Waterloo man wants boxing to 'uplift this city'

Posted at 3:25 PM, Jul 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-16 16:25:55-04

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — Cesar Bravo says he spent a lot of his teenage and young adult years in trouble with the law.

In fact, the Waterloo man was first introduced to boxing at the age of 13 when a judge ordered him to use the sport to manage his anger.

It wasn’t until the 2009 West High School graduate had his first child at 24 years old that he decided he needed to change.

“It was time to grow up,” Bravo told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Now 32, he no longer is an active boxer. Rather he is the owner and coach at Los Bravos Boxing Club, located across from Union Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s east side.

He uses his role to help kids avoid the mistakes he made years ago. It’s become his way of giving back to the community that he feels wreaked havoc on for more than a decade.

Most recently, he founded Gloves Up Movement, a new nonprofit, to further his mission.

“I want to uplift this city,” he said.

Bravo loves boxing because “there’s always someone better and stronger than you” no matter how good you are.

He reached the pinnacle of his fighting career when he represented Iowa at the National Golden Gloves Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The former coach at Cedar Valley Boxing Club eventually founded his own boxing club in 2018 at the old Jordan Reynolds Family Life Center building at 130 Shilliam Ave.

He regularly trains 15 to 18 boxers, 10 of whom are kids ages 8 to 17 years old, to be “future champions.” Additionally, he offers private training.

The chance to run a boxing gym in the facility’s basement came after “an old school coach” and friend decided to move on from the club he ran there.

He trusted Bravo with the keys to the gym that had been Crown Point Boxing Club since 2014.

“It was a great opportunity. He had this trust in me, and I jumped at it because this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bravo said.

They knew each other from their days sparring in amateur fighting competitions.

“I always was in the gym and felt I became a great fighter because of it,” he added. “I had a passion for the sport and loved teaching kids and showing them the love and dedication it takes to be a great fighter.”

Union Missionary Baptist Church owns the Shilliam Avenue property. Bravo credits Pastor Marvin Jenkins with giving him the chance to run his club.

Los Bravos Boxing Club had to shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Bravo is now standing atop what has been a long climb back to relevancy.

About his latest project, Gloves Up Movement, he said, “It’s about helping kids in the community and giving them a safe place to train and maybe release some anger,” he said. “We don’t talk about mental health enough. I had two great parents but still found a way to get in trouble. It’s time to give back to the community that I once destroyed. If I can help at least one kid, then it will all be worth it.”

“A punching bag can be a therapist too,” he added.

As part of his program, Bravo works with families and does not let finances or other barriers stand in the way of getting kids involved in the sport. The nonprofit allows him to accept donations from people interested in helping the cause.

Bravo came up with the name “Gloves Up Movement” because of Kevin Cruz, a professional boxer and friend he knew from his time at the Cedar Valley Boxing Club.

Cruz was known for having his “gloves up,” meaning he always was ready to fight, said Bravo.

The local boxing icon is now in prison. Another of Bravo’s inspirations, BJ Tomlinson, unexpectedly died five years ago.

But Bravo said he continues to honor these great coaches and professional boxers through his work.

Additionally, he said he’s where he is today because of former coaches Greg Patterson, Greg Boyer and Steve Rice, who served as father figures.

“I thank them all for saving me and helping me learn this beautiful sport,” he said.

He feels it’s important for kids to build discipline in the right environment and learn life lessons at his gym. However, he emphasizes that school work comes first.

“They can’t fight here if they don’t keep their grades up,” Bravo said.

Anyone as young as 7 years old is welcome to join.

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