It started as a way for Ralph Clemente to defend himself, but learning self-defense has morphed into title defense now that the 16-year-old from Ronkonkoma holds the No. 1 165-pound Junior USA boxing rank.
Clemente, who said he got into the sport to be prepared if anybody tried to pick on him, reached the pinnacle of his class with a 4-1 decision over Darelle Valsaint of Orlando, Florida, in the title bout at the Junior Olympic Nationals in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 1. It’s a culmination of four years’ worth of training, two years of competing and endlessly pursuing his goals.
“I started training as hard as I could, and I came up really quick,” Clemente said. “Whenever a fight came, no matter how good the guy was, no matter how many fights I had, I took it.”
The incoming junior at Connetquot High School has a 13-2 record, and the road to the title wasn’t easy, he said. He had to go through a competitor he had lost to in a national tournament last year.
As a high school student, it can be a struggle balancing an intense training schedule with his other responsibilities. When he started, he said he put in five to six hours a day in training. It’s all about balance.
“If I’m not studying, I’m training,” Clemente said. “If I’m not training, I’m studying.”
That training takes place at Atlantic Veterans Memorial Boxing Gym, where his trainers, Dan Rhodes and Michael Murphy, helped prepare him for his most recent victory on the big stage. On Long Island, it can be a little bit difficult to get fights these days. There aren’t many fighters his age with his weight, and those that are at that level know his credentials.
“They know about where I’ve been and what I’ve done,” Clemente said. “I have a good reputation here, so it’s hard to get fights.”
With his new accolade in his back pocket, Clemente isn’t taking anything for granted. He said he only sees it as another steppingstone to getting better. He’s won the New York State title two times and his Metro division for the Junior Olympics twice.
His ultimate goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. For that, he needs to continue winning national tournaments. Each one gives him points needed to enter the Olympic trials, and he’s willing to rack them up, one by one.
“Ever since I started boxing, I started off wanting to be the best in New York, then I was really happy with it. Then I wanted to be best in the country,” Clemente said. “Now it doesn’t seem enough for me, I want to get to that top level, so that’s what I’m going for.”