An emotional six-year journey proved worth every step for Patricio Manuel on Saturday when he climbed into the ring at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio to become the first transgender male boxer in U.S. history.
Twelve minutes later he climbed out with a win in his professional debut, pounding out a unanimous decision over Mexican super-featherweight Hugo Aguilar.
“I wouldn’t trade any of it. It was worth everything I went through to get to this point,” Manuel said. “I’m a professional boxer now.”
He added: “The best part of tonight — once I got to the arena and starting getting ready, get the adrenaline rushing, step through those ropes, [greet] my opponent — I loved it all.”
Manuel, 33, fought in the 2012 Olympic trials as a female, then months later began the long transition to male. It was a trip that involved surgery and hormone treatments, an endless trail of red tape to get licensed and the loss of a coach and a training facility when neither proved willing to work with Manuel after she became a he.
As an amateur Manuel, of Boyle Heights, couldn’t find an opponent willing to fight a transgender boxer. As a pro it took some help from Oscar De La Hoya’s company, Golden Boy Promotions, to get him licensed.
Then it took the courage of Aguilar to make the fight — Manuel’s first in two years and only his third sanctioned bout since the Olympic trials — happen.
Aguilar, who was fulfilling a dream by fighting in the U.S. for the first time, said he learned of Manuel’s transition only two days before the fight but said it wasn’t a problem for him.
“For me it’s very respectable,” he said in Spanish. “It doesn’t change anything for me. In the ring he wants to win and I want to win too.”
Much of Manuel’s frustration faded when the opening bell sounded. In his first bout without headgear and with smaller, lighter eight-ounce gloves, Manuel charged out of his corner and tested Aguilar with four left jabs before the Mexican could throw a punch.
Aguilar, fighting for the first time in a year, rallied in the second round. With Manuel keeping his hands low and throwing his punches in a predictable manner, Aguilar (0-6) was able to land a couple of stinging counterpunches, including a short hook in the final minutes that clearly staggered Manuel.
“I would have liked a knockout. I think I was trying to go for that in the second round when I got stupid,” Manuel said. “Then I just fought afterward.”
Manuel rallied to retake control of the fight in the third round, then spent much of the final three minutes backpedaling to stay out of Aguilar’s range. When it was over, all three judges scored the bout 39-37 in favor of Manuel.
Asked what comes next, Manuel promised his journey isn’t over because there’s a new one beginning.
“I’m going to take some time off, enjoy the holidays and then fight at the end of February. That’s the goal,” he said. “I definitely want to keep going. It’s been so long since I fought.
“The rust has been shaken off. Now it’s time to keep moving.”