The young champions of Five Directions Boxing Club | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

Update: Isaak Huerta fought for the National Silver Gloves on Saturday, February 5, in Independence, Missouri, and defeated Alexander Ruiz to claim the championship belt. Isaak is now the top 8-year-old fighter in the nation for his age and weight class.

Original Story: At 8 years old, Isaak Huerta may weigh in at just under 50 pounds, but he’s hoping to prove this weekend that he is pound-for-pound the toughest little fighter in the nation.

The young southpaw has been training for four years with his father, Eddy Huerta, and recently, the two have been part of a growing grassroots boxing culture at Five Directions Boxing Club in Goleta. The community gym has already put together a power-punching roster of young talent in just over a year since opening, with three of its contenders bringing home championship belts in Santa Maria on January 23. After winning the district, state, and regional titles, Isaak will be heading to Kansas City to compete in the 2022 National Silver Gloves Tournament this weekend.

“I’m really excited,” Eddy Huerta said. “I’ve been training him since he was 4 years old, and I never thought this moment would come.”

National Silver Gloves hopeful Isaak Huerta gets wrapped up by his father, Eddy Huerta. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

Eddy said he would drag his son to boxing gyms as long as he can remember. At age 4, Isaak pleaded with his father to let him train. As soon as he laced up a pair of gloves, Isaak naturally took to the sweet science. “He was really smart, picked it up fast,” Eddy said, “and he just stuck with it.”

Isaak is the youngest of the group of competitors at Five Directions, which includes 9-year-old Vincent Terrazas, 11-year-old Anthony Vazquez, and 12-year-old Jaden Montezuma. Five Directions offers daily classes for youth, led by brothers Jairo and Zico Gonzalez; Jairo’s wife, Dolores Torres, also runs weekly women’s boxing classes.

When Jairo was thinking of starting a boxing gym a few years ago, he approached a local trainer to get some advice. “I was asking questions, like, ‘How do you do it?’” Jairo said. “And he laughed at me.” Despite the lack of support — and a pandemic that made it difficult for any small business to survive — the Gonzalez brothers took the risk and built their dream gym. 

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It was a passion project, but with a lot of community support through donations and some assistance with monthly rent payments from local businesses, the gym was able to carve a culture of family, boxing, and well-being with its daily classes and healing circles. Every day, 20 to 30 kids work the bags, practice footwork, and jump rope in the small gym off Aero Camino in Goleta. Eventually, a handful of kids were strong enough to compete safely, and the gym started sparring with teams from Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Maria. At their latest round of bouts, one of the Five Directions youngsters defeated a fighter trained by the same man who had laughed at Jairo before he started the gym. “To beat them, it was a huge accomplishment. We beat the people that laughed at us.”

As Eddy and Isaak prepare for the National Silver Gloves, they are feeling confident. In the regional match, Isaak overwhelmed the contender from Utah. “I did really good at going in-and-out, and angling,” Isaak said. As for his next bout, he is more nervous about the trip than the fight itself. Isaak has never been on a plane and has never been out of state, but he says he is excited and prepared to win. “I think I’m pretty ready,” he said.

A community GoFundMe covered Isaak’s travel and hotel costs, which made it possible for him and his father to make the six-day trip to Missouri. Five Directions is hoping to raise enough to send three more fighters to Ohio to compete in another national tournament in April. 

“We don’t take this as a game; we take competition really seriously,” Eddy said. “We’ve been working really hard, so I’m pretty sure we’re gonna take the win.”

Isaak is a playful and energetic kid, laughing in the gym with his friends and asking his dad for McDonald’s after a sparring session, but he is dedicated to boxing. To be the best in the country, he just has to defeat the two other contenders from Pennsylvania and Texas. Either way, his career in the sport is surely just getting started. When asked what he would do after the fight, if he wins, he says: “Right after? Go back to the gym and train for the next one.”

The National Silver Gloves Tournament will be held from February 2-5 in Kansas City, Missouri.

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