A boxer's day is never done

Tampa’s Omar Albanil is balancing training, a job as a restaurant server and his classwork at Hillsborough Community College.
Tampa’s Omar Albanil is balancing training, a job as a restaurant server and his classwork at Hillsborough Community College.
Published Sep. 16, 2016

TAMPA — Omar Albanil arrives at the gym the same way he has for the past few weeks: immediately after his first class of the day, tired and sore, with gym clothes in his hand.

He checks in at LA Fitness, grabs a towel and goes to the locker room. Off come the blue and white-striped dress shirt, the ripped jeans, the polo shoes. He replaces them with a red shirt, black shorts and Asics.

He's ready for his first workout of the day: a 40-minute, 5-mile run on the treadmill. "Child's play," he calls it. The day before he ran 4 miles in 23 minutes.

All of this is in preparation for tonight's fight — the sixth of his professional career — at the Tampa Convention Center. His undefeated mark entering Thunder on the Bay, an event featuring top Tampa Bay boxing prospects, includes two knockouts.

"Eat. Sleep. Train." is emblazoned across his shirt in big white letters. All that is missing to describe his daily life? Work.

His weeks are the same: log in hours as a server at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; classes at Hillsborough Community College on Tuesday and Thursday; training twice a day, mornings at LA Fitness and afternoons at Trigga City Boxing, the gym he owns; homework in the evening; and a couple hours of sleep.

He took a three-year hiatus from boxing from 2011-14, when he didn't fight or train. That break is responsible for today's hectic schedule. But he has to be a fighter at all times.

"You don't just clock into the gym and be a fighter for two hours," the 26-year-old says. "You're a fighter all the time, from the way you eat, to whether you decide to stay up late at night."

Albanil grew up watching premier bouts but never thought he would become a boxer.

"Nor did I ever want to be a boxer," he said.

Yet now it practically dictates his life. Aside from being undefeated, he helps train fighters. At 21, he opened Trigga City Boxing, near Tampa International Airport, with help from his parents.

His father, a builder, constructed the professional ring located in the back right corner of the gym. He built the beams where the punching bags hang: seven heavy bags in the back row, four double-end bags in the front.

"They opened the door, but I had to walk through it," Albanil said.

Sherman Henson also walked through that door at Trigga City.

In 2005, Henson first met Albanil, who was then 15 and wailing on a 19-year-old fighter.

"That's not right," Henson, 60, said to himself. He became Albanil's first trainer and has watched his evolution from amateur to professional.

"The best-kept secret in boxing," Henson says of Albanil, even though Albanil didn't start boxing until high school and hasn't won any national tournaments. But Henson knows experienced fighters when he sees them, training boxers like Antonio Tarver Jr., Juan Laporte and Christian Camacho.

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Albanil's childhood never hinted at a career in the ring. He was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and moved with his mother to Tampa at age 2.

And aside from five years in Mississippi, from 1999-2004, he has remained here. When he moved back to the area as a young teenager, he had to re-adjust to the state and culture. In Mississippi, he attended a predominantly white school. When he returned to Tampa, he attended Alonso High School, whose student body is 49 percent Hispanic.

"I really didn't know where I fit in," Albanil said. "In the beginning I didn't have a lot of friends and I didn't do any sports, either, because I thought it was too hot down here to run cross country and track."

After spending much of his freshman year alone, he started hanging out with Brian Rojas as a sophomore. Rojas and his football teammates sometimes boxed for fun. One day, Albanil joined them. Rojas busted Albanil's nose open on the first punch.

"I still wanted to get in there," Albanil said. "I still wanted to get him back."

They continued boxing, and Albanil kept getting beat up.

"So at that point I was like, 'Man, I just want to learn to do this for real,' " Albanil said. "I wanted to know what I was doing because I didn't like not knowing what I was doing."

Even with his energy and environmental class starting in 45 minutes, Albanil doesn't stop his workout.

As soon as he finishes his run, he does two sets of 50 knee-ups. He stops an ab workout and showers, finishing with 20 minutes to spare before class.

He changes back into the dress shirt, the ripped jeans and the polo shoes. He combs his hair with his fingers. It's 12:15 and HCC is 15 minutes away.

He is one of the last students to show up. But he can't miss school, not this time around.

Albanil enrolled in Hillsborough Community College in 2011 but went for only two semesters. He developed severe tendinitis in his left and right shoulders in January 2012, so he couldn't box or train. He spent his time at school or working at Columbia Restaurant to keep supporting his gym. But when school got in the way, he committed to working full time.

Boxing had always kept him laser-focused, but without it, distractions entered his life. He drank alcohol. He partied. He had fun. But that wasn't the long-term lifestyle he wanted. Once his shoulders slowly healed, he returned to training, and the distractions exited.

"What really motivated me was living up to my potential. When I was little I knew I could be anything that I wanted, and I just needed to decide what I wanted to be," Albanil said. "If I apply that same ambition, I can be anything I want to be."

Albanil constantly brainstorms business ideas, such as an espresso bar, and pitches them to his co-workers.

"Omar, that's just your crazy idea this week," they tell him.

"The difference between an insane idea and a genius idea," Albanil says, "is that genius ideas work."

None of his ideas have panned out. Yet.

As he's taking notes in class at HCC, the fire alarm goes off and the school is evacuated. He notices a classmate, Kaitlyn Toner, wearing a gray University of Tampa V-neck T-shirt.

"Do you go to UT?" he asks.

Getting accepted into UT will be a big next step. He wants to transfer there and earn a degree in entrepreneurship.

Boxing is just a stage. It's not the goal.

"If I can be successful at boxing, I can be successful at anything," he says.

It's 6:45 p.m. when Albanil begins his second high-intensity workout of the day: a core workout; five sets of upper-cut punches at the bag for three minutes; then three sets of high-speed punches against a heavy bag, the objective to land as many punches as possible in one minute.

"Keep your chin down," Henson tells him. Albanil doesn't slow down, sweat dripping to puddle on the floor.

"Don't open up," Henson says. "Don't open up."

Every time Henson orders, Albanil corrects. When his workout ends at 8:15, his shirt and shorts are soaked.

"I've been dreading that workout all week," Albanil says.

But tomorrow brings more of the same.

Eat. Sleep. Train. Work.