It was the most innocuous of questions, a by-the-numbers query meant to communicate a degree of civility.
“How you doin, Mike?” 140-pound prospect Zachary Ochoa asked me at the start of a Tuesday phoner, meant to get some lowdown on his Dec. 6 clash against TBD at Barclays Center.
I paused. Shall I give him the boilerplate…or be real? I went for real, as I often do, sometimes to my own annoyance, and to the surprise of someone expecting the perfunctory, but who instead receives a hit of…candor, shall we call it.
“Man, I was up too late last night. Watching the Ferguson stuff, the grand jury, Michael Brown stuff. And that stuff, it leaves me feeling…eh, ya know?”
“Yes,” the 22-year-old Williamsburg, Brooklyn resident with an 8-0 (4 KOs) record told me. “I do.”
And he does…because guess what?
Stop me if you’ve heard this tale, a version of it, before. Before boxing, Zach Ochoa saw situations like the one Officer Darren Wilson and teenager Michael Brown found themselves this past August in Ferguson, Missouri.
Cop stops teen for infraction, or possible infraction, or maybe just because. Cop grills teen. Teen gets defensive. Escalation occurs. De-escalation should then kick in, because human beings aren’t robots and often, because training in de-escalation techniques, both physical and vocal, are lacking. Things go off the rails, hard, fast, into a zone of tragedy.
“That happened to me, I’ve been abused after getting (stopped),” Ochoa said. “I said, ‘C’mon man, you pulled me over for no reason.’ I’ve been roughed up (by cops). ‘They said, ‘You’re a Spanish kid in a hoodie, in the morning, of course you’re gonna get stopped!’ And I’m like, dude, c’mon.”
You guys heard what Officer Wilson told the grand jury in his testimony, that upon pulling his weapon, Brown fairly taunted him, dared him to shoot him. Lord, that seemed so implausible to me. What, the teen had a death wish?
C’mon, Wilson, who you trying to BS?
The kid REALLY said, “You're too much of a p—y to shoot me!”
Don't BS a BSer!
But guess what Ochoa educated me on? He informed me that such language, such a standoff, such a provocative response to an authority figure, even one holding a deadly weapon, would not be a rarity in places he’s been.
“Oh yes, I’ve seen it. I’ve wanted to say it! A kid will say that! As a matter of fact, maybe eight out of ten kids will say (something along the lines of what Brown allegedly said to Wilson, daring him to shoot him). That’s where we come from! ‘You ain’t gonna do s—t,” said Ochoa, offering a version of a macho taunt which gets used on a cop frequently.
It’s been awhile since Ochoa has felt himself in anything resembling a beef with a cop, thankfully. He was 15 when he saw the light, soon after he got snagged by cops after breaking a turnstile in a train station, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “Everyone ran,” he recalls. He didn’t. He stuck around for a grilling…and the grilling stuck with him. “I just woke up. I said, ‘It ain’t even worth it.’ I’m going to get going on being great.”
He stepped up the boxing, and dialed back and then turned off the street stuff. Getting expelled from high school for provoking a riot helped him hit a bottom, but he knew he’d need that diploma, so he went back to a transition school, and graduated, in 2011. Then he turned pro, because this is NYC, and money matters, and not everyone can afford tuition for school, or scare up loans or scholarships, and besides, with this job market, who wants a trillion dollars in loans?
“Yes, I used to be on a bad road, but I woke up,” he told me.
His mom and dad, who have worked at a phone company and been a janitor, and two brothers and a sister, appreciate his turnaround. You might see this baby faced kid and think he’s always been a good citizen, but they know better, that this book has a deceptive cover, and could tell you tales to prove it.
“Yes, boxing changed my life, if I never got into it, I’d be a street guy, maybe even dead, or most likely in jail,” said Ochoa, who seeks to go to 9-0 on Dec. 6, on a card topped by a David Lemieux-Gabriel Rosado middleweight square-dance.
I asked Ochoa to describe his style, for those who haven’t seen him in action. “I’m unconventional, unpredictable, awkward, have speed and power in both hands, I can be elusive or counter you, I can fight inside, I have heart, a great chin, I’m always in shape,” he said.
Day-um, that’s a smart package. So, it sounds like he’s in a contender mode..or is he still a prospect?
“Right now, I’m a prospect and not a contender yet, till I do what my boy Sadam Ali did,” he said. “Till then, I’m staying Zungry. I need to work on experience, what Cotto or Mayweather has. I’m working on it. I’m working my way on getting to the top.
The kid won’t hear of it, he’s got miles to go before getting to his professional promised land, but I’m here to say he’s already succeeded. Where he could be, compared to where he is….c’mon, this is what boxing can be, can do. Boxing prevents Ferguson type tragedies all…the…time.
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