HAVERHILL — The son of the late Haverhill boxing great Jeff Fraza, who was on TV reality show “The Contender,’’ is following in his dad’s footsteps. He recently won his first amateur boxing match, knocking down his opponent twice before the fight had to be stopped.
“I was almost upset as I really wanted to end the fight in a spectacular way,” Antonio Fraza said. “I put my hands up, went to my corner, and it was almost magical. I said to myself, this one’s for you dad. I know he would have been proud of me.”
Fraza, 19, comes from a boxing family. His grandfather Norm Fraza helped found the Haverhill Boxing Club on Stevens Street in 1991, while Antonio’s father Jeff Fraza, became well known in the boxing world, having been trained by famous Lowell boxer Micky Ward.
Jeff “Hell Raza” Fraza died tragically in the early morning of Feb. 4, 2012.
Police said Fraza, 34, appeared to be talking on a cellphone when he was hit by a MBTA train on the tracks along Hale Street just before 1:30 a.m.
Antonio Fraza, 19, was taught how to box in his youth by his father, and only recently returned to the ring.
He said that after his father died, he found it hard to continue boxing.
“This year was my real comeback,” he said. “The fact I grew up around boxing, and that I have an interest in the mental and physical aspects of the sport, makes me want to continue.”
“When I was five years old I was a little gym rat,” he said. “I was always there with my dad, watching him train, and I’d try to mimic that on the heavy bag. Then I got more into playing baseball and basketball in elementary school then football in middle school.”
Fraza has come under the tutelage of former amateur boxer Sean Farley, 38, of Methuen, who trained under Norm Fraza and has known Antonio since he was a baby.
Antonio trains at the nonprofit Haverhill Inner City Boxing Club & Youth Development at 37 Lafayette Square.
In addition to teaching kids the sport of boxing, the club also provides educational support designed around individual needs, including tutoring, homework classes and mentoring, all with the goal of producing well-rounded, successful adults. The club is run by well-known local amateur boxing trainers Joe Ferguson and Joe Calnan, along with a board of directors.
Farley also trains professional boxers Alexis Santos, Adrian Sosa and Agustine Mauras.
Antonio Fraza was wrapping up his senior year at Whittier Tech last year when he decided to resume training.
“We weren’t able to put enough time in to compete, so Antonio came back to the gym earlier this year,” Farley said. “He began sparring with Adrian and Agustine, which gave him a huge advantage as he was sparring with two up-and-coming professional prospects.”
“They are much more experienced and older fighters who taught him a lot,” Farley said.
Antonio’s first amateur bout was on April 29 in Somersworth, New Hampshire, hosted by Jass Boxing of Berwick, Maine.
He fought Llamar Kelly, 37, an older and slightly bigger opponent from Rochester in a scheduled three round bout.
“Kelly put all of his power into every shot, but Antonio kept a tight defense and didn’t get discouraged,” Farley said. “Then Antonio landed a few body shots, and you could see it had an effect on Kelly.”
“At the minute and 20 second mark, Antonio landed two or three body shots, which set up a big right hand to the head, which knocked Kelly down,” he said. “Kelly got back up but barely survived that first round.
“In round two, Antonio dropped him with the first punch he threw, a straight right hand to the chin, which buckled Kelly’s knees and he dropped. Kelly got back up and Antonio pinned him on the ropes with non-stop punches, prompting the referee to stop the fight just 40 seconds into the second round.”
“I was very happy with Antonio’s performance,” Farley said. “Antonio executed perfectly, considering it was his first amateur bout.”
“It was a pretty emotional moment, as