Jeremiah Gallegos and his winning battle against Bell’s palsy
On March 7, 2020, ring announcer Jeremiah Gallegos stood in the middle of a ring erected at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters baseball team. Despite conditions he described as unbearably cold and windy, Gallegos soldiered through a nine-fight show consisting of four and six-round fights, with the main event being Houston junior lightweight Pablo Cruz’s six-round decision over Brazilian Eduardo Pereira Dos Reis and the final fight being California native Kenny Williams’ fifth round TKO over Houston’s Joseph Rivera in a scheduled six-round junior welterweight contest.
Several days later, the world was attacked by a pandemic so severe and so lethal that much of the globe was forced to shut down. That shutdown included the boxing industry and, as a result, Gallegos’ work schedule was wiped clean. To make up for some of the lost income, the 37-year-old Houston native began working as a curbside grocery shopper at a popular supermarket chain while also making custom video announcements on Facebook for a small fee.
“With these uncertain times and with no direct work inside the ring, my brain went straight into survival mode,” he said. “I knew I had to do something to bring income and stay afloat in the best possible way, so I took a temporary job at H-E-B. It’s not the most glamorous of jobs but I absolutely have a new respect for the grocery store industry because the people I work with are very hard-working and take pride in their work. There are so many moving parts behind the scenes to keep the store running. I am very blessed to be in the position I am in and honored to help everyday Texans get their essentials during these rough times.
“The custom video announcements evolved from people asking me for ring announcing-style birthday shout-outs through a 15-second video on social media which was at no cost,” he continued. “Initially they were meant to help pay for relief efforts for boxing gyms to stay afloat but sitting at home during the pandemic, I thought, ‘Why not start charging a small fee, starting at $5 and spice it with graphics and such?’ Unfortunately this does not pay the bills but it does help me with little things like fuel for my vehicle and lunch.”
Gallegos also kept busy on social media by posting frequent messages and videos on Facebook as well as on Instagram (@jeremiahtheannouncer) and Twitter (@voiceofhouston). Just after midnight on April 21, Gallegos posted an elaborate two-and-a-half minute video on behalf of Mykayla McGregor, who was marking her 21st birthday. Although one couldn’t tell by watching Gallegos, all was not well with him physically.
“A few days before, I was complaining of a terrible headache and neck pain along with odd twitching around my mouth and right eye,” he recalled. “I didn’t think anything of it; I thought I was dealing with a stress headache that wouldn’t go away.”
Not long after completing the birthday video, Gallegos’ condition began to spiral downward.
“It got worse in the overnight hours so I took pain medications,” he said. “The following day I woke up slightly numb on the right side of my body. I went to brush my teeth and noticed I didn’t have much movement on the right side of my face. I instantly thought it was a stroke. I yelled to my girlfriend that we needed to go to the ER right away.”
After further testing, it was determined Gallegos had suffered an episode of Bell’s palsy, which, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is a form of temporary paralysis that affects the muscles on one side of the face, including those that control eye blinking and facial expressions such as smiling. The malady also affects impulses to the tear glands, the saliva glands and taste sensations from the tongue while also influencing the muscles of a small bone in the middle ear. In most cases, Bell’s palsy affects only one side of the face but, in rare cases, both sides can be stricken. Although it is the most common cause of facial paralysis, its exact cause remains unknown.
For Gallegos, however, the effects were obvious – and frightening. In addition to his concerns for his overall health, he saw his professional fate flash before his eyes.
“All I could think of is, ‘Will I ever be able to ring announce again?'” he said. “It left me unable to enunciate certain words, especially those that start with the letters ‘P’ or ‘F,’ which sound muffled. But for the most part, I was still able to use my voice with projection through a PA system. I would say I retained 85% of my abilities in comparison to what I had before and I do look forward to when I am fully recovered and be able to utter the words, ‘the fighting pride of…’ without difficulty.”
Even before Gallegos was hit with Bell’s palsy, his story has been one of ambition, initiative, determination, self-belief, faith and follow-through. As with many people who experience success, Gallegos was able to identify his gifts at an early age.
“My obsession with working behind the microphone started in middle school,” he said. “I was always one of the loud kids in class doing funny impressions. A teacher noticed my talents and told me the school was looking for a student to give morning announcements a couple of times a week. That evolved into my becoming a fan of emcees who worked in sports. In the late 1990s, I got my shot to announce at The Summit – the home of the Houston Rockets of the NBA – as a guest kid PA announcer. My passion continued throughout high school and into broadcasting school. I eventually fell in love with the craft of public address announcing and I picked up huge opportunities such as announcing a pivotal high school playoff game at the Houston Astrodome, the U.S. Olympic qualifiers and 17 years of Division I NCAA basketball with the University of Houston.”
