Golden Gloves tournament draws Yonkers women into the ring
The first day Christella Cepeda joined the Yonkers YMCA, she approached boxing coach John Morrison and told him she was interested in joining the team. She wanted to spar, but Morrison wouldn't let her.
Instead, he gave her a list of eight things to do. Among them are: ramp up to the point where she is able to run three miles consistently and do 15 pullups, buy a mouthpiece, and learn how to shadowbox.
Most people, Morrison said, never come back after getting that list. But Cepeda, now 20, returned in two days with the whole list complete.
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That was almost three years ago. This week, the Yonkers native will try for her second-straight gold in the annual New York Golden Gloves tournament, one of the most prestigious amateur boxing tournaments in the nation.
"Ever since day one, I just loved it and just kept going," Cepeda said.
Cepeda is fighting in the 132-pound weight division championship Wednesday at Empire City Casino in Yonkers, one of four championship bouts taking place that night. She's been training at the Yonkers YMCA alongside her friends Ivette Delgado, 19, and Krystal Correa, 19, who are competing in the tournament as well but in different weight classes.
Cepeda had ranked third in the nation at the 141 pound weight division and has now dropped to the 132-pound weight class.
She advanced to this year's Golden Gloves finals automatically because she was one of only three women in her weight division and one failed to show up.
But make no mistake about her skills. After advancing through the rounds last year, she won her 141-pound title at Madison Square Garden, defeating 33-year-old Tiffany Chen of Manhattan.
On Wednesday, Cepeda will take on Berenis Machal of Brooklyn.
"Christella, in my prediction, will stop the girl in the second round," Morrison said.
To prepare for the bout, Cepeda has been training hard, among other things running between three and five miles every other day.
"So, I'm confident," she said.
When she's not boxing, Cepeda is a second-year nursing student at Lehman College in New York City. She said people rarely believe her when she tells them that she's a boxer.
"I was so shy when I was younger," she said. "Nobody would have suspected this from me."
"I used to wear big clown glasses," she said with a laugh.
Cepeda's dedication to the sport inspired her close friend, Delgado, to give boxing a shot as well about two years ago. The two were both three-sport athletes -- in soccer, basketball, and softball -- at Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers.
Delgado is now a second-year student at Westchester Community College planning to go into forensic science.
Her next match is a semifinal bout at the Michael J. Petrides School on Staten Island on Tuesday. She fights in the 112-pound division.
Delgado advanced to the finals at Madison Square Garden last year, but lost to Misato Kamegawa. She said she hopes the result will be different this time around.
"This year, I'm completely confident," Delgado said. "Not underestimating anyone in my weight class whatsoever, but I have the experience."
Finals for many of the men's and women's divisions in the Golden Gloves, including Delgado's 112-pound weight class, will take place April 18 and 19 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Tickets for Delgado's semifinals bout on Tuesday at Petrides High School in Staten Island may be bought at the door. General admission seats cost $20. VIP tickets cost $50 and include ringside seats, food and drinks. The matches start at 8 p.m.
Tickets for Cepeda's championship fight at Empire City Casino Wednesday will be sold at the door. General admission is $25 or $15 for police officers, firefighters, senior citizens, students and children under 14. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.