Going Hard: An Interview with Gabriel ‘Tito’ Barcero
By: James Cullinane
Brooklyn rapper Maino’s “Harder Than Them” blasts through the lone speaker in the gym:
I’ma go harder than them,
I’ma go harder than them;
I’ma go harder than them,
I’ma go harder than them.
The street-tough lyrics of a man fighting for respect bounce off the concrete, block walls of the boxing gym. The bass lines bump, pushing the boxers training this day, none more so than Brooklyn-born and bred, Gabriel ‘Tito’ Bracero.
Nearing the end of training camp for his July 30th fight with former, 2-time world champion and fellow Brooklynite, Paul Malignaggi , the lyrics go deep with Bracero, reminding him where he came from; reinforcing where he wants to go.
“My whole life, in the ring, out of the ring, has always been fighting. I fight, I fight, I fight,” Bracero tells me when asked about the upcoming bout with Malignaggi for the ceremonial ‘Brooklyn Title Belt’.
“And now I’m fighting for my dreams. I’m fighting for my future, my family, for a better life. This is a journey and I’m just loving it.”
Readying for one of the biggest fights of his career, Bracero feels he is in the best shape of his life. And he is singularly focused. “This is the first time I’ve done training camp where I just shut down completely from the whole world and focused on the task in front of me – my fight July 30th.”
Bracero even left the comforts, and the distractions, of home to train in Florida with Orlando-based trainer, Alex Lopez, a man Bracero has deep respect for. “My last fight was the best performance of my career and Lopez helped me with that,” he explains, referencing his first round knockout of Danny O’Conner in October of last year. Not known as a power puncher, the speed and precision of what some called ‘the perfect punch’ won Bracero the PBC 2015 Knockout of the Year.
The fight also solidified his relationship with Lopez. “Why wouldn’t I come back to him? I have chemistry with Lopez. He’s not only a trainer; he’s a life coach. He has been through a lot in life and he can relate to what I’m going through. Lopez’s life is boxing. His whole life, from morning to night, all he does is eat and sleep boxing, so who better to train with than a guy like that who’s going to help push me to become better every fight.”
Not that the determined Bracero needs extra motivation, but he has also dedicated this fight to his ‘tio’, Theolando, who passed away last month. “He was the bridge who always kept the family together, always had the answers, always had advice. He was the role model,” Bracero reveals when asked about the man who stuck with him through all the ups and downs of his career.
“He was my biggest fan. Every time I got ready for a big fight he would go around promoting me. He would push me and believe in me. I dedicate this fight to my uncle because even though he isn’t with me physically, he’s with me spiritually.”
Bracero pauses, hints of a pleasant memory surfacing. “It’s funny, I just lost him and I get the Malignaggi fight. It was a fight he always wanted to see. This right here is very big to me.”
Those well-documented ups and downs his uncle saw him through nearly cost Bracero his boxing career at one point in time. He is candid when asked about his past. “I got caught up in the streets, got caught up with negative environments. I idolized the wrong things. I would walk around the streets and idolize the materialistic things people had. I still have things to work on, but God is so good and life is a journey that I keep living.”
“I keep growing, keep learning,” he adds, “I come across bumps in the road, it just makes me sharper, makes me hungrier, but I’m so grateful now. Those mistakes, I wouldn’t give them back for anything in the world. I’ve made mistakes, I continue to make mistakes and I continue to grow, continue to change and God continues to bless me.”
That hunger for growth, to make up for lost time, drives Bracero. At thirty-five, his passion for success rivals that of any twenty-something just starting out.
“All I have is this talent God blessed me with, my willpower and I’m hungry. I want to take it all the way. I want to use boxing as an outlet to become successful in life and motivate others, people who look up at me, troubled kids, people who are in the streets, people who think they have no way out, they can look at me and be motivated and inspired. If Gabriel ‘Tito’ Bracero did it, why can’t they? I came from nothing and now I’m fighting for everything.”
His humble beginnings in Sunset Park are the ‘nothing’ he came from. “When I was growing up it was hard for my family, we weren’t the wealthiest family. As a kid I always had a dream to take my family out of poverty, to be able to give my family a better life. So my family would never have to struggle again.”
That hardscrabble background, his run-ins with the law, his mistakes, all have shaped Bracero into who he is today – a man fighting to make a better life for himself; a man fighting for respect and a chance for better things.
Lyrics from Maino’s song hang in the air; lyrics that Bracero has lived:
Man just from the start I’ve been hustlin’ hard;
Feel on my pain, baby touch on my scars;
I’ve been through hell,
What they know about hard?
Billed as the ‘Battle of Brooklyn’, Bracero returns home to the Barclay Center to take that next step in his journey.
He’s ready to go harder than those around him; ready to go farther and on Showtime Extreme July 30th, we’ll see just how far Gabriel ‘Tito’ Bracero will go.