Outside the boxing ring, Emilio Manuel Macias Bueno is quiet and polite, punctuating his conversation with “sirs” and “ma’ams.” Inside the ring, he is a fierce competitor who, with only two years of boxing experience under his belt, has won the Central California Boxing Association (CCBA) Welterweight Championship.
“Manny’s got a lot of speed, and his footwork is good,” said Zeke Lopez, owner of Bulldog Boxing Gym. “He’s got a little bit of everything going for him.”
Bueno, 21, approached Lopez about attending Bulldog Gym two years ago, after returning to Hollister from a short stay in Sacramento.
For Bueno the gym was a welcome escape from what he described as a “difficult path through life.”
“I wanted to find something to consume my time,” he said. “Boxing became that for me. There was something about the sport, the art of the sport, that attracted me to it. The gym is a place I can go to dream and completely forget about life. I can go there and enjoy myself.”
When Bueno first started coming to the gym, Lopez helped to get his mind clear of his problems.
“Manny was quiet, good manners,” Lopez said. “He had little things going on with his life and as I started to get to know him, it got to a point where we could talk to each other. When he first started, I had to push a little more with him. Now he doesn’t have the same problems as he had before and can focus better on his boxing.”
On Dec. 4, Bueno traveled to Galt, about 30 miles south of Sacramento, to compete in the CCBA championships. The Welterweight category is for boxers who weight between 140-147 pounds.
“At first the idea of going was nerve wracking,” he said. “But when I got there, I was completely zoned in. I had to put my full trust in what I learned and my ability to fight. It was a feeling of total belief in what I was doing and the support of the people I had in my corner. I took some punches but I went the full rounds and won by decision.”
Bueno’s next match will be Year of Wonder Tournament, a USA Boxing sanctioned event held in Reno. The date has yet to be determined due to COVID restrictions.
In June, when the Bulldog Gym was forced to move because the city of Hollister needed the property to construct a retention pond, Bueno started a GoFundMe account to help relocate. The gym still lacks a permanent home, and Lopez organizes trips to gyms in Salinas and Gilroy to allow athletes to spar.
Bueno began the fund because he considers the gym an important asset to the community.
“There are a lot of underprivileged kids who are going through a rough time and can’t afford regular sports,” he said. “This gym is free and the coach never charges anyone to come here. It is a very positive place to come to and I feel like if it were not here, it would leave a huge gap here in town.”
Outside of boxing, Bueno is studying criminal justice at Gavilan College but he plans on continuing at the gym.
“My life completely changed when I started coming here,” Bueno said. “Coach Lopez has helped me learn what hard work is and if I want something to happen I have to work for it. He has helped me become more focused and has taught me a lot about confidence, loyalty, humbleness, and dedication. I’ve got myself in a great position now where I am still learning and still growing.”
Lopez predicts a great future for Bueno as a boxer if he continues.
“His mentality is ‘I want to do this, I have to do this,’” Lopez said. “I don’t sugarcoat things and tell kids that they can do it if they can’t. But he’s tough and I can tell he can do anything he wants to do.”