It’s 9 p.m. Saturday, June 25, and the crowd packing the Bomb Factory is awaiting Odessa-born boxer Joey Alday’s entrance into the ring. As Alday, 21, walks out to the tune of Future’s “March Madness,” the audience's murmuring builds into a roar, with fans rising from their seats in attention. Tonight is Alday's pro debut, and despite other promising talents who will be fighting, the hype is largely centered on Alday.
Alday's opponent Justin Henderson initiates the first round with a barrage of blows toward a calm Alday who dodges them by a hairline, landing blows for every punch Henderson misses. In the first round, Alday overwhelms Henderson with power and conditioning, stunning him with critical hits to the head and body. Henderson drops to his knee just minutes into the second of four rounds in the match. The crowd goes into hysterics as Alday leaves the ring to change into a white button-up and then humbly pose for photos with his fans.
Fans and sports reporters have anticipated Alday’s pro debut since the announcement of his signing to management team Montoya-Ruibal late last year. The former number one amateur boxer in the country has captivated audiences with his refined technique and chipper off-camera persona. “I know with my style, I’ll be good at pro,” says Alday. “I just need to work hard and still keep the same mindset I did as an amateur.”
Alday was born in Odessa to Jose Alday, a former amateur boxer, who gave Joey his first boxing mitts when he was barely a year old. The family later relocated to Lufkin. “I would let him hit me in the face and show him different combinations,” Jose says. “Then at 5 and 6, I started showing a little bit more, and then when he turned 8 years old, we moved from Lufkin [back] to Odessa. He had his first amateur fight when he was 9, and from that point on, he just kept up with it.”
Growing up, Alday regularly watched boxing with his father, who quizzed him on the fighters and their statistics. At first he was scared to fight, and this fear almost caused him to quit at 12, but with his father’s encouragement, Alday continued. He won his first national title in the 2010 Ringside tournament, giving him “a whole lot more confidence” to pursue boxing. Alday rapidly rose to the number one rank in two different weight categories — 154 and 152 — eventually winning three national titles and enjoying more than 200 victories with 25 losses.
Jose has been Alday's coach since his start as an amateur, offering his son the foundation he had in his career as a fighter. When asked, though, Jose is quick to say that Alday's success owes far more to his son’s prodigious work ethic than his own input. “I’ve never seen anyone train harder than Joey,” says Jose. “Everything he does, he does at 110 percent. His pacing is just ‘boom-boom-boom’ nonstop for an hour and a half, two hours ... Joey just doesn’t like to lose, whether it's video games or [boxing]. He’s real competitive, every since he was little.” With over 200 fights under his belt, not including the 45 bouts he fought internationally, Alday set his sights on the Olympics. Winning the U.S. National Championship in Spokane, Washington — the biggest amateur championship in the world — qualified Alday to compete for a place on the U.S. team. Balancing regular life with his responsibilities as an Olympian proved interesting. Grinning, Jose recounts a story about hearing a knock at 5 a.m. Waiting at the porch were Olympic officials ready to drug test Alday. They didn't allow him out of their sight for the duration of the procedure.
Being an Olympian came with many benefits, though, including a stipend and newfound fame. Despite his introversion as a young kid, Alday was comfortable with this new role. He'd managed to shed his shyness around ninth grade when he realized that in boxing, “if you’re scared, you’re going to get hurt.”
At school, Alday attracted lots of attention from other students, both good and bad. As a senior, Alday was walking to class when a freshman instigated a fight by pushing the then-Olympic hopeful against a locker. Other students quickly separated the two, sternly warning the underclassman about the young boxer’s fighting prowess. The freshman promptly apologized and Alday shrugged it off; he was intent on staying out of trouble. "I always told him, ‘Don’t put your hands on somebody and get your ass in trouble,’" says Jose. "Cause he could really hurt somebody."
Thankfully academics came as easily as boxing to Alday, and he got through high school efficiently. As a senior, he earned exemptions from final exams despite attending school for only four months that year because of training in Puerto Rico. “I remember his graduation was on a Saturday [at 6 p.m.],” says Jose. “He landed at [Midland International Airport] at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, came home, changed, practiced, made sure he had everything, and he walked the stage at 7 p.m.”
After he qualified, Alday spent two years training with the U.S. Olympic team, but when it came time to compete for a spot in the games themselves, he failed to earn a place as a contender. “Even to go to the Olympics, not a lot of people can say that,” Alday says. “The world title gets passed around, there are so many champions, but there are not so many Olympians. It’s something I wanted on my resume. I fell short of it, but like I said, I’m not going to let it stop me from boxing.”
Instead, Alday kept at it, flying to Fort Worth every month to work with trainer Rick Sanchez at Premier Boxing. Sanchez recognized Alday's potential as a professional fighter and introduced him to Michael Montoya, a trainer and former amateur boxing champion who has worked with former world champions Julio Chavez Jr. and Mikey Garcia.
Montoya started courting Alday immediately for his management team, Dallas-based Montoya-Ruibal. “All you had to do was read about him,” Montoya says. “You’re not the number one boxer in the country in two different weight divisions by accident.”
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Montoya and his brother Anthony concentrated on helping Alday adapt to the rigors of the professional circuit. Boxer and fellow Montoya-Ruibal team member Amon Rashidi says it's the difference between a game of chess and an all-out slug fest. “He’s a great fighter,” says Rashidi. “[And] he’s still learning. The more he gets in-ring experience, the more he’ll develop. Right now, he’s already good, so now he’s adding on to his awesome.”
Having won his first professional match, Alday is careful not to let success go to his head. The fighter regularly interacts with his fans on social media. He Snapchats his training sessions and sometimes gushes over a new pair of sneakers. “He’s always been real humble," Jose says. "Even as a national champion, it was the same thing. Nothing’s changed, except maybe money-wise."
What the future holds for Alday is unknown. He wants to fight continuously, but his father insists
on at least three weeks to relax and tend to his aching shoulder and lower back. “It’s a tough situation, man,” says Jose. “Everybody wants him to fight, and they want him to look good, but it’s hard to do both when you’re hurting.”
Alday, all smiles after his win, is more lighthearted about what lies ahead. “I know people are expecting a lot out of me,” says Alday. “I like having that pressure on me, that people are hyped to see me fight, 'cause they know I’m going to put on a great performance.”