Philly prospect Branden Pizarro matured quickly from rough upbringing
When he steps inside the ring this Saturday, it will be exactly one day short of a year since Brendan Pizarro’s last pro fight. The 23-year-old’s ring absence wasn’t due to an injury or promotional issues, but rather a desire to enjoy life a little and handle business outside the ring.
Boxing is his Plan A, but Pizarro is already setting himself up for life after the final bell.
“People always say that my money could last me forever, just for the simple fact that I always put all my fight purses away and grind,” said Pizarro, who owns and manages six residential properties around the Philadelphia area.
“I always knew before I turned pro that I wanted to buy property and invest, I saved up my money to buy one and then I started using the bank’s money and I just continued buying.”
Pizarro (17-1-1, 10 knockouts) will get a chance to bank away future investment funds when he faces Paulo Cesar Galdino (12-6, 8 KOs) at the 2300 Arena in his hometown of Philadelphia in an eight-round junior welterweight bout.
For Pizarro, looking forward is easier when you come from the past he experienced.
Pizarro, the middle of five children, grew up under difficult circumstances in North Philadelphia. At the age of 9, his father, Angel, was brutally mugged while cashing his check from his construction job. The injuries left Angel Pizarro hospitalized and unable to work, causing them to lose their home and move into a one bedroom apartment. There were times when even the basics like food were hard to come by, but the hunger in Pizarro’s belly translated to a hunger to succeed.
“I had a tough upbringing. We went through the struggle, especially since my father had an injury. Him making ends meet, he always was there as a provider so it always motivated me to continue fighting and think about turning pro and have my own funds to allow us to have a life,” said Pizarro.
Angel Pizarro, himself an amateur boxer growing up in Puerto Rico, always found ways to send his son to national tournaments, and he estimates that he had about 60 amateur fights. Among his highlights were winning the Ringside World Championships five years in Missouri five years in a row, and defeating 2020 U.S. Olympian Delante “Tiger” Johnson in the final to win the 2016 U.S. Youth Open Tournament in Dallas.
Ryan Garcia was among the other future prospects he faced in the amateurs, having dropped a decision to him in the Junior Olympic National Championships in 2014.
“I probably had about 14 fights when I first fought Ryan Garcia. People were saying. ‘You know who you’re fighting tonight?’ But I’m gonna be honest, I grew up in the toughest neighborhoods in Philly so fighting someone with a name never really put fear in me and I always rise to every occasion,” remembers Pizarro.
When amateur boxing rules looked headed towards removing headgear for bigger tournaments, the Pizzaros figured that they might as well turn professional and get paid to take big punches.
In Pennsylvania, as in most states, a boxer must be 18 years old to turn professional, but the state commission made an exception for Pizarro due to his extensive amateur background. He made his pro debut just ten days after his 17th birthday on October 28, 2016, stopping his opponent in just 39 seconds.
Success hasn’t been linear for Pizarro in the professionals. After winning his first eight bouts, Pizarro was dropped twice against Christian Rivera before losing a unanimous decision. He won his next six bouts before being held to a draw against Tre’Sean Wiggins in 2019. He has fought just once a year since 2020, reeling off three straight stoppage wins.
Pizarro says he has sought a rematch with Rivera, but Rivera has not fought again since that night in 2017.
“That loss never defined me, I beat everyone else they put in front of me. I just want to continue to move forward with my career. I know people will constantly bring it up, it’s a chapter that I hoped to close but it was never something that he looked forward to do,” said Pizarro.
Pizarro has prepared for Saturday’s fight at his gym, called The Gift, in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. He says he knows little about Galdino, a 30-year-old southpaw from São Paulo, Brazil, other than he seems like a tough fighter. Galdino has fought twice in the U.S., most notably last May, when he upset Daniel Gonzalez in a thriller in New York City. Galdino last fought in October, when he was stopped in six by Petros Ananyan.
“In this fight I will be making a statement. Moving forward I’m already ready for ten rounds. I’m ready for those names right below the world championship level. I learned to be patient and to not ruin the moment or rush anything. If you ask me, I’m ready for them tomorrow,” said Pizarro.
“There have been numerous world champions that I’ve been in training with and they can even tell you that I’m ready. There are a few world champions that I know I can beat today.”
Manny Rivera, who promotes Pizarro through his Hard Hitting Promotions, company, is in agreement.
“Branden’s ready right now and that’s not me blowing smoke, that’s the truth. I think Branden and Montana Love would be a great fight. I think Branden would stop him. I think the vision is to beat someone in that name category, like a John Bauza,” said Rivera.
“His drive, his motivation really for boxing is because he wants to be great. He wants to leave a legacy, it’s not necessarily about money. I think this year he’ll be making some noise and we’ll go from there.”
The rough realities of life in Philadelphia may have shaped him, but just like his professional setbacks, Pizarro won’t let them define him.
“Philly is a great city, everybody that comes from Philly comes to fight but it’s tough being here. There’s a lot of things that you don’t want to see that happen daily. I’m learning day by day and the goal is to get out of Philly and continue to be the best I can be,” said Pizarro.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].