Victor Morales, Jr., didn’t exactly come out of nowhere.
Before he won his weight class at the USA Boxing Junior and Youth Open in January, he had some success fighting top-notch opponents. Still, the timing of his ascension to 119-pound national champion was pretty cool.
To win the title, Morales earned an attention-grabbing decision over 2013 Junior Olympic welterweight national champion Vergil Ortiz of Grand Prairie, Texas. And that memorable victory came on Jan. 11, the day Morales turned 16.
To top it off, the Union High School sophomore was chosen the outstanding boxer for the Junior Division (ages 15-16) at the national tournament.
“It was emotional,” said Victor Morales, Sr., who coaches his son.
It was also significant because winning the tournament in Reno, Nev., places Morales on the 2014 USA Boxing Junior National Team. It means he will train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and represent the United States at international events for boxers ages 15-16.
Sometime in April, Morales will head to Colorado Springs for a one-month training camp in preparation for his first international tournament.
Morales, who went 21-2 in 2013, said the chance to earn a national-team spot added pressure to the Reno tournament.
“This time I knew there were bigger things at stake,” he said. “That’s what I trained for all year was this tournament.”
During the tournament in Reno, Morales won matches on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
“It went according to plan,” Morales said. “I went in there with confidence. I had control all over the place.”
One reason Morales was confident against Ortiz was his longer reach.
He also had another edge.
“I knew I’d be the faster one, and quicker with my feet,” Morales said.
Morales used every edge to win all three 2-minute rounds against Ortiz.
Bill Meartz, the founder of Westside Boxing Club in Portland, has served as a coach for junior national teams and has known the Morales family for a decade. He said he has seen national title potential and in Morales.
“I didn’t know if it would be this time, but I knew he was capable of it,” Meartz said.
This is the kind of breakthrough that every young boxer dreams about — one that can be life changing, according to Meartz.
“He’s on the radar, and that’s probably the hardest thing for any boxer to accomplish who dreams of making it to the Olympics,” Meartz said.
Meartz has retired from coaching. Victor Morales Sr. is one of two head coaches for Westside Boxing Club. The Morales family makes the 30-mile trip from its Camas home most weekdays to train at the facility near Beaverton, Ore.
That includes Tyler Morales, 14, who recently took third place as the Pacific Northwest champion at the Silver Gloves nationals. His lone loss during the tournament in Kansas City was 2-1 to a seven-time champion.
Meartz is confident that Victor Morales will handle the adjustments that come with this promotion to a national team.
One significant change will be training at altitude. Colorado Springs is 6,000 feet above sea level.
Another challenge will be learning from defeat. Meartz said controversial decisions are not unusual in international boxing, and can be a difficult lesson for fighters new to international competition.
“No doubt, Victor is going to lose some bouts along the way,” Meartz said.
At Colorado Springs, Meartz said, Morales will benefit from more advanced strength training and sophisticated drills meant to develop boxers for Olympic-style competition.
Morales will get a taste of international boxing before he heads to training camp. On March 14 in Portland, Morales is scheduled to box against Ireland’s age-group champion during the Kells Irish Pub Oregon vs. Ireland competition.