ST. GEORGE – As 15-year-old boxer Ropati Pano Tiatia vies for his sixth consecutive Junior Golden Gloves national title, take a look at this extraordinary young athlete that the crowd can’t help but root for.
Pano’s interest in the sport began at age 7, when he saw pictures of his father, Paki, in action. A former boxer from Samoa, Paki agreed to let him try it and quickly spotted the boy‘s natural athletic ability and determination to succeed. Despite having stepped away from boxing more than a decade earlier, he agreed to return to the sport and serve as Pano’s coach. The two began training rigorously for hours each day to prepare for the challenges of the matches that lay ahead.
“Nothing comes free,” Paki said. “We gotta put in the time. He sets the goals and we work together to accomplish (them).”
Mature for his age, Pano knows there is no magic elixir for success.
“In any sport, dedication and hard work (are) vital to becoming the best,” he said. “I can’t expect to win national championships if I don’t commit to it. The man (who) wants it more and puts in the work will come out on top.”
The training paid off when Pano clinched his first major win at age 10 at the 2007 Junior Golden Gloves National Championships. Since then, he has won numerous state awards as well as the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Junior Golden Gloves titles.
Standing at 5-foot-6 and 193 pounds, Pano has a career record of 55-10 and has not lost a fight in six years. He represents 61 Athlete and the New Beginnings Academy, the organization his father runs to assist troubled youth in the St. George area.
Plenty of rest, a proper diet and keeping one’s body in top form are all vital to an athlete’s livelihood, but Pano said that the mental aspect is just as important for him. Staying focused through both victory and defeat is his main priority, as well as asking for a little help from above. He prays before every fight and always gives thanks to both God and his family, which Paki said has kept him humble despite his success.
In addition to his numerous boxing victories, Pano is a linebacker/running back for Pine View High School and an excellent student with a consistent 3.5 GPA. Though he hopes to earn an athletic scholarship in either sport, becoming a professional boxer is his main goal. He knows that it will require a great deal of work, unwavering commitment and respect for the sport.
“Boxing is not just about the knockouts. It’s about discipline and honor,” he said. “I (have to) stay focused and have big dreams. With hard work, dedication and a no-fear attitude in the ring, (I can) accomplish anything.”
For Paki, his son’s decision to commit to boxing is bittersweet. He has instilled the values of setting high expectations and grand goals in all his children, who also practice boxing to build fitness, coordination and discipline. But Paki dreads the possibility of watching Pano be injured by the extremely violent sport.
“It’s hard to play coach and dad at the same time,” he said. “I don’t want to see him turn pro, but if it’s something he wants, then I’ll support him all the way. (Training) and spending time together has strengthened our bond as father and son, (which to me) surpasses any national or world title.”
Pano is seeking his sixth consecutive win in the finals of the 2012 Junior Golden Gloves National Championship today at the Casablanca Resort and Casino in Mesquite. And though he is defending the title once again, Paki said his son will take nothing for granted and expects a great fight, no matter the outcome.
“He knows what it takes to win and also knows how it feels to come up short,” he said. “It’s all about the attitude he takes into the ring with him.”
“Both (my opponent) and I have worked hard to make it here and I respect him as a boxer and for his commitment.” he said. “May the best man win.”
For tickets, times and other information, please visit Casablanca’s website.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.