This Boxer Lost A Spot On The Olympic Team — And Then Made History
Boxing titans like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson have carved out spots for themselves in the history books of modern sports. But for one young up-and-coming boxer, becoming a part of sports history meant a long and painful journey — which even meant having to throw in the towel before getting back in the ring. From Olympic hopeful to international superstar, this is Patricio Manuel’s unlikely journey to fame.
Olympic Dreams Dashed
Patricia Manuel had been boxing for years, preparing for this moment. In front of hundreds of people, Manuel was set to fight in the match of a lifetime, with the winner going on to represent the United States at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
But one devastating blow threatened to knockout all of those dreams. At the time, it seemed like this amateur boxer was down for the count. But little did Manuel or anyone else know, this was only going to be the beginning of a journey unlike anything the boxing world had ever seen.
This history-making boxing story all began in Gardena, California. Patricia Manuel grew up in the southern Los Angeles community alongside her mother, Loretta Butler, and her grandmother, who had always taken an interest in keeping her on the right track to success.
Overall, life was pretty normal for the family of three. But in the back of Manuel’s mind, there was always something off about her life. At the time she didn’t think much of it, but as the years went by, she couldn’t shake the gnawing uncomfortable feeling.
Growing up, Manuel was always referred to by her mother and grandmother as a “tomboy”, and she seemed to fit that description rather well. She kept her hair short, and opted for looser-fitting boys’ clothes over the styles that other girls her age would wear.
Her interests were no different. She couldn’t be bothered with the toys that were usually deemed suitable for young girls. “Every Christmas I would be buying toys at Toys ‘R’ Us and everybody would say, ‘Boys at home, huh?'” Manuel told the Los Angeles Times. But Manuel’s grandmother had an idea to help her granddaughter fit in.
Getting In The Ring
After seeing her grandchild struggle to fit in, Manuel’s grandmother came up with an idea. One year for Christmas, Manuel’s grandmother decided to do something different. Instead of buying the usual “boys” toys, she would opt for a different type of present.
She took the money she would usually spend on gifts and, instead, used it to buy Manuel a membership to a boxing club. At age 16, Manuel was wary of starting this new sport, but decided to give it a try. And it would end up changing this young “tomboy’s” life.
Thriving In The Gym
Manuel would later describe joining the boxing club as “love at first sight” in an interview with The Guardian. “It was structure, it was discipline, it was control. I had spent so much of my puberty years feeling out of control,” Manuel said.
Manuel was thriving as an amateur boxer, working with trainer Roberto Luna, who had trained a number of boxers who went on to compete at the Olympics. And Manuel had her eyes set on similar dreams — until one day, when they all seemingly came crashing down.
A Doomed Olympics Trial
After years of working towards her dream, the day finally came in 2012 for Manuel to compete for a spot on the United States Olympic team. It was the first time that women were allowed to compete for a spot on the team. But her fight against Tiara Brown was doomed from the very start.
Just days before the qualifying event, Manuel suffered a shoulder injury. And once the fight began, there was no ignoring her shoulder pain. Brown easily beat Manuel, landing a devastating blow to Manuel’s career. It was all over, she thought. But really, her story was just beginning.
An End, And A Beginning
Manuel had suffered an embarrassing defeat. But with boxing taking a back seat as Manuel recovered, the boxer’s loss became a blessing in disguise. The sport was no longer taking up Manuel’s entire life, and it gave Manuel a moment to reflect on something that was known all along.
Manuel finally could face the truth. She had always identified more as a man. “It was pretty easy to ignore all the other things that were whispering in the back of my head, like, ‘Do you feel good about being called a woman all the time?'” Manuel said. And now that there were no distractions, there was no more ignoring the truth, either.
It had taken Manuel years to finally come to terms with the idea that he was transgender. But once that happened, he wanted to get the process started as quickly as possible. “Once I realized that I was trans, I knew that I needed to live my life being seen as a man,” Manuel told CNBC.
Manuel began hormone treatment not soon after. Over the next few months, Manuel started to notice some major changes. His voice began to get a bit deeper, he was growing facial hair, and he was gaining weight. All of these new experiences were leading up to his final step: gender confirmation surgery in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Meet Patricio Manuel
In 2014, Manuel underwent surgery and officially completed his transition. And with that, he wanted a new name to fit his completely new life. So Patricia became Patricio. The recovery from surgery was brutal, but it would be nothing compared to the pain that he would feel from other aspects of his process of coming out.
“If I continued to push off my medical transition, I was doing more harm to myself,” Manuel said. “I realized that I needed to go all-in and risk it all.” He felt he had to take the leap, even if that meant giving up the sport he loved — and even a few family members.
Sadly, some family members were not accepting of Manuel’s transition. But it was the lack of acceptance from his found-family at his boxing gym that really hit Manuel hard. His coach, Luna, refused to continue training him. Eventually, he was forced out of his gym entirely.
“It hurt a lot…gyms are our safe space,” Manuel said in an interview with The Guardian. “To have someone basically say you can be here, but no one can know you’re here, I don’t live my life like that. I will never compromise who I am to make someone feel comfortable.” So instead, he had to totally start over.
Back At Square One
Eventually, Manuel found a new home at another boxing club. But this fight to box would only continue. With Manuel now identifying as a man, he learned that he had to get an entirely new boxing license as a male fighter.
For the California Boxing Commission, this case was a first, and they had no idea how to proceed. And as they went back and forth trying to figure out how to handle Manuel’s case, the boxing hopeful was left with no chance to compete in the sport he loved.
Gearing Up For The Olympics
Manuel struggled with the California Boxing Commission for years, and the 2016 Olympics, set to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were quickly approaching. Ahead of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee went on to make a new rule that would change Manuel’s life.
The new rule opened up a route for transgender boxers to compete in the sport. With that new rule in place, USA Boxing decided to adopt a similar one. Finally, after years of waiting, Manuel was finally able to get a new boxing license, and finally compete once again. It was time to make himself known.
First Time Fighting In The Male League
Patricio Manuel had long awaited this moment. And he was finally about to go back into the ring — not as a female boxer, and not as someone practicing in a gym, but as a properly licensed male amateur boxer about to take part in his first fight.
Despite all of those years training without the ability to actually fight, it seemed like all that practice had paid off. Manuel won his first amateur fight, making history for the first (but definitely not the last) time. With one victory in his pocket, he went on to compete in his second fight. But this time, the results would not be as victorious.
Back In The Ring
Patricio Manuel was coming fresh off of a win from his first amateur fight when he decided to go back into the ring to face off yet another challenger. However, unlike his last fight, this one was no triumph. Instead, Manuel lost.
And not only did he lose, but the amateur boxer also suffered some fairly serious injuries. Just as quickly as his new and improved boxing career began, it was about to take a back seat once again as his body healed.
More Bad Luck
Before his second amateur fight, Patricio Manuel had his sights set on going for a professional boxing position. But after his second fight, and in light of the injuries he suffered from it, he was back sitting on the sidelines, unable to compete until he had healed.
And to add literal insult to injury, a handful of his male boxing peers in the league simply refused to fight against him because he was transgender. But this downward turn was not for too long. It was all about to be redirected by another boxing great.
Turning His Career Back Around
Manuel’s boxing career had taken a serious hit, both because of his transition and because of his injuries. And it was at that precise moment that a boxing coach named Eric Gomez, made famous for being the president of a boxing gym named Golden Boy, came to speak with Manuel.
Gomez came offering help. He had trained a slew of famous boxers, and he thought that Manuel might be the next big boxing star. “[Manuel’s story] really inspired me,” Gomez told the Los Angeles Times. Manuel did not need any more convincing. He was in.
A Fresh, New Start
What Gomez saw in Patricio Manuel was not just a talented boxer, but a ton of potential to be an absolute superstar. “The inner struggles, the process of transition and to keep wanting to fight? Just that drive is impressive,” Gomez said of his pupil in an interview.
“It’s very different than any athlete I’ve met. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Gomez exclaimed. Manuel was soon training harder than ever, practicing around the clock, and bulking up to fight in his first-ever professional fight as a male boxer.
Making It To The Big Leagues
It was 2018, and Manuel had already been on an 8-year journey, all leading to this moment. As the crowd roared in the stands — some cheering while others outright booed — Manuel stepped out to take on Mexican fighter Hugo Aguilar for his first professional fight as a male boxer.
And in that fight, Manuel became not only the first transgender boxer to compete professionally. He wanted more that than. He wanted to become the first transgender boxer to ever win a professional match. And his heart pounded as he stepped into the ring.
“We’re Finally Here”
“I’m not the type of person that’s just going in there for a participation trophy,” Patricio Manuel told a local newspaper just before his fight. “My goal is to win. My mindset isn’t really thinking about the history of this. It’s more thinking about just going out there and performing as an athlete.”
But even with all of the buildup and all of the time spent preparing for this moment, Manuel still had to stop and take everything in. “Wow, we’re finally here, finally at this point,” Manuel remembers thinking to himself. And then, the bell rang for the fight to begin.
Making Boxing History
Members of Manuel’s family sat in the stands watching the professional boxer’s history-making match. And for twelve tiring minutes, Manuel put up his best fight yet, securing swift, impressive hits against Aguilar. And after twelve minutes, the referee was ready to make the call.
By unanimous decision, it was concluded that Manuel had won his first-ever fight, thereby becoming the first openly transgender boxer to ever win a professional boxing match. Years of hard work, discrimination, and rejection had finally paid off. Manuel’s thank you speech was nothing short of moving.
“I’ll Be Back”
After his big win, Patricio Manuel turned his attention to the crowd, some of whom had been hostile. He called out the boos from the fans who thought he should have never been allowed to fight. “It’s okay,” he proclaimed. “I’ll be back, I’ll make them happy then.”
Then, he reflected on the long, difficult road that had led him to that moment. “I think if people knew what it took to get to this moment, it’s been almost two years since I’ve been in a ring,” he emotionally explained. But then he turned his attention elsewhere.
A Moment For The History Books
Then, he turned his attention to his challenger, Aguilar. “I just have to say to my opponent, hats off to him,” Manuel said. “He came in to fight and was fighting me the whole time. He fought me as a man, and I have so much respect for him.”
Gomez watched from outside the ring, beaming as he looked up at his inspiring fighter, and the impact he had made on the sport. “It’s good for boxing, but it’s good for humanity as well,” Gomez said in an interview. But Manuel was not finished changing the world of boxing just yet.
A Story That’s Far Too Uncommon
It was an iconic moment in the chronicles of modern sports. Immediately, Patricio Manuel started to receive national attention for his history-making fight, both from the boxing community and from the LGBTQ+ community. But Gomez says the attention has come because of way more than just one single victorious fight.
“This is a human story,” Gomez said. “If you’re good enough, you should be allowed to compete. Can you imagine how many people turned him down, how many people put him down? He’s already succeeded in life.” But his success would keep coming — with one unexpected phone call.
An Everlasting Career
In September 2018, the same year that Patricio Manuel won his famous fight, he made another announcement. The iconic boxing-supply brand Everlast had signed Manuel as the new face of their company. This coveted spot had previously been held by the likes of such legendary figures as Jack Dempsey and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Everlast announced that Manuel was part of a “new crop of trailblazers” who were set to represent the company’s new inclusivity campaign. Manuel had not just made it as a boxer; he was now one of the most recognized faces in a sport that, during some points, seemed to have not even wanted him in the ring.
Through all of the rejection, the injuries, the surgery, and the abandonment that Manuel suffered, the boxer says that he would not change a thing. “I wouldn’t trade any of it,” he reflected. “It was worth everything I went through to get to this point.”
“We only have one life to live,” he continued. “As cliché as that sounds, I really try to live my life having the least amount of regrets as possible.” And now, as the face of Everlast and the face of what boxing could hopefully become, he has no regrets.