For any amateur boxer that steps into the ring, there is one goal that is prevalent throughout the countless hours of training—becoming Golden Gloves Champion. For amateur boxing sensation and the 2010 NJ Golden Gloves Champion Vinny “Lion” O’Brien, the road to the winning the title was a rocky yet worthwhile one.
Being around the sport for most of his life, O’Brien quickly realized his passion for boxing and aspired to get into the ring and compete. Growing up he idolized Oscar De La Hoya and strove to follow in his footsteps.
What really drew him into boxing was the individualized aspect of the sport. “I wrestled since I was in the sixth grade and I love individual sports where it’s on my shoulders to either win or lose,” said O’Brien. “I’m a competitive person and if I got into something I go into it to win because of what I put into it. And win or lose, I know I put my heart into it.”
In 2008 O’Brien fought his way to the finals of the NJ Golden Gloves Championship before losing a tough fight by two points and ending his hopes of winning the title. Following the loss he took a step back and analyzed his relationship with his coach at the time, and what needed to be done for him to make another run at the championship.
“It was disheartening and aggravating fighting in that finals fight,” said O’Brien. “I was giving it my all and fighting my heart out, but wasn’t getting any advice or support from my coach.” Taking the outcome of the fight and all things that led up to the loss into consideration, O’Brien decided he need to sever ties with his coach.
But as he was set to embark on a new road and begin training under the tutelage of former professional heavyweight fighter Lou Esa, life had different plans for O’Brien. In an effort to help out his family whom he always put first and foremost, O’Brien put his dream of winning the Golden Gloves Championship on hold and took a full time job.
Eleven months later, and without any notice, O’Brien was let go from the position he dedicated himself to. This took a toll on the young fighter as he worked hard to excel within the company he was employed only to get shafted in the end. He soon found it was the best thing that could’ve happened.
As fate had it, he crossed paths with Lou Esa once again while attending one of his younger sister’s soccer games. O’Brien and Esa spoke intently about not only making it to the Golden Gloves tournament but winning the title.
“When we spoke, it was clearly about working together to not only getting to the finals of the tournament but winning, and nothing more,” said O’Brien. “Winning the Golden Gloves was all I could think about; it was an itch inside of me. We were both on the same page about what had to be done to make it happen, so we got to training.”
“Every day I woke up and ran four miles, focused on my conditioning, and met with Lou,” said O’Brien. “We worked together for at least two hours a day, working the mitts, sparring, and anything to get me ready. Every night I visualized the golden gloves being wrapped around my neck and my hand being raised, and I knew the tournament was mine to lose.”
And to prepare this time, O’Brien focused on training and nothing else. “I needed to devote myself 100% to boxing. I even gave up girls, as crazy as it sounds. I wanted to make sure that I gave up more than anybody else in boxing in my weight class, so that when I went into the fight, my opponent didn’t give up more than I did, and I was hungrier than him.”
Following a layoff of over a year, O’Brien stepped back into the ring against an undefeated opponent in his first round fight.
“The kid (Hineef Abdulah) I was fighting was top ranked in our weight class, and it was one of my tougher fights for my nerves, since I was coming off the loss in 2008, and I wasn’t really sure what I had,” said O’Brien. “But in the first round I hit him solidly in the stomach, and I saw his face light up, so I knew I hurt him. From there I kept bringing it to his body, and eventually he was deducted a point for holding on the back of my head to avoid being hit. I won the fight and afterwards the ref told me that I had scored the most points they had seen in years.”
More important that advancing to the next round of the tournament, the win showed O’Brien that he was back. “It felt great to get back on the horse, winning in front of my family, and it gave me that extra push and showed me that I could do it.”
The win earned O’Brien a fight in the semifinals a few weeks later. In the off weeks in between the fights O’Brien focused on his training and conditioning by swimming and working diligently with Esa to be in the top shape for the semifinal bout.
“When we were there before the fight I saw my opponent (Melvin Esquilan) step onto the scale, and I could tell he had some flab, so immediately I told myself there was no way this kid was going to beat me,” said O’Brien. “I knew this kid didn’t give up more than I did, so I came out in the first round looking for a knockout.”
Although he didn’t win the fight by knockout, O’Brien devastated his opponent in each round and won a unanimous decision (5-0).
On April 23, 2010, Vinny O’Brien met Joshua Cook in the finals for the 141 lb. weight class Golden Gloves Championship.
A month prior to the championship fight O’Brien sparred with Cook, not realizing he may meet him in the ring in the tournament.
“Although I dropped him when we first sparred, I knew he was going to bring a good fight in the finals,” said O’Brien. “His dad had won the Golden Gloves; his uncle won it, so I knew this kid was determined and wasn’t going to be a joke.”
In the first round of the championship fight, O’Brien came out a bit sluggish but outworked Cook to win the round. Both fighters came out punching in the second with O’Brien winning the majority of the exchanges, and rocked Cook with a power shot that knocked his mouth piece out.
“In the third round I saw his gas go, and I went after it,” said O’Brien. “I went in with my money shot, the jab to the head followed by a body shot, but he caught me with a solid uppercut square in my face. If I didn’t run to avoid the onslaught, I would’ve gotten knocked down and that would’ve been the fight. But I was able to get out of the situation and respond, and I rocked him with a right and we exchanged against the ropes.”
O’Brien ended the round with a strong flurry that propelled the crowd to their feet.
“Deep down I knew I won the fight, but I was nervous as I awaited the formal decision, hoping I didn’t get robbed,” said O’Brien.
When the decision came, it was the words O’Brien had been waiting all his life to hear. He won the Golden Gloves championship fight 4-1, and out of the 38 fighters in New Jersey in the finals, he was named ‘Outstanding Boxer of the Night.’
“The feeling of winning and having my hand raised was surreal, and something I’ll never forget,” O’Brien said of hearing his name announced as the winner of the finals. “There’s no way to describe the feeling; my hand was raised and I screamed. I finally did it; I had set my mind to something and I accomplished it.”
O’Brien attributes his success in the Golden Gloves to the relentless support from his coach and family.
“My mother and family are my biggest motivation for training and fighting,” said O’Brien. “They’ve always been there for me, and I want to one day buy my mom a house and give back for all the never-ending support they showed me throughout my life and road to winning the Golden Gloves.”
With an overall amateur record of 6-2 (undefeated since starting to train with Lou Esa), a Golden Gloves title to his name, what’s next for Vinny O’Brien? At 24 years old O’Brien has mentioned he and Esa are looking to take it to the next level and focus on his pro career in 2011.
“When I started boxing my short term goal was winning the Golden Gloves,” said O’Brien. “Now I want to turn pro, fight my way through the ranks and eventually fight for a world title, which is a long term goal of mine. But it’s about setting one goal at a time and making it happen.”
Vinny O’Brien has proved throughout his life and boxing career that there is no obstacle that he will allow to stand in the way of achieving his dreams.
“I want to say thanks to my coach Lou Esa, everyone in my family; my mom, stepdad, my little brother—he makes me feel like the king of the world and looks up to me—my little sister—she’s my world, and I try to show her the right way and lead by example,” says O’Brien. “All my family that supports me and gives me the energy to do what I want. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Keep an eye out for this strong up-and-comer when he makes his pro debut in the next year. Best of luck to Jersey’s own Vinny O’Brien with all he does in life, inside and out of the boxing ring.