The road to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, begins on Sunday, October 30, when a blue-chip United States team takes on the Mexican national team at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. Not since the early seventies has the Mexican national team competed in California in a head-to-head competition against Team USA, so this figures to be a historic event in more ways than one.

The arena will be outfitted to capture the feeling of a spectacular Las Vegas title fight. A special lighting design will illuminate the arena and the sounds of mariachis will resonate throughout. Doors will open at 3:30 P.M. and the fighters will start swinging at 5:00 P.M.

One American fighter who will be watched very closely is 178 pound Brandon Gonzalez of Sacramento. Although he has only been boxing for three years, the 21-year-old national champion has compiled a 29-4 record. He possesses excellent hand and foot speed and what has been described by many observers as “wicked power.”

“I would have started boxing a long time ago, but never had a gym to go to until I moved to Sacramento,” said Gonzalez, who was born in Portland, Oregon, but moved throughout California as a youngster.

Shortly after his arrival in California’s capitol city, Gonzalez sought out the Capitol Gym. He wasn’t the least bit nervous.

“I’ve always been a good athlete, so I knew if I put my mind to boxing I would be good at that too,” he said without a trace of arrogance. “I started out just taking a class, but got a little bored because it seemed to come so easily to me.”

One day, while sparring with a much more experienced fighter, Gonzalez caught the eye of renowned trainer Seifudeen Mateen, the father-in-law of the sparring partner.

Mateen told Gonzalez that he had an abundance of natural talent. Moreover, he said, if that talent was properly fostered it could take him a long way. Under Mateen’s stewardship, Gonzalez won his first 18 amateur fights and his youthful dreams started evolving into a reality.

“People around me started making a big deal when I fought in the Nationals,” said Gonzalez, who has also competed in dual meets against Korea and Puerto Rico. “It was then that I really began to think I could take this somewhere.”

Learning the fundamentals of boxing was not the only good thing to come out of the Capitol Gym. Gonzales also became enamored with a pretty amateur female boxer named Janelle Runnels, who competed at both 119 and 125 pounds. She is now pregnant with their first child and they are engaged to be married.

“I’d love to get back into it and fight professionally,” said Runnels. “But right now, I have to hold down the house. It’s not hard for me to be engaged to a boxer because, as a former boxer myself, I understand all the sacrifice. I know how much dedication is needed to be successful.”

Gonzalez, who is known as a tireless trainer in the gym, also finds time to work as a shift manager at a local Starbucks gourmet coffee shop. He is not prone to taking shortcuts, whether it is in his boxing career or at the job he holds to make ends meet as he readies for what he hopes will be a berth on the next Olympic team.

“I like to think of myself as an old school fighter,” said Gonzalez. “Those are the guys I look up to: Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah. Ali won a gold medal in the [1960] Olympics and I hope to do the same. I take bits and pieces of all of those guys and just want to create my own style. I realize how important it is not to just fight in the Olympics, but to take home the gold. Getting there is a long road in a short time.”

Gonzalez, who is of Mexican and African-American descent, knows that he will have his hands full on Sunday. His opponent, 22-year-old Jose Fernando Estrada Santoyo of Chiapas, Mexico, is an Elite Amateur and a veteran of 135 fights, of which he won 106.

He has great respect for fighters who hail from South of the Border, and knows that they won’t be the least bit intimidated by his reputation as a heavy hitter.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “All I feel is motivation. They’ll bring their A game, but I’ll also be on my A game. Mexican fighters have a lot of pride. I’m half Mexican, so I understand that. They are not going to show me anything I haven’t seen before. My goal is to make that Olympic team. This is just one of many stops along the way.”

Other Americans scheduled to compete are:

106 lbs: David Gaspar, Wilmington, CA

112 lbs: Oscar Luis Venegas, Maywood, CA

119 lbs: Rico Ramos, Los Angeles

126 lbs: Richard Baltazar, Lynwood, CA

132 lbs: Miguel Garcia, Oxnard, CA

132 lbs: Stan Martyniouk, Antelope, CA

141 lbs: Hector Ramos, U.S. Air Force

152 lbs: Santos Soto III, San Francisco

165 lbs: Daniel Jacobs, New York