One glance at Gallegos’ Facebook profile details a deep and varied resume. His work in soccer includes the MLS’ Houston Dynamo, the Austin Bold Football Club and CONCACAF and he has lent his voice to a variety of mixed-martial arts and professional wrestling cards. Another example of his versatility is the fact that he has worked events for the Professional Bowlers Association. The 2008 graduate of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting was also behind the microphone at NBA All-Star Game events in 2006 and 2013. In 2013, Gallegos got his first opportunity to do ring announcing for boxing.
“My career began with amateur competitions in Texas, which led to USA Boxing-sanctioned events at the national level,” he said. “My dear friend Jesse Morales – the owner of the Dynasty Boxing Club in Pasadena, Texas – encouraged me multiple times to give ring announcing a shot. I finally gave in.”
Gallegos’ first show happened during an amateur boxing competition and the reaction he received from his first set of announcements was akin to that of Susan Boyle’s legendary first appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent.”
“I remember that very day, walking inside a hot and humid gymnasium while the competition was in session,” he said. “Jesse introduced me to the man handling the ringside announcements – a family member who coached at Fighter Nation – and he proceeded to hand over the microphone to me. I was told to let the bout that was in the ring finish, then start fresh.
“My heart was racing a million miles per hour as I stood ringside waiting for the referee to give the signal to introduce the next pair of boxers,” he continued. “Then my moment came – and as soon as I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen…’ I literally felt jaws dropping to the floor and sensed the spread of curiosity from many spectators who were in attendance.”
Like 4-foot-9 singer Brenda Lee two generations earlier, no one would have ever thought that the diminutive Gallegos could produce such wall-shaking vocals. On the positive side, this dichotomy often creates a sense of wonder but the flip side is the inevitable jokes and insults concerning his lack of height.
“Being 5-feet-2 inches is uncommon; you don’t see too many men at my stature,” he said. “Early on, I was self-conscious about it but it doesn’t really affect me anymore. I have learned to carry a sense of healthy confidence and use what the good Lord gave me to compensate for my height. Let’s be real here: I have been made fun of for my height; it’s something I can’t control or change. If people poke fun or laugh at me, so be it. You’ve got to remind yourself that no one is perfect and, as for me, I treat everyone equally and respectfully.”
Once the initial shock of his first set of introductions subsided, it didn’t take long for opportunity to knock.
“Termite Watkins, the owner and coach of Fighter Nation, was in attendance and was in awe of my announcing, so much so that he asked if I was interested in hopping inside the ring to introduce the fighters. He even mentioned that the ring was a historically significant one because it was used for the Muhammad Ali-Ernie Terrell heavyweight championship fight in 1967. I absolutely was thrilled to hear of the significance of the classic steel-frame ring but as I stood there, at center ring in a soccer jersey and shorts, I realized it felt like home.”
Gallegos soon traded in his soccer togs for a tuxedo and he began the long process of perfecting his craft. As is the case with everyone trying a new thing, Gallegos experienced his share of stumbles but he also knew he would improve with time and practice.
“I was quite nervous at the start and I made plenty of silly blunders but I adjusted and got quite comfortable,” he said. “Soon after, I gained the confidence I needed to keep ring announcing. I received so many blessed opportunities, worked amateur shows about every weekend with the help of Jesse and finally landed my first professional boxing gig with Aztlan Boxing Promotions through Francisco Leal.”
Although he gave himself “a hard C” for his initial show at a Mexican disco club in Houston, he continued to draw regular assignments that helped him hone his technique and presentation. A perfectionist at heart, Gallegos cringed every time he failed to read divided scorecards in the proper order or made other rookie mistakes. But that same need to succeed helped him raise his game.
“To this day, I continue to learn so much even through my past and present hiccups,” he said. “It is important to make the adjustments needed for improvement to shape the integrity of my craft. You can have the voice, the looks and the presentation but if you don’t know what you’re doing inside the ring, it’s pointless.”
In the summer of 2018, Gallegos, now a veteran of several years, seized on an opportunity to raise his profile exponentially. Golden Boy Promotions announced through Facebook that they were searching for their next ring announcer and those who had heard him perform encouraged him to submit an entry.
“Several friends sent me messages about the contest, so I headed to the Dynasty Boxing Club to put on a small production for my entry video,” he said. “My video was one of more than 100 submissions. I remember sitting on my couch waiting with anticipation for the results to be released by the Golden Boy himself – Oscar De La Hoya – along with co-hosts Mario Lopez and Rocsi Diaz. When my name was announced, I yelled with excitement and immediately called my girlfriend. She later said, ‘I thought he had been in an accident!'”
