WYCKOFF, NJ- Xavier Correa quietly strides towards the boxing ring at the center of his gym, Venom Fitness, as trainers and staff wave and greet him by his nickname, “Macho.” He smiles back, but doesn’t say much.
At just 13 years old Xavier already knows what he wants and knows how to get it. “I’m gonna go pro—be a champ,” he says as he tapes up his hands and warms up in preparation for his after-school training session.
This isn’t an unfounded claim either. For the past two years, Xavier has been ranked #1 in the country at his age and weight. Now, at 5’2” and weighing in at 90 lbs, he hopes to appear atop the rankings once again when they are released early next year.
Though they couldn’t provide an exact count, Xavier and his coach estimate that he has a competitive record of 20-5, an impressive feat for someone who just became a teenager.
Four days a week, after his 7th grade class at Don Bosco, he heads to Venom, where he trains until about 7:00 p.m., before returning to his Paterson home, where homework awaits. Many kids might find this schedule grueling, but for Xavier, its what he’s always wanted.
Xavier’s mom, Carmen Correa, says that when her son was five years old, she and her husband noticed that he was always throwing punches. He was too young to sign up for a boxing gym, so they took him to the local YMCA where he fell in love with the sport. They haven’t looked back since.
Today, a light training day, Xavier preps for a sparring session as his coach, Michael Rizzo, talks him through the skills they’re going to work on, head movement and defense.
“He doesn’t get any less than the older guys,” says Rizzo. In other words, he doesn't take it easy on Xavier because of his age. “They absorb more when they’re young. Most of the successful boxers, they start young.” Rizzo doesn’t train Xavier any differently than any other boxers. In some ways he actually has it harder.
Because of Xavier’s skill level, it is difficult to find fighters of his age to train with. Rizzo says there are a few kids that will occasionally spar with him, but he mostly has to rely on older and larger fighters from his team, Loyalty Boxing Club.
He believes that training with bigger guys actually helps Xavier because “they know how to work, when to keep him honest, and how to adjust things in the ring.”
For his part, Xavier likes sparring with larger opponents. He says that it makes him more confident when he does fight people his own age. “I know they’re not gonna hit as hard as he [a larger fighter] does,” Xavier says motioning to his approaching opponent.
This afternoon, he’ll be stepping into the ring with one of the usual suspects, Ivan Vazquez. At age 29, he more than doubles Xavier’s age and weight.
In his corner, Xavier puts on his gloves, helmet, and mouth guard as Rizzo talks him through getting his hands up faster and moving his head out of the way. Xavier nods and doesn’t ask questions.
When the buzzer sounds, he touches gloves with Vazquez before quickly getting to work. Xavier moves with lightning speed and precision. Impeccable footwork and accurate punches allow him to dance around his opponent throwing combos and flurries before pulling back just out of reach.
“He has a lot in his arsenal,” says Rizzo. “He’s going to adjust to any style he faces.” As a coach, he doesn’t think he’s worked with another fighter with Xavier’s set of skills and intuitiveness. “Its unique.”
When he was younger, Xavier’s favorite fighter was Hector “Macho” Camacho, whom he tried to emulate. “I fought like him and tried to copy his style.” That is how he earned the “Macho” moniker that continues to follow him, though he’s long grown out of the imitation game.
Now, Xavier says he doesn’t have any singular style, he just adapts. His favorite punch is the classic right punch, which he throws with remarkable power. He has worked on a litany of well-timed combos, but often prefers to get an opponent with a quick flurry of 6-7 punches because “I score more points.”
Going forward, he plans to continue fighting in the lower weight classes. “I want to keep myself light.” He feels that if he goes heavier, he’ll lose the advantage of being “a faster and stronger fighter.”
After 7 two-minute sparring rounds with Vazquez, Xavier walks out of the ring breathing heavily with his arms at his waist, but says he is ready for more. His challenger, however, looks a little worse for wear. “He’s too fast,” says Vazquez, panting. “He works hard. He’s always changing levels.”
Vazquez says that he doesn’t pull his punches when sparring with his much smaller opponent. He has difficulty even landing them against a fighter with the speed of Xavier.
One of the biggest challenges that Xavier faces has nothing to do with boxing. Rankings are based on scoring wins in national tournaments, which occur all throughout the country. A constant issue is finding the money to even get him in the ring. “It’s very hard,” says Carmen. In the past few months, there were 3 tournaments, but the family could only afford to fly him to one. “I had to open a GoFundMe page. I was selling shirts. I was selling baskets. I was doing as much as I could.”
Though she has no desire to talk him out of his passion, Carmen is incredibly anxious before every fight. “I’m okay until the moment he gets dressed. Then, I get so nervous. I get these butterflies in my stomach and there’s nothing I can do to calm me down.” Still, she works hard to support her son, and watches every fight she can.
With his level of unprecedented success, it may be surprising to hear few concerns about Xavier attitude. “Actually, it’s the other way around,” says Carmen. “He’s humble. He’s very calm. Whenever he has a fight coming up, his trainer has to put it into his head, like, you’re #2 in the nation. You’ve got this.”
She tells a story of Xavier being bullied by other kids at school. “You might think he would defend himself” using his fighting skills. Instead, he went through the proper channels, approaching his parents and school officials. Carmen says “he never uses his talents outside the ring.”
Xavier’s next challenge will come in March at The Western Elite Qualifier in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is a USA Boxing qualifier, which he will need to do well in if he wants a shot at joining the USA Boxing team, the next step for a young semi-pro.
Asked if there’s anything he’d like people to know about him, Xavier dons a wry smile. “I’m gonna be a champ,” he says.
At this rate, it would be hard to bet against him.