Los Gallos: A gym from West Dallas where boxing teaches life lessons

By |Published On: August 31, 2021|Categories: West Dallas|

Teaching boxers how to punch is one of Los Gallos Boxing Club’s main goals. However, the club also wants to teach their students moral values that will help them succeed in life — that with discipline and hard work, any obstacle that life brings can be overcome. 

Coach Javier Armenta celebrates with boxers Javier Gil and Victor Ramirez after the Golden Gloves tournament in Fort Worth in May. Photo courtesy of Fatima Ramirez.

Los Gallos is one of the oldest sporting clubs in West Dallas. Since its founding in the late 1970s, the gym has relocated multiple times due to rent and financial struggles. Its boxers now train in a gym just south of downtown Dallas, but its roots remain planted in our neighborhood. 

The club was formed by Leonel Vela, a former Mexican boxer who immigrated to the United States in the late ’60s. Vela was in his 20s and found a place to continue training in Little Mexico, a historic Dallas barrio that has since been lost to gentrification and redevelopment. When Vela retired, his passion for the sport led him to found Los Gallos. 

When he arrived from Monterrey, Vela moved to Ledbetter, another barrio in West Dallas, and established the gym as he recruited more fighters. 

The first practice location for Los Gallos was a place called Gentry Gym, an old, unused recreation center that belonged to the city. That’s where Vela was training boxers when Javier Armenta, one of Vela’s first students, discovered Los Gallos.

Armenta grew up in Ledbetter, and one afternoon he saw some kids running toward something, and decided to follow them as he heard them talking about a boxing gym. 

“When I first saw the gym, I immediately fell in love with it,” Armenta says. “Coach Vela welcomed me and helped me adapt really fast since he was still in search of boxers at that time. From there my passion for boxing grew even more.” 

Just like Vela, boxing had been in Armenta’s blood since his early days. 

“My dad used to always bring us mascaras and globes from Mexico, so we used to put them on and box with my brother,” he says. 

After a long spell with the club, Armenta aged out of Los Gallos, but the seeds planted by his former coach, whom he considers his “mentor,” remained within him. He kept in touch with Vela over the years and, about four years ago, he decided to visit the gym and check on Vela.

After the visit, Vela offered Armenta the chance to join his coaching staff. Years later, the student became the master — at 55, Armenta is now the head coach of Los Gallos. 

Coach Javier Armenta celebrates with boxers Javier Gil and Victor Ramirez after the Golden Gloves tournament in Fort Worth in May. Photo courtesy of Fatima Ramirez.

The two met when Armenta was 15 and Vela was in his 30s. After 39 years of knowing each other, they have developed a father-son relationship. With Vela on the verge of retirement, he has passed the mantle to the boxer that has been at his side for decades. 

“It’s my history,” Armenta says. “I started with them back in 1982 and I’ll continue until I retire. My goal is to continue with coach Vela’s legacy.”

Los Gallos boxing philosophy 

Fight to the death. 

That’s what gallos de pelea do when they enter the galleras to fight each other. 

This sporting tradition originated in Asia around 2,500 years ago and was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards. Nowadays, it is still very common to see gallos fighting in rural parts of Mexico. 

Coming from Mexico, Vela decided to name the club for this tradition and also because gallos fight until they can’t any longer. Giving it your all is one of the main boxing philosophies the gym teaches. 

“Our method of training is pretty much like the Mexicano method of training that coach Vela brought from Monterrey,” Armenta says. “We focus a lot on body punches and body movement.” 

The club doesn’t just teach its young boxers how to fight; it also teaches them how to become a better person outside the ring. 

“We instill in them that just because they know how to fight, they’re not going to fight in school, in the streets or anywhere else,” Armenta says. “We try to teach our boxers to perform well in school and to respect their elders.” 

Jesse Ramirez, a 13-year-old boxer from West Dallas, says that part of why he joined Los Gallos at age 9 was to lose weight, a task he has accomplished due to the discipline taught at the club. 

“I feel wonderful training here and I just want to get better and keep representing my gym,” Ramirez says. “I feel leadership, discipline and passion are some of the values I’ve learned in my time at the club.” 

Armenta also teaches his boxers that part of the road to success is planting your feet on the ground.

“I try to teach them to be humble. If one day one becomes a pro, I wouldn’t want him to think he’s above everyone else,” Armenta says. “I also tell my boxers to go to church now and then.” 

Eli Ramirez poses with an opponent before a sparring fight. Photo courtesy of Fatima Ramirez.

An environment of camaraderie and unity inside the gym is something else that Los Gallos’ coaching philosophy creates, according to Fatima Ramirez, the mother of another boxer with the last name Ramirez. She has been engaged with the club for years and now coordinates recruitment, finds places to train, organizes fundraisers and registers the boxers for tournaments.  

