At an age when many children are playing video games and becoming involved in youth sports, Frank Galarza had already endured life-altering tragedies.
Galarza was raised in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York, by an aunt and uncle after his father died from a gunshot wound when he was 7 years old, and his mother from a drug overdose when he was 9.
Then his 21-year-old cousin, Benjamin Collazo, whom Galarza considered a brother, was shot and killed during a robbery attempt at his apartment building in 2005. The events had an adverse affect on Galarza, who says he was “locked up in jail several times” before his 24th birthday.
“I lost my parents to drugs, and my father’s sister took me in,” Galarza said. “I grew up where the crack cocaine [trafficking] was heavy. You had to watch your back and defend yourself.
“I’ve seen people overdose and be shot and killed in front of me. I’ve hustled in the streets, been shot at. I've struggled in dark places mentally with depression and wondered ‘Why is this going on?’ I’ve lost so much in my life, but I’ve overcome. People around me can bear witness to that.”
Boxing has been a saving grace for Frank Galarza, who will enter the ring Friday night to take on former 154-pound world champion Ishe Smith in a 10-round headlining bout at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Galarza's father, Frank Galarza Sr. had been a professional boxer, and the younger Galarza also took up the sport briefly before abandoning it when he was 18. It was at this time when Galarza began to lose his way and get into trouble.
At the age of 24, Galarza was facing another jail term when he decided that he needed to turn his life around. He soon resumed boxing, and unexpectedly won the 2010 New York Golden Gloves after just 11 amateur bouts.
Nicknamed “Notorious,” Galarza then made his professional debut in Brooklyn in September 2010, when he scored a TKO of Nicholas Morris in just 20 seconds.
“I had battled depression and my own insecurities about my parents not being around and other things before returning from the streets to the ring,” Galarza said. “Boxing allowed me to release my frustrations and anger.
“I’ve always been the underdog no one expects to win, but I fight with a faith that comes from what I’ve gone through. And it's by God's grace and glory, not so much my talents, that I'm blessed with another opportunity."
Against Smith, Galarza (17-1-2, 11 KOs) will be looking to rebound from his first career defeat in November, when unbeaten Jarrett Hurd stopped him in the sixth round in Las Vegas. Now 31, Galarza said he expects to be better prepared when he faces Smith (28-8, 12 KOs).
“Losing to Hurd kind of checked me and put things into perspective,” Galarza said. “We were battling weight and dehydration, minor mistakes that won’t happen again.”
Galarza stopped seven of his last eight opponents before the loss, and now faces a fighter in Smith who has only been defeated by boxers who have either won a world title or competed for one. Smith, a 38-year-old Las Vegas native, also has never been stopped in 36 career bouts, a fact that Galarza casually dismissed.
“That don’t mean shit to me. I’m a street kid from New York who had a rough background, and I don't front for the cameras,” said the 6-foot Galarza, who has a two-inch height advantage over Smith.
“Ishe Smith is not going to overwhelm, intimidate or discourage me because we’re in his hometown. If he believes that, he's truly getting old and delusional."
To prepare for Smith, Galarza sparred with unbeaten 160-pound contenders Ievgen Khytrov and Sergiy Dervyanchenko under the watchful eye of longtime trainer Nirmal Lorick.
“I’m in there with the best, so there’s nothing that I haven’t seen before that Ishe Smith can throw at me,” Galarza said. “At the end of the day, it’s just me and Ishe in the ring, and you’re an old man who needs to get out of boxing. My job is to get you out.”
For a complete look at Smith vs Galarza, visit our fight page.