Step foot into any Canadian city, and it’s not exactly a challenge to find a young athlete bent on being the next Gretzky, Crosby or Roy.
But try finding the youngster who wants to be the next Tyson, Holyfield of Klitschko. Not nearly as easy. Unless, of course, you happen to run into South Surrey’s Josh Lauriente, and 11-year-old athlete who gave up a spot on a rep-level hockey team a year ago to focus on the sweet science.
Such a decision – giving up a sport many Canadians consider borderline religion to instead focus on what Josh’s father, Spencer, admits is “kind of a fringe sport these days” – came surprisingly easy for the young Crescent Park area resident, who began playing hockey at age six.
“He was really into hockey – he loved it – but then one day I took him to the gym with me, and that was it,” Spencer explained.
That gym was the Port Kells Boxing Club, a small, dark North Surrey facility in the basement of the Port Kells Community Hall with walls papered with old fight posters.
“A real Rocky-type gym,” Spencer calls the place where Al Harper, a family friend of the Lauriente’s, trains aspiring boxers.
The first time Josh stepped into the ring to learn the spot, he was hooked. He didn’t even mind those first jabs from a sparring partner – not even the ones that hit him in the face.
“Nope, getting hit didn’t bother me at all – and you get to hit back,” he said.
“I just really love the sport, and I have a passion for it.”
And Josh hasn’t completely given up hockey, either. He still plays at the peewee house-level with Semiahmoo Minor Hockey, which is less of a commitment, and allows him to train four days a week in Port Kells with Harper.
“I decided to still do both, and it’s lots of fun, because I’m a pretty good player, so I score lots of goals,” Josh said, with a smile.
Though he came about his love of boxing on his own, the sport does have roots in his family.
His great-grandfather was a professional boxer, and Spencer even spent time as a local boxing promoter after first befriending Harper a few years ago.
The sport may even grow further in the Lauriente household. While his older brother, Ty, plays other sports, Josh – the middle child – says his younger brother, six-year-old Evan, already tells people he is going to be a boxer one day, too.
“It’s a sport that’s been in our family for a few generations,” Spencer said.
“It’s in our blood.”
And while many of his friends play hockey, baseball or soccer, Josh – who says most of his classmates think it’s “pretty cool” that he boxes – has always been drawn to other sports.
“He was in karate for two years, but karate is a lot of (forms) and things like that. Josh just kept saying ‘When do I compete? When do I compete?’ That’s why boxing is good for him, I think,” his dad said.
And while boxing offers the pint-sized pugilist a chance to step into the ring, finding a suitable opponent is often difficult.
“It’s tough to find 11-year-olds, especially ones who are his size – anywhere from 85 to 88 pounds,” Spencer explained.
Josh had his first bout in June at Langley’s Cascades Casino, part of the Clash at the Cascades card.
He went toe-to-toe with one of his frequent sparring partners, who had two years and 20 pounds on him.
As per boxing regulations for fighters as young as Josh, win/lose decisions are not made for an individual’s first three fights, lest newcomers to the sport be discouraged by a tough loss.
Still, though it was a called a draw, Josh more than held his own, his dad said.
“Oh, he knew he won it.”
Friday, again at the Cascades Casino, Josh will step into the ring for his second career fight. And no matter how the bout goes, two things are certain: it will be officially marked as a draw, and after it’s over, Josh will reward himself for his extensive training and commitment to fitness.
“Afterwards, we’re going to Marble Slab for ice cream,” he said.