What started as a weekend project for confined became a full-time program that has been going on for 21 years and has allowed the former world champion Victor “Luvi” Calleja share their knowledge, develop prospects and provide tools that some have used to break into the world of boxing.
The former champion in the featherweight and super bantamweight categories debuted in professional boxing in 1979, as part of a career that spanned 31 fights, of which he won 27. Of those victories, 22 were by knockout, including 16 times he won in the first round In 1990, at the age of 30, he decided to retire.
He always thought about retiring young, but, in addition, the fact that the then management of Bacardi Corp. offered him a job in the Marketing Promotion area influenced him to leave the ring at that age.
Although his routine of strict physical training, along with salaried employment, did not allow him to continue his university studies in communications, Calleja was able to use his knowledge to carry out his job. Paradoxically, he remembers, he promoted alcoholic beverages at different events and places, even though he had never been a drinker. That, because of the discipline that boxing imposes and because, in reality, he never liked him, says the Guaynabeno, who started working at the age of 12, when he worked at a gas station.
After 11 years working at Bacardi, the then secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR), Victor Riveraasked him to develop a boxing program for the former Rio Piedras State Penitentiary. At that time, after the agency acquired the equipment necessary to train, the program was implemented in four correctional centers. Calleja dedicated five hours a day to it, Saturdays and Sundays.
A few years later, when Miguel Pereira occupied the chair of secretary of the DCR, he asked him to extend the program to all prisons. He asked her for a professional services proposal that would allow him to be in charge of the initiative full time. Calleja left his job at Bacardi, a company he still thanks for the opportunity today, and since then he has directed the agency’s boxing program.
“The following secretaries have been fair to this sport and to those confined”says the retired boxer about the continuity of the project.
At the moment, the program serves 15 penitentiary institutionsin which about 80 inmates who participate in the billboards and another group who only do it to stay in shape and because they like that sport train..
“I do a monthly card,” says Calleja, 62, who sometimes also serves as a referee, while recreational leaders from penitentiary institutions and inmates who practiced boxing in the free community get involved as judges and coaches.
While the participants train, “I look at what I have and what skills and what experience they have to match them (in fights),” explains Calleja.
He says that, in addition to being used for physical conditioning, The boxing program helps improve the mental health of the inmates who participate and even serves as a tool for them to integrate into that discipline after completing their sentences.. Such is the case of Jose Aguirre, who trained in prison and is now a professional boxer and has had about 15 fights. Others join amateur boxing or work in gyms as trainers.
“Boxing is ‘you or me.’ It is a sport in which the boxer is alone, he does not depend on a team. And they (confined) worry about training, they diet, they stop smoking. The program gives them discipline and they feel pride when participating in the billboards”explains the contribution of the program to the correctional population.
It stands out, in particular, that it has organized billboards in which rival prisoner organizations have participated and that, however, no situation has occurred to regret. In those activities, everyone focuses on the competition.
Calleja was also a representative of the World Boxing Association in Puerto Rico, a position he left when he was named president of the Puerto Rico Professional Boxing Commission, an organization linked to the Department of Recreation and Sports. He was in that position for four years (2017-2021).
As part of his efforts on behalf of the boxers, he tried to get the Legislature approved a project to create pensions for some retired boxers who were in poor economic conditions. The measure was not successful. Likewise, he organized an initiative to enable the former champion’s home Wilfredo Benitez, a project that began with the intention of purchasing some appliances and ended in a complete remodeling due to the number of people who joined their gesture. Later, he also helped the former champion Wilfredo Gomez.