By Stephen Elliott
In the Quad-Cities’ boxing community, Jesse “Alien Boi” Gomez is well known, a familiar name and face among fighters, coaches and fans alike.
Gomez, owner of Alien Boi Boxing Academy, 841 15th Ave., East Moline, grew up in the Quad-Cities. As a boy, he lived in Silvis, Moline and East Moline. He found boxing at an early age when something, maybe a lot of things, attracted him to the sport. Since then, the sport has never relinquished its hold on him.
“Growing up, my mom didn’t have much money and we didn’t have a car to get around,” Gomez said. “The only thing I could do was walk to the basketball court to play basketball or walk to the boxing gym.
“So, I just started going to the boxing gym. Honestly, that was the only thing that made me feel part of a team. It didn’t matter if you competed with other fighters in the gym. They still treated you equal, because you still went there, you still worked out with them and you sparred.”
On a recent winter evening, Gomez talked about some of those memories while coaching inside his gym that opened last September in downtown East Moline.
The boxing academy has a long view from its front windows, with heavy bags and jumps ropes, mirrors on the wall and rubber-matted floors. In the back is a boxing ring. There are full-size posters of prizefighters from the Quad-Cities’ area on the gym walls: Joe Perez, Limberth Ponce, Travis Thomas, Lupe Jimenez.
Gomez is soft spoken. He has grown with the sport.
“Jesse is a very sincere person who genuinely cares about making a difference in his community,” said academy coach Frank DeToye, of Davenport.
DeToye, most recently a deputy commissioner with the State of Iowa, who helped to oversee all combat sports in the state, has a long history with boxing, both in the ring and coaching through the decades. DeToye started his fistic journey as an eighth grader under the late coach Alvino Peña at his boxing club in Davenport.
“I can’t say enough about what coach Peña has meant to me and hundreds like me. I boxed for several years for coach Peña and then joined the military,” DeToye said.
DeToye boxed, kicked boxed, and fought in early mixed martial arts (MMA) for a few fights in the late 80s.
He sees boxing as a way of mentoring and supporting youth in the community.
Gomez, who also promotes professional fight cards here in the Quad-Cities under Alien Boi Boxing, including a show scheduled to take place on Feb. 12 at Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, has similar goals.
He hopes to put on an outdoor show this summer in East Moline. He also credits East Moline Main Street for its support of his gym.
Gomez understands the history and the tradition of boxing in the Quad-Cities along with the gyms and people that have carried on the legacy.
“I just love boxing,” Gomez said. “But, I tell everybody, this is what I call the kid’s gym. You don’t have to fight. If you want to fight, let me know, and then we can train you different.”
The academy provides free classes for youth between 3:30 and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The adult boxing runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
On this evening, Gomez has a group of four youngsters he is going through calisthenics with. They’re attempting to do some pushups, jumping jacks and toe touches, among other exercises.
Meanwhile in the back of the gym in the ring, 15-year-old Eduardo Colin is shadow boxing. Coach Felika Correa, of Moline, is giving instructions outside the ring to the teenager.
Colin hasn’t had an amateur fight yet, but he’s learning the fundamentals, jabbing and practicing his footwork, keeping his hands up, chin tucked in.
Correa, a long-time professional and amateur boxer from the Quad-Cities, has a wealth of knowledge. Gomez asked both DeToye and Correa to help him at the new gym and impart some of their wisdom on behalf of the boxers.
“That’s it, fight tall and use that jab,” Correa instructs his pupil. “Stand tall and use the jab and work behind it.”
Correa has ducked and dodged and thrown punches for decades. Correa can tell if you’re dropping your right hand after throwing a punch or if you’re slapping instead of turning your weight into your punches. These tips may come in handy someday for the young boxer he is tutoring.
“Yeah, the kids come and go,” Correa said. “I just want to see kids come in, stay off the streets, no drugs, none of that.”
The buzzer sounds to end the round. Colin takes a break before hitting the mitts.
“This is something I like to do,” Colin said.
Gomez credits both DeToye and Correa and fellow coach Don Elston for their work and keeping the dream of the gym alive. DeToye said the gym also has taken an active role in working with special needs kids with good results.
“Jesse, me and Felika have different personalities, but all three of us are passionate about mentoring kids and making a difference,” DeToye said. “Coaching is just a small part of the equation.”
Gomez still remembers being a young man himself and finding a home in the sport. As he stands near one of his heavy bags, a young man is skipping rope, the rope tapping the floor. Another student is hitting the mitts.
Gomez seems comfortable in his surroundings. He has always dreamed of having his own boxing gym.
“I just want the kids to have a place to come to, have a place to work out,” Gomez said. “Everybody here is part of a team.”
This is the cover story for the current issue of Hola America. Click on the picture to read the digital issue: