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Rick Wright: 3 local boxers take two hits — no fights, no work as barbers

For Josh Torres, Matthew Griego and Fidel Maldonado Jr., as for thousands of other New Mexicans, the question is this:

Non-essential to whom?

Torres, Griego and Maldonado, all of Albuquerque, are professional boxers – three of the five most accomplished, with Las Cruces’ Austin Trout and Albuquerque’s Jason Sanchez – currently pursuing the sport while living in our state.

Despite their boxing success, though, none of the three has made enough money in the sport to support himself and family solely on ring earnings.

But, knowing this, all three were smart and industrious enough to prepare for and find steady work. All three went to barber college, earned their licenses from the state and found jobs at local shops.

On Monday, I interviewed Torres, Griego and Maldonado’s father and trainer, Fidel Sr. The story was to have been an upbeat one about how, with boxing having gone dark for the foreseeable future in light of the coronavirus outbreak, they still had a source of income thanks to their day jobs.

Just minutes after I hung up with Griego, however, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered that all “non-essential” businesses statewide, including beauty shops and barber shops, be shuttered.

The purpose here is not to question, or even debate, the wisdom or efficacy of the governor’s order. These are frightening times that call for drastic measures.

But these are tough times, too, getting more so by the day.

In their separate interviews, Torres and Griego had talked about plying their trade under COVID-19-mandated restrictions: no more than 10 people (barbers and clients) in the shop at once, chairs spaced at least 6 feet apart, etc.

Yet, they said, business was steady if not bustling.

“It’s been surprisingly busy,” said Torres, who works at Jake’s 4th Street Barber Shop. “Of course it’s nowhere near what it was two weeks ago, but it’s definitely busy enough that it’s definitely been worth doing.”

Griego, who like Maldonado Jr. works at City’s Barber Shop on Sunset SW, said much the same.

Maldonado’s story is different, in that Maldonado Sr. said his son had chosen not to work in light of the outbreak.

“You have to respect (the concerns),” the elder Maldonado said. “He just needed to get away from that for now.”

In the ring, the three boxers’ recent fortunes have taken divergent paths.

Griego (11-0, eight knockouts), a flyweight, last fought on March 7, defeating the Philippines’ Jeronil Borres in the main event of a card at Isleta Resort & Casino.

“I’m just glad I fought before everything changed the week after,” he said.

The healthy if not lucrative paycheck he received for the bout, he said, will come in more than handy, “because I’m pretty sure they’re gonna close down the barber shops (soon).”

Maldonado (27-5-1, 20 KOs), a lightweight, fought recently as well – a loss by 10th-round TKO on Feb. 1 in Biloxi, Mississippi, against unbeaten Dominican Michel Rivera. The pay, Maldonado Sr. said, was “OK.”

Not so for Torres (22-6-2, 13 KOs), a welterweight, who hasn’t fought since Nov. 9.

Since then, Torres signed a five-fight contract with Impact Network, a faith-based television network that has entered the boxing world. But it’s been slow going.

Two Impact cards on which Torres was scheduled to fight – one in Tennessee, one at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino in Pojoaque – have fallen through. The Buffalo Thunder card, scheduled for April 11, was cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s been frustrating,” Torres said.

But at least he had barbering.

“That’s always been what’s paid my bills,” said Torres, married and the father of two sons. “So I’m very grateful to have come across that trade and work full time as a barber to provide for my family.”

Torres and Griego both work as independent contractors, renting their space at the shops.

“Some (barbers) work off commission,” Torres said, “But I’m lucky enough to have a good, steady clientele so I can pay my rent and do it that way.”

Being self-employed, though, according to media reports, can be a problem in filing for unemployment, and perhaps, qualifying for payments from a government stimulus package.

Even so, the guess here is Torres, Griego and Maldonado Jr. will be fine. They’re young (30, 23 and 28, respectively) and surrounded by people who care.

Barber shops will re-open in time, and boxing will return.

Yet, for the time being, COVID-19 and the damage done is a punch they could not have seen coming.

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