The day after the announcement, Golden Boy COO Robert Gasparri called to congratulate Gallegos and to provide information about his first assignment: The debut broadcast of Golden Boy Promotions’ Facebook Watch series on August 11, 2018, at the Avalon in Hollywood, California. Topping the card was a featherweight bout between Jesus M. Rojas and challenger Joseph Diaz Jr. and while Diaz emerged victorious in their 12-round slugfest, his failure to make the 126-pound championship limit prevented him from taking a spurious title home. As for Gallegos, he performed his duties with impressive smoothness and calm. In doing so, he did his best to blend elements from the ring announcers he admired most.
“I’ve always been impressed by Jimmy Lennon Jr.’s gentle but elegant delivery, precise intellectual vocabulary and his Spanish-speaking skills, which, as a Latino, is much appreciated,” he said. “He inspires me to expand my vocabulary and utilize words that create a sense of drama inside the ring. I have also admired Michael Buffer’s craft for so many years: His powerful voice, the way he can instantly draw spectators simply with his presence when he introduces the fighters, his impeccable taste for style and his knowledge of the sport. Like Michael, I don’t carry a natural baritone speaking voice but when it comes time to work we know we both can turn on that ‘announcer’s voice.’ I found it personally comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one who can achieve this early on; it’s kind of like singing, I suppose. However thank goodness for PA systems – those are a Godsend.”
Gallegos’ influences also go beyond the boxing ring, for he also counts recently deceased WWE Hall-of-Famer Howard Finkel as an important figure.
“His way of capturing the crowd’s attention was electric,” he observed. “He was a true showman. I absolutely loved that about him; he was all smiles and he had fun while on the job. I think that is important in the ring announcing business – have fun while executing the job professionally.”
But while he seeks to borrow from past greats, Gallegos does not want to imitate them.
“I see nothing wrong with being inspired by a certain style and molding it to your own craft in your own way,” he said. “I admit that I have taken a page out of Mr. Buffer’s way of presenting the fighters – confident, smooth, not being over the top – and that his sense of style has prompted me to amass a collection of tuxedo jackets that now number 27…and growing!”
Besides Morales of the Dynasty Boxing Club in Pasadena, Texas, and Golden Boy’s Gasparri, Gallegos cited Michael Campbell of USA Boxing Events, Golden Boy Executive Vice President of Media and Entertainment David Tetreault, Forris Washington and Joe Vredevelt of Next Fight Up in Houston and Dan Otter of Three Lions Promotions for boosting his career.
Heading into 2020, Gallegos’ career appeared to be proceeding nicely. But then came April 22 and the attack of Bell’s palsy that posed a mortal threat to his livelihood. Luckily Gallegos and his girlfriend arrived at the emergency room at an opportune time, as only four other patients were in the waiting room. And here’s another interesting coincidence: His new family doctor was once a classmate of Oscar De La Hoya’s.
“What are the odds?” Gallegos asked.
It would be understandable if Gallegos had chosen to wage this war privately. Instead, he posted a picture on Facebook from his hospital bed just hours after suffering the attack.
“My smile may not look pleasant right now but it will when all is over,” he wrote. “I will get through this with God’s healing, love, the support of my loved ones, family, friends and those who have my back. It’s a setback but the healing starts now. I got this!!”
The photo shows Gallegos staring directly into the camera with a slightly crooked grin but with two thumbs pointing straight up.
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#bellspalsysucks #staypositive #typicalhospitalpictureprayerpost My smile may not look pleasant right now but it will when all is over! I will get through this with God's healing, love, the support of my love ones, family, friends and those who have my back…It's a set back but the healing starts now. I will return to the center of the boxing ring & Announcer booth stronger and even more appreciative than ever before. Don't let stress take over your life my friends. I got this!! #jeremiah2911 #ReadyfortheBattle
“At first, I was reluctant about posting anything because of the reaction I might get,” he said. “I also feared that I would be seen as an attention-grabbing, pity-seeking social media fool. I was focused on letting people know that (1) this wouldn’t stop me from doing what I love and (2) if there was someone out there going through the same thing, I wanted us to battle it together. Bell’s palsy has been a blessing in disguise; it has humbled me, grounded me and gave me a whole new appreciation for the things we take for granted every day.”
The following day, Gallegos, now out of the hospital, posted a photo in which he jokingly described himself as an “early 1980s cartoon of a Ninja Turtle” and, on April 24, he posted a 37-second video – in full tuxedo – in which he thanked his supporters, then proclaimed his willingness to fight as hard as the athletes he introduces.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boxing nation, soccer nation, sports nation: Your boy, Jeremiah Gallegos, will make his full recovery and return very soon. Thank you for all your positive messages, all the love, all the support. I will get through this. Sure, it’s not easy, definitely challenging, but I will get through this with all your love, support and prayers. Thank you ladies and gentlemen; it is TIME TO BATTLE Bell’s palsy once and for all.”
Thanks to several sources of strength, Gallegos appears well-armed for the battle ahead. One source is his faith; he is named after the Old Testament prophet and his family tree boasts several spiritual branches.
“In general, my family on both sides is quite spiritual,” he said. “My grandparents were ministers and my father Carlos Gallegos has been a pastor in Pasadena, Texas, for more than 22 years. Back in the 1980s, my mother, Cynthia (Martinez Gallegos) Pineda, was a phenomenal singer in the ministry. I was named Jeremiah Elijah while my younger brother is Mark Paul. I also have cousins who are named Joshua and Moses.”
Speaking of his mother, she also was stricken by Bell’s palsy in the fall of 2019 but her recovery was extremely swift.
“She was pretty much back to normal in a little more than three weeks,” he said. “Bell’s palsy affects its victims differently. Some heal faster than others and my mother was very blessed to be back to smiling much sooner.”
A second source is the support and love of his family. In addition to his parents and younger sibling, his stepfather William Pineda (who married Gallegos’ mother in 1992 two years after she and his biological father divorced when Jeremiah was seven) is the person Gallegos calls “Dad” because “He has been an amazing father figure to my brother and me since we met him.”
A third is the support he has received from colleagues and strangers alike.
“So far, Jimmy Lennon Jr., DAZN commentator Todd Grisham and wrestling broadcaster Jim Ross (a multiple-time sufferer of Bell’s palsy) have reached out, just to name a few,” he said, “but the outpouring from fans, friends and family has been incredible. It’s a warm feeling to know people look forward to seeing me back and continuing to support me along the way.”
He has drawn particular inspiration from Ross, a WWE Hall of Fame announcer who is now the lead broadcaster for AEW.
“I remember when he was struck with Bell’s palsy the first time and my heart sunk to hear of that,” he said, “but Jim has a fighting heart and that hasn’t stopped him. I admire him even more than ever. He was so gracious to reach out to me via text message to let me know that I was in his prayers and that this is not a death sentence. He urged me to keep pursuing my dreams to be the best I can be and that great things are ahead.”
The road to recovery hasn’t been easy. In early May, Gallegos experienced stabbing pain and “ghost stress headaches” around his right ear, down his neck and through his shoulder. He was prescribed powerful pain medication that helped with the physical symptoms but left him mentally lethargic. Two weeks later, he reported he was doing much better physically, that he is slowly regaining movement on his right side and that his speech was “a whole lot better.”
“I am so thankful the pain has subsided; that was three-and-a-half weeks of agonizing pain,” he said. “I literally teared up several times during the late-night hours and there wasn’t much the doctors could do.”
Another sign of recovery is that he has resumed doing the custom video announcements, the most recent of which was a Mother’s Day greeting for his own mother on May 10.
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#PartialVideoPosted I couldn't end this Sunday without putting a Special video for my Amazing Mom Cyndi Martinez Pineda @cmpinunu . Unfortunately I couldn't see my Mom today but hopefully this video makes for it. Thank you Mom for being the greatest in your role! For always being so loving, understanding, hardworking and supportive to your family and being resilient to every challenge you face! You are an inspiration to us and Mark & I are so proud to call you Mom!! We Love you so much and always remember that everyday is Mother's Day!! And to all the beautiful strong Mother's living and in Heaven….HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!! You are true Super Heros! We love and Miss You!!
Gallegos has even more reason to be hopeful, for he is tentatively scheduled to work his first show since March – and his first show since his attack of Bell’s palsy – in late June with Canadian promoter Three Lions Promotions. And he also will be ready to work once Golden Boy Promotions resumes its schedule.
“My employers have been very understanding and supportive of my situation,” he said. “They are very eager to have me back working soon, if not sooner, but this shutdown this may have worked in my favor in terms of having a full recovery. If I were to get a call today, I can guarantee you I would be out the door ready to work. My smile isn’t complete – it’s about 60 percent – but that’s not going to stop me from announcing.”
Gallegos said that 80 percent of Bell’s palsy patients make a complete recovery, though most will have some very slight changes to their facial appearances. As for now, Gallegos’ physical and mental states are strong.
“Presently I am in good spirits,” he said. “Just like all of us in the boxing business, we are eager to return to action. I am focused and ready to make my return back behind the microphone and I certainly look forward to watching live boxing in general. As much as I want to think of the future, I would rather focus on the now. After all, I am chasing greatness and that takes patience, learning from the best and hard work every day. The future is bright.”
As for his message to fellow Bell’s palsy patients, he offers the following:
“Don’t lose hope! You are not alone in this. If you need to talk with someone, I urge you to do so. Don’t let this condition define who you are. You are strong and have so much purpose in life. Do as your physicians ask of you, remain disciplined in your journey to recovery, stick with your therapy, stay absolutely positive and things will get better. Most importantly, be patient! We all are rooting for your recovery.”
And surely they, in turn, will be rooting for Gallegos.
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 16 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.
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