By Lindy Keyser
Special to the Press
Everyone has a dream but, for James Deherrera, that dream was a mission driven by motivation and an unrivalled right hook.
"My uncle bought me my first pair of boxing gloves when I was a kid, about five years old," he says. "I loved fighting. It just seemed to be in me."
While Deherrera spent countless afternoons trading punches with his older brother in their College Station living room, his mother was reluctant to enroll him in formal training out of fear that he would get hurt. It wasn’t until he was 13 years old that his uncle convinced her to let him give it a try.
"He told her, ‘the first time he gets hit, he won’t want to do it anymore,’" Deherrera said. "But I knocked a guy out in my second fight and right then I fell in love with it."
For the next several years, Deherrera spent the majority of his time in the ring and even married his high school sweetheart there at the age of 18. Unfortunately, his focus lasted only as long as his marriage. Shortly after his wife asked for a divorce, his boxing coach grew ill with cancer and left the sport.
"After that, I stopped boxing for a while," he said. "Everything seemed to be falling apart. I hated my job and the way my life was going, I started partying and drinking, and I wasn’t focusing on what I really wanted."
It didn’t take long; though, for his passion to get the best of him. He returned to fighting, but this time in the mixed martial arts. His dream of becoming a world champion was fresh in his mind as he hit the gym, hard.
"It was like a revelation," he said. "I just stopped everything and went for my dream. I stopped messing around with drugs and stuff like that and became a more humble and peaceful person."
Within a year, Deherrera’s dream brought him to Prosper with little more than the clothes on his back. He left his apartment with his brother and made arrangements to stay with a friend while he trained with Wilder Cruz at the North Texas MMA Academy.
Though Deherrera hit the ground running, the rug was pulled out from underneath of him again when the friend he was living with had to move out of town. Feeling lost, he turned to his trainer for guidance.
"He reminded me of myself at that age," said Cruz, who didn’t think twice about letting Deherrera move into his gym. "It was really easy for me because he and I have the same love for the sport. You give it all you got because it’s what you love."
For nine months, Deherrera slept in a sleeping bag on a couch at Cruz’s gym. He kept his clothes in an unlit closet, showered in a sink and woke up at 4:30 every morning to work at a glass company.
"He’s humble about it, but he’s a hard worker," Cruz said. "He finished work at 6 or 7 every day and then came straight here to train for the rest of the night. No playing around. He’s all focus."
And after a few months, the focus paid off. Cruz, who had encouraged Deherrera to put his efforts back into boxing, booked him a fight. He stepped into the ring with a five-time Golden Gloves champion and knocked him out in a minute and a half.
"There’s a story behind that fight that really stays with me," Deherrera said. "I walked into the office for my physical with $35 to my name and found out it was going to cost me $89."
Deherrera tried setting up a payment plan but was turned away. On his way out the door; though, a woman came up to him and told him that God had laid him on her heart. She took him back to the counter and paid for the physical he needed to qualify for his first professional fight.
"She didn’t even tell me her name but man, I think about her a lot," he said. "If it weren’t for her helping me out that day, I’d still be living in the gym, not going anywhere."
But instead, Deherrera is moving into his own place. He signed a five-year contract with Standing 8 Promotions after his first fight and started training at the Reyes Boxing Gym with some of the state’s top coaches. But even with his second professional fight coming up on Friday, Deherrera stays humble and remembers the people who helped him get to where he is today.
"I just got a really strong group behind me," he said. "My parents are proud of me for going for my dream and Cruz has been more than a coach. He’s one of my best friends, man, I consider him family."