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San Jose Boxer Eros Correa Takes Surprise Shot at Qualifying for Olympics

Eros Correa’s journey to the boxing world championships in Azerbaijan sounds like something out of “The Karate Kid.”

“Basically, yeah,” says Martin Nunez, the San Jose construction worker who plays the Mr. Miyagi role.

Eros Correa (red) lands a punch
 on Santos Vasquez ( Kevin C. Cox )

Four years ago, when Correa started as a pint-size eighth-grader, the trainer warned him the first steps would be boring. Correa was prohibited from using a punching bag and speed bag for months while working on body movement in the back yard. Still, the kid kept showing up at Nunez’s doorstep.

Now Correa, 18, has a chance to become the first boxer from San Jose to make an Olympic team since Louis Molina in 1956.

Correa must finish among the top 10 at the world championships that start Monday in Baku to earn a trip to the London Games next summer. He probably has to win at least four bouts in the light flyweight division to qualify.

Correa, the only Bay Area member of the U.S. team, is unranked among the world’s top 50 in the 108-pound weight class. He lost his only international fight in December, a three-round decision to No. 23 Angel Acosta of Puerto Rico.

None of it fazes him.

“I don’t care if I’m fighting the No. 1 guy or a guy ranked lower, I’m going with the A game,” Correa said.

The fact he qualified to fight in Baku at all is one of boxing’s biggest surprises this year. After losing at the
U.S. nationals in June, Correa had to win three times in July at the Last Chance Qualifier to gain a berth into the Olympic trials.

He wasn’t even going to go to Cincinnati for the tournament until Andy Vences, a fellow San Jose Police Academy League boxer, persuaded him to try. His father paid for the trip for Vences and his friend to go to Ohio, where Correa rolled through the competition to reach the trials in August in Mobile, Ala.

Then Correa won all four bouts in Mobile, including an upset of light flyweight favorite Louis Byrd. The recent Overfelt High graduate won the title with a 22-18 decision over Santos Vasquez of Reno.

“I really did just have one more chance,” Correa said.

If he fails to finish in the top 10 in Baku, Correa has to go through the arduous U.S. qualifying system again just to earn another shot at an international tournament that could lead to London.

No matter what the results are in the coming days, Correa’s ascent has resonated with San Jose’s Eastside neighborhoods.

Overfelt plans to honor him next month during a homecoming celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary.
Correa has a chance to become Overfelt’s second Olympian after Speed City star Lee Evans, winner of two goal medals in track and field at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Correa’s family still shakes its collective head at the thought of it.

“He was never a fighting kid,” older brother Leo Correa said. “It came out of the blue, this boxing. I thought it was more like an after-school type of hobby.”

They are part of a soccer-loving family. The boys grew up playing in local parks every weekend. At the time, Eros was the youngest — and the smallest. Sometimes he didn’t get picked for teams with his older brothers.

He found Nunez, 48, because a brother dates the trainer’s daughter. Nunez was a Bay Area amateur fighter who had long retired from the “sweet science.” He wasn’t even sure he wanted to get pulled back into the gym, but Nunez couldn’t say no to Correa.

When the kid broached the idea of boxing, Julio Correa told his son, “Play soccer, you’re really good at it.”

Correa joined Overfelt’s team two years ago as a defender but continued training at the P.A.L. gym after practice while also remaining academically eligible.

Then-Overfelt coach Ben Ellison immediately was impressed by Correa’s body control.

“He would take down guys twice his size,” said Ellison, who also taught Correa in biology. “They weren’t ready for the way he came through them.”

It’s that way with boxing, too. Correa might not have the experience of most of his competitors, but his confidence is soaring.

And in turn, it has been inspiring for other P.A.L. boxers such as Golden Gloves winner Vences.

“Any national tournament that I go to now, whether someone is ranked No. 1 or No. 2, it doesn’t matter,” Vences, 20, said. “Look at what he did.”

 Source: Elliott Almond, SJMercuryNews

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