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Amateur boxing has its ardent supporters

Danny Romero turned pro at age 18.

Cam F. Awesome never has.

Jesse Valdez never did.

Monday at the Hyatt Regency, these three highly decorated boxers — each from his separate and distinct point of view — extolled the virtues of the amateur sport.

The occasion was a news conference held in advance of the USA Boxing Western Elite Qualifier and Regional Open Championships, scheduled for today through Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Romero, 42, an Albuquerque native, has no reason to regret turning pro after his loss in the 1992 Olympic Trials. He went on to win two professional world championships and make a lot of money doing so.

But he treasures the memory of an amateur career during which he won myriad titles and which took him to locales as different as Ireland and Tahiti — “stuff like that,” he said, “which was something that I couldn’t imagine, coming out of my little barrio, working my butt off to be the best that I could be.

“I can tell you right here, with all my heart, some of the funnest times in my boxing career were in my amateur days.”

Awesome’s amateur days continue at 28, an age by which most boxers have turned pro or left the sport.

A five-time national champion, the Kansas heavyweight is by far the most accomplished fighter entered in this week’s competition. Only a world championship and an Olympic berth have eluded him.

The amateur sport, Awesome said — he had his name legally changed from Lenroy Thompson in 2013 — has shaped his life.

“I’ve been on the national team for almost 10 years, and I’ve gotten to become a completely different person because of it,” he said. … It’s taught me so much personal accountability. It’s taught be to believe in myself, it got me in better shape and it made me healthier.

“That’s why I’m here, and I’m gonna continue to fight. I may not be in the 2020 Olympics, but I’ll still be around.”

Valdez, 69, a Texas native, Air Force veteran and longtime California resident who now lives in Rio Rancho, on Monday displayed the Olympic boxing bronze medal he won at Munich in 1972.

After Munich, looking for a life of more security for his family than he believed the pro fight game could offer, Valdez pursued a career as a TV cameraman.

Like Awesome, he credits amateur boxing for helping to shape his life.

“I learned to make the right decisions,” he said.

And like Romero, he looks back on his amateur career with fondness and wonder.

At age 16, he traveled with a U.S. team to Africa. During a layover in Rome, he, his coaches and his teammates were granted an audience with the Pope.

“You, too,” he said, speaking to young boxers in the audience, “can do (the things) I’ve done and go to the places I’ve gone,” he said. “But the most important thing, that has meant a lot to me, is to represent my country and to receive (an Olympic medal).”

THE FIGHTS: Several New Mexicans will see action today during both the noon and 6 p.m. sessions.

As an unfortunate consequence of a blind draw, two of Albuquerque’s better young amateurs will face each other today. Santiago Giron (Power & Glory) is matched against Joseph Lajeunesse (Duke City Brawlers) in a first-round, 114-pound Junior Division bout.

Four New Mexicans are listed as competing in Elite competition, but none are scheduled to fight today. Elite finalists will earn spots at national championships, scheduled for December.

FREE BOXING: There is no admission charge for today’s, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s sessions. Friday is an off day.

Tickets for Saturday night’s finals ($10-$20) are available at the Convention Center or online at Click on “News,” then on “USA Boxing News” and scroll down.