pro this summer.
"Besides, boxing is more competitive than soccer, and not everybody can do it," Estrada said. "Anybody can play soccer or basketball. But not everybody can take a punch, a hard hit, like you do in boxing and keep on going."
Estrada, Herriman's Milo Gutierrez and several other Utahns will represent the state on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.) at the Golden Gloves Rocky Mountain Regionals this weekend against the best amateur boxers from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Up for grabs are spots on the Rocky Mountain franchise's team that will compete in the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions at the Salt Palace Convention Center on May 16-21.
For the second straight year, the boxing regionals are being held at the South Towne Exposition Center in conjunction with the FitCon Utah convention. Patrons who purchase FitCon passes will be admitted into the fights for free.
Golden Gloves organizers say Estrada represents Utah's best chance at a title at nationals, which return to the Salt Palace for the first time since 2013. He's that good.
"He's got all the talent, all the tools and all the skills," said his trainer, Salt Lake City's Rick Montoya. "And he's tough mentally, as well."
Montoya trained Alex Canez, Jose Haro and Isaac Aguilar when those three Utahns all made it to the national semifinals in 2009 at the Salt Palace, and says Estrada is better than those current professionals were because he's had twice as many fights, about 140. Estrada started when he was 8 years old.
Nick Butterfield is one of the managers at Fullmer Brothers Boxing Gym in South Jordan, along with Ted Gurule, and has followed the teenager's career closely. Estrada occasionally makes the trip south to do some sparring and the like a few times a month at Fullmer's to honor the late Jay Fullmer, who died in 2015 and kept the gym afloat through some difficult times.
"That's just the kind of kid Blad is," Butterfield said. "He's just a beauty of a kid. In the ring, you don't want to get near him. Outside the ring, he's just a mild-mannered, pleasant kid."
For a while, Estrada was kind of a chunky kid, said Montoya, who has taken the excellent student with a 3.8 grade point average all over the state, and the West, to fight and hone his skills.
However, about six years ago, Estrada was handled fairly easily in a bout in Idaho because he had to cut too much weight to be effective, and Montoya used some "tough love" techniques to get the young fighter to realize that he needed to get in better shape for boxing.
"A light went on inside him, and he changed his approach, took it more seriously," Montoya said. "He's worked on his body more, and he has just gotten better and better."
Estrada hopes to earn the Utah Golden Gloves Youth Development Fund scholarship that will be awarded on Saturday and use the $1,500 to pursue his education at Salt Lake Community College.
But first, he's got a score to settle.
He defeated Wyoming's Wryler Padilla at last year's regionals and advanced to nationals in Las Vegas, but was defeated in the first round 4-1 by Michigan's Burim Beqiri at 141 pounds. He fights at 152 now, and feels like he's more prepared to make a longer run at nationals, especially since they will be held close to his Rose Park home.
"I consider last year a learning experience," Estrada said. "My expectations this year are a lot higher. I want to at least make it to the quarterfinals, or something like that."
Golden Gloves Boxing Rocky Mountain Region Tournament
Where • South Towne Exposition Center, 9575 S. State Street, Sandy
When • Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.)
Who • Top amateur boxers from Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho square off for the opportunity to advance to the national tournament May 16-21 in Salt Lake City
Admission • $15 for adults; Children 12 and under are free; A FitCon pass, purchased separately, also allows admission to boxing events.