“Los Gallos is a family environment,” Fatima Ramirez says. “You come here and even if it’s your first time, they will all go and shake your hand, introduce themselves and give you a good afternoon.” 

A way to help the community

Armenta says Los Gallos attempts to recruit young boxers from all parts of Dallas to teach them the correct path. 

“We teach our boxers to not be hanging out in the streets. If they want to get all their frustrations out, to do it in the gym,” Armenta says. 

Thanks to Los Gallos, Armenta says he has seen numerous kids and teenagers avoid getting involved in crime, including himself. 

“I was one of those kids trying to stay away from the streets,” he says. “Some get away since we can’t save everyone, but we try to save as many as we can.” 

Ramirez, the young boxer from West Dallas, is grateful to Los Gallos for giving him the opportunity to be at a place where he can focus and stay away from trouble. 

“If I wasn’t training here I would probably be making a lot of bad decisions and having life troubles,” he says. “I wouldn’t be who I am right now.”

Moving back to West Dallas 

Even after 42 years, Los Gallos still struggles to find a permanent location for its training gym. The gym charges a monthly fee of only $20 to roughly 25 students, which allows more young men and women to participate but often isn’t enough to cover costs, Armenta says. 

“Sometimes places close or sometimes rent just goes up and we don’t have enough to pay,” Armenta says. “This gym was made to help our boxers, not get any sort of profit.” 

Vela’s aim has always been to bring the gym back to where everything started. 

“Coach Vela gave his whole life to boxing so bringing the gym back to West Dallas means a lot to him,” Armenta says. 

One of Los Gallos’ main goals over the years has been to find a permanent location and to own a building for the club, Armenta says. The Ledbetter Eagle Ford Community is now working to bring Los Gallos back to West Dallas. The neighborhood association held a fundraiser in June to help the club’s boxers travel to the National Junior Olympics in July.

“We have a couple of [boxers] that are in Los Gallos so when they came to us for help, we didn’t hesitate,” says Henry Martinez Jr., president of Ledbetter Eagle Ford. “At the end of the day that’s what we do with our community — we help each other out.”

Los Gallos is looking at two potential locations in West Dallas to make their permanent home.

“We really appreciate what Ledbetter and other organizations have been doing for us. They’re pretty dedicated with whatever we ask for,” Armenta says.

National Junior Olympics 

Los Gallos opened with Vela’s goal of one day having a professional boxer rise from the club.

Years ago, Vela trained a boxer who came close to becoming a pro. The boxer lost a fight to Juan LaPorte, who fought boxers of the caliber of Salvador Sanchez, former WBC and featherweight champion from 1980 to 1982. 

Lately, Vela’s hopes of one day having a professional boxer have grown. Armenta says the club currently has three boxers that might have a chance of writing their name in history and becoming professionals in the future.

“First of all, they’ve got a lot of heart and dedication which is key,” he says. “They always feel excited when they come here and feel the love for the sport.” 

Two of these boxers participated in the National Junior Olympics this month — the first time in history that Los Gallos has competed at the national level.

Coaches Javier Armenta (far right) and Leonel Vela (third from left) with the team that traveled to the National Junior Olympics in July. Photo courtesy of Fatima Ramirez.

“Going to nationals showed my boxers what competition is out there since we competed with boxers from 33 states,” Armenta says. 

Javier Gill, one Los Gallos’ prodigies, came close to reaching the semi-finals but his efforts were cut short after a series of wrong calls from the referees, Armenta says. 

One of the rules at the national level is to stop the fight if a dangerous punch arrives from the opponent and causes any sort of injury to the other boxer. During his quarter-finals fight, Gill received a strong punch to the head but was in perfect condition to continue fighting, Armenta says. The referees decided that it was best to stop the fight without giving Gill his eight seconds to stand up and recover. 

“If the referee hadn’t stopped the fight, I think my boxer would’ve beaten his opponent, moved to the semi finals and perhaps reached the final fight,” Armenta says.

Ramirez, who said he felt ready for the challenge, performed well during the tournament and reached the semi-finals of the novice category. 

Though they were one of the most inexperienced clubs, Armenta believes the club has the potential to do great things in years to come. Los Gallos will participate in competitions like the silver globes and Texas vs. Philly. 

“This year I was only expecting my boxers to get their feet wet,” Armenta says, “but next year we’ll definitely go a lot stronger.”

With a packed schedule ahead, Armenta believes preparing his boxers for the tournaments will also grow their love for the sport, which is one of his ultimate goals. 

“I want them to enjoy it as much as I do, and maybe later in the future find in these boxers someone to pass the torch to,” Armenta says, “just like coach Vela did with me.”  

Box with Los Gallos

Ages: 8-18

Address: 1300 Corinth St. Dallas, Texas 75215

Hours: Monday-Friday 6-8 p.m. 

Cost: $20 per month 

Contact: Fatima Ramirez

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About the Author: Oscar Saravia