PATERSON, NJ - When boxer Jonathan Maicelo walks along the streets of the Silk City, people stop to talk to him. They shake his hand, take his picture, ask for an autograph.
Basically, they make him feel at home, which is something, considering he comes from another continent in another hemisphere.
The Peruvian is undefeated after 13 fights, including eight knockout wins, and his success has energized Paterson's Peruvian community, where his followers hope he can become an example that city youths can follow.
"I'm dedicating this fight for all my supporters, abroad and especially for the people here who have given me nothing but love since I've gotten here,” Maicelo said in Spanish at a press conference last week at Panchitos, a restaurant in downtown Paterson.
Already a legend in Peru, the 27-year-old boxer has been bobbing and weaving at the Joe Grier Boxing Academy on River Street, training for his next next championship fight on Oct. 16 in Union City against Colombian Oscar Cuero (13-2, 10 KO's). The bout is being billed as “Champions of the Future” by Dignity Promotions.
"It's a good moment to motivate [Peruvians], to lift [the community] up and to give him support,” said Hector Delgado, President of the Peruvian Parade in New Jersey.
Paterson, which community leaders say is home to thousands of people of Peruvian descent, has become a haven for Peruvians abroad. For example, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned but still-popular former President Alberto Fujimori, campaigned in Paterson for the absentee Peruvian vote in 2006.
"The fact that Paterson is one of the oldest Peruvian communities in the country, makes it obvious that he would train here and feel at home here,” said Alejandro Beoutis, Peruvian General Consul for New Jersey. Beoutis added that his success should be something all young-people should look to as a way of staying out of trouble.
On the advice of his friends, Maicelo himself began boxing at 13 after getting into neighborhood brawls protecting family members. He credits boxing with giving bringing him more than he had asked for: a family, fame, and a title. He won the Latino Lightweight title from the World Boxing Council last year. With such a difficult profession, where blood, sweat, and hard-work is the only way to get ahead, many feel his success will help put Peru on the map.
"In these times, Peru is making itself known, through food, wine, music, and sports,” Delgado said, “There is a lot of positive energy when talking about Peru.”