It's fascinating to know what first loves can mean to 17-year-olds.
Boxing, to Alex Alvarez, is so much more than that sweet science of sport in which combatants enter a ring with a genuine passion to clobber.
And while opponents know firsthand his love of clobbering, the fight game to Alvarez has become a transformative, life-changing event, a reason to get up in the morning, to stay the straight and narrow in the streets of Fort Worth's Riverside neighborhood and motivation to study harder and graduate from Carter-Riverside High School, which he will do in May.
Boxing has given Alvarez a dream.
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"At first boxing was a way to stay out of the streets and stay out of trouble," Alvarez said. "And then I got into it, and I found out I loved it.
"And that I was good at it."
Alvarez -- aka "Baby Tyson" to the poor fellows who have encountered his hard-hitting hands and knockout artistry -- will make his debut in the 201-pound Open Division this week at the 76th Regional Golden Gloves tournament at the John Justin Arena at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Alvarez will fight Alejandro Bermudez of Gatesville on Friday night.
The tournament runs tonight through Saturday. The Golden Gloves State tournament follows next week in Fort Worth.
Alvarez will draw attention this week, said his trainer Joe Freitas, because he "knocks out men."
Short work and a right hand reminiscent of Mike Tyson are the hallmarks of Alvarez's evolving amateur career, said Freitas, who specifically recalled a bout in McKinney. A doctor, during the pre-fight examination, asked Alvarez if he had ever knocked anybody out. Innocently enough, Alvarez asked if he meant "in the ring?"
Ah, out of the mouth of Baby Tyson.
The doctor assured him that he would make sure to stand near the other guy's corner.
"Fifteen seconds into the fight," Freitas said, "he knocked him out."
That particular event has become fodder for YouTube enthusiasts. And gave Freitas and Steve Cruz Sr., another trainer, a glimpse of something special.
Alvarez's fight on Friday will represent his 11th as an amateur.
He has bounced around a few boxing clubs but has found a home at Cruz Crew Boxing Club, which has changed Baby Tyson from a wild-swinging street fighter to a boxer with aspirations to one day make a living doing this.
Freitas said he would like to see Alvarez establish himself as an amateur and give the U.S. Olympic team a shot before turning pro.
The pupil knows none of that happens overnight. A good work ethic has given Baby Tyson the frame of a man in just a couple of years with the club.
"If you take shortcuts you get cut short in life," Alvarez said, echoing the mantra of Cruz Crew.
He drills, jumps rope and runs three miles a day, five days a week, sometimes six.
His goal this week is to win the open division and advance to state. The objectives weren't always so lofty.
"When he first started with us, his mother was going to pull him out of high school because he was having trouble," Freitas said. "We made him understand that school was very important.
"Now, I'm proud to say he's going to graduate this year."
The changed focus on his studies has also given him a mindset to study boxing. Freitas said he and his pupil analyze others for case studies that Alvarez can apply to his game. The two did just that at ESPN's Friday Night Fights last week in Arlington, Freitas said.
In the end, though, Baby Tyson still loves to clobber people. He does it well and with a passion.
"He's a good, strong fighter," said Cruz, who has trained two world champions in more than 50 years as a local trainer. "When you see 'tough' in the dictionary, that's Alex."