Tuesday, October 03, 2023  |



How NJ prospect Daniel Gonzalez found his purpose in the ring

Daniel Gonzalez sits on the ring at Park Elite Boxing Academy after a sparring session. Photo by Camilo Patino/CP Films & Photography
Fighters Network

ROSELLE PARK, N.J. — Daniel Gonzalez remembers feeling a void deep inside of himself that needed to be filled. He had once been a football standout, lettering for three years as a running back and cornerback at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School in Iselin, N.J. At just 5’9” and 150 pounds, he was an undersized if fearless player, but was just too small to play football at the college and professional level.

As those memories faded, he sank into the reality of life as a working stiff at an Amazon warehouse. He worked up to twelve hour shifts, often overnight, as a “picker,” putting together orders in the food warehouse. The job paid the bills, but there had to be more to life. He missed the thrill of pushing himself to his athletic limits.

In 2021, at the age of 25, Gonzalez walked into the Park Elite Boxing Academy in Roselle Park, N.J. and found what he was looking for.

“I started sparring and I fell in love with it. The next thing I knew I was fighting, competing in tournaments, winning and that’s where it’s taken me ever since. Boxing gave me a purpose and direction in life that I didn’t have before so I’m very grateful for that,” said Gonzalez, a 28-year-old New Jersey native of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent.

Gonzalez will take the next step of his boxing journey on July 22, when he faces Michael Ruiz (0-1) of Toms River, N.J. in his professional debut. The four-round lightweight bout will take place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. on a card that will be promoted by Rising Star Promotions and headlined by local favorite Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna in a ten-round bout against Juan Manuel Witt.

Long before he walked into the gym, boxing had been in Gonzalez’s life. His father, Enrique Gonzalez, boxed in the Marines and competed as an amateur in New Jersey. He remembers his family getting together to order Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto pay-per-views.

He quickly excelled in his new sport, winning the N.J. Diamond Gloves within his first year of putting on gloves. After falling short in the 139-pound N.J. Golden Gloves semi-finals in 2022, he moved up to the more comfortable weight of 147 pounds the following year and defeated Tyron Lee in the finals to win the N.J. Golden Gloves title this past April.

Gonzalez competed at nationals twice, at the USA Boxing National Qualifier in Cleveland, Ohio in April of 2022, and then the 2023 National Golden Gloves in Chester, Pa. this past May. When faced with the choice of keeping his warehouse job or missing out on competing in Ohio, Gonzalez chose to follow his heart. Now, he works as one of the trainers at Park Elite, helping to educate and inspire the kids at the same gym where he fell in love with the sport.

“Every day that I go to the gym my goal is to get better each day. So it’s very fulfilling to do that. I feel like the point of life is to find something that you enjoy. Working a job that you hate to do, even if you’re making money, isn’t very fulfilling. Now I love what I’m doing,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez trains under the watchful eye of Percy Gayanilo, an amateur boxing veteran turned lawyer who trained under New York legend Ralph Correa at the Church Street Boxing Gym before opening his own gym in 2019. Also helping Gonzalez at the gym is Joseph “Pop” Figueroa, an 80-fight pro veteran who faced world champions like Nate Campbell, Kennedy McKinney and Tracy Harris Patterson. Other experienced trainers like Mervin Luciano and Jose Nieves also share their wisdom.

Photo by Camilo Patino/CP Films & Photography

Gayanilo, who doubles as Gonzalez’s manager, doesn’t feel that Gonzalez’s advanced age is a hindrance, believing that his maturity keeps him focused on his goals, and cognizant that he doesn’t have time to waste. It also makes him coachable, which is an attribute that can be hard to come by.

“Danny has natural physical attributes that you really can’t teach. He’s athletic, he’s got speed, he’s got power and explosiveness. The kid can dunk at his height,” said Gayanilo.

“I want him to fight at least 3-4 times minimum per year and get to 10-15 fights within the next 3-4 years. He’ll be in his physical prime at that point.”

Gonzalez has gotten to spar rounds with his other pro gym mates, including unbeaten flyweight contender Angelino Cordova and bantamweight prospect Jose Nieves, as well as Allentown welterweight prospect Thanjhae Teasley. That experience has taught him about the difference in pacing and timing of the professionals.

His goal, like every other boxer, is to become a world champion. In a way, getting to live a life he finds fulfilling is a championship victory in itself.

“I feel like I’ve found my niche in boxing. I found something I’m good at, something I enjoy, something that I wake up and look forward to doing every day. I don’t really care about the money or the fame, I just love doing this,” said Gonzalez.

“If I can make money on top of that then it’s a plus.”

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].