When Miguel Flores made his professional boxing debut against Cody Gardner on August 14, 2009, he entered the ring feeling as if he had the strength of two men. It wouldn’t take long for Gardner to feel the full force of that strength.
“I wobbled him with a left hook to the temple, then a flurry,” Flores recalls of the fight that ended 31 seconds after it started in his hometown of Houston. “It’s every fighter’s dream to win their first fight by knockout.”
Except this wasn’t your ordinary first-round knockout for a fighter making his pro debut, as it came barely three months after a then-17-year-old Flores had to say his final goodbye to his older brother.
On April 30, 2009, Benjamin Flores—a rising 122-pound prospect—collapsed in the ring in Dallas after being stopped in the eighth round by Al Seeger. Five days later, the 24-year-old Flores died from injuries suffered in the fight.
So that second man from whom Miguel Flores drew the added strength to defeat Gardner? That was Benji Flores.
“I knew my brother’s strength was lifting me,” Flores says. “And I knew he would be proud of me.”
For his debut, Flores entered the ring wearing a T-shirt that featured a photo of him and his brother that was taken in the locker room before Benji’s final bout. Also, Flores’ corner that night consisted of his father, Miguel Sr., head trainer Aaron Navarro and assistant Bobby Benton—the same trio that had been in his brother's corner 3½ months earlier.
Finally, stitched on the waistband of Flores’ trunks was the name of his mother, Olivia, who initially tried to dissuade her younger son from turning pro.
“She had just lost a son and told me to go to school or do something else,” Flores says. “It was a tough decision, but ultimately my parents are both very supportive.”
Jump ahead 5½ years, and an unbeaten Miguel Flores (18-0, 9 KOs) is climbing the ranks of the 126-pound division. His next test comes Tuesday when he pursues his third straight knockout, this time against Mexico’s Mario Briones (27-4-2, 20 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder from Cowboys Dancehall in San Antonio (Fox Sports 1, 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT).
As usual, Flores won’t be fighting Briones all by himself. “I’ll be wearing my brother’s faded shirt with his picture on it [into the ring], and you’ll always see a patch on my trunks, ‘Rest in Peace, Benji.’ My dad is also going to be in my corner, just like always.”
Even as the years pass, the victories pile up and his future shines bright, the events of April 30, 2009, are never far from Flores’ mind.
“It was a private black-tie show,” he remembers. “The fight was close in the eighth, and my brother was coming off his best round. Then he stumbled and folded into a corner, and took about three shots before the referee stepped in.
“Benji was a warrior. I had never seen him look like that. I knew something was wrong.”
Flores dashed through the crowd and into the ring, where Navarro restrained him as paramedics tended to Benji.
“I held Miguel back so the EMTs could help his brother,” says Navarro, who has known the siblings since 4-year-old Miguel followed 12-year-old Benji into a local gym. “I said, ‘Listen, they’ll take him to the hospital. … By the time you get there, he’ll probably be fine.’ We all thought that at the time.”
Benji was rushed to nearby Parkland Hospital in Dallas, but he never regained consciousness. He died on May 5, leaving behind his 10-month-old son, Christopher.
“My brother was like a father and friend [whom] I could tell anything,” says Flores, who has become a father figure to his now 7-year-old nephew. “He picked me up, dropped me off at school. If I got into trouble in school, they called him and he straightened me out.”
Following Benji’s passing, few would’ve blamed Flores had he chosen to take his mother’s initial advice and hung up his gloves. But that was never really an option. Put simply, Flores was not about to let his brother’s legacy end with his death.
“Miguel came to me one day and said, ‘Aaron, I want to fight and win a world title for my brother,’” Navarro says. “He said, ‘We live with risk in life every day.’ This was a 17-year-old kid who lost his best friend and brother right before his eyes. I’ve seen men break down from lesser things.”
Not only did Flores easily dismantle Gardner, but two years into his career, he stood at 10-0 with six stoppages. Still, none of the sport’s top promoters were beating down his door asking to manage his affairs.
“You would think with my story, a big promoter would pick me up, but that wasn’t the case,” he says. “I had to make my own way.”
Finally, along came manager Luis DeCubas, who signed Flores—a decision DeCubas looks back on fondly.
“Miguel is glowing in character, and he’s a great human being,” DeCubas says. “Being a mentor to his brother’s son, his passion for the ring, all of that shows you how badly he wants to pursue his dreams and continue his brother’s legacy.”
Flores concurs. In fact, the way he sees it, his quest for a world title has been and always will be a two-man journey.
“Benji and I dreamed of fighting on the same card and becoming world champions,” he says. “The man I am today is because of what I learned from him. When he passed away, he left me with that responsibility to become a world champion for him and me.
“I’m undefeated, so that means Benji’s taken good care of me.”
For complete coverage of Flores vs Briones, check out our fight page.