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Athens first, Providence next for boxer

7/15/2004

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- As long as he's waited to compete in the
Olympics, boxer Jason Estrada is just as anxious to get the games
over with so he can start his professional career.

Estrada missed the 2000 Sydney Games with a hand injury, and now
the 23-year-old super-heavyweight is favored to medal next month in
Athens.
"The main motive is me having a talent and not letting it go to
waste," Estrada said recently at Manfredo's Gym, where he trains.
The Olympics, he says, is "like a jump-start," to what he
hopes will be a short but successful career in the ring.
"I want to do this as fast as possible," he said. "I don't
want to be boxing when I'm 30, 31."
Estrada started training for the fight game when he was a
youngster, and Manfredo's was just a storefront. Over the years,
the gym moved to a converted former mill, and Estrada and a few
buddies began making names for themselves as amateur fighters.
Peter Manfredo Jr., the son of the gym's owner, and Matt
Godfrey, who grew up with Estrada, have already turned pro. Godfrey
made his debut in May in Providence.
Estrada hopes his trip to the Olympics will be good for their
careers, too, and for younger boxers at his hometown gym.
Estrada's father, Roland Estrada, an optometrist who also serves
as one of his son's trainers, said it was clear early that his son,
Manfredo Jr. and Godfrey had talent.
"People always knew that one of them was going to go somewhere.
I think they all did," the elder Estrada said.
Jason Estrada was noticed after he won his first national
tournament as a junior boxer in 1996, his father said. He was the
best boxer under 16 in his weight class, and earned the same title
the following year.
Estrada had to sacrifice to excel in boxing, bringing books
along to tournaments and studying while he traveled. But that may
have helped him. Yes, he said, college was a possibility, but
boxing also kept him off the streets.
"A lot of these people who were outside playing are in jail or
dead," Estrada said.
Since he was unable to compete in the 2000 Games, the 6-foot-1,
245-pounder has been atop the rankings in the United States. He was
the first boxer to win both the U.S. Nationals and U.S. Challenge
three years in a row.
This year, he won the U.S. box-offs to qualify for the Olympic
team, and his national record is 261-14.
Favored for medals along with Estrada are Cuban Michael Nunez
and Russian Alexander Povetkin, the reigning world and European
champion.
At the 2003 Pan Am Games, Estrada beat Nunez -- the first time a
non-Cuban won the gold in the 201-pound-and-up division. He has not
faced Povetkin.
Estrada says Nunez and the other Cuban boxers tend to try to
score their points and "then move on you and make you get off your
game plan."
Estrada is trying to learn from Nunez's style, and prepare for
the unfamiliar Povetkin. He hopes to return with a gold medal, and
then probably won't stray far from home once he turns pro.
Providence used to be a place for boxers, Estrada said, and he
wants "to try to bring it back."
"I'm not going to move from Providence," he said. "I've been
a lot of places and no matter what, I always feel most comfortable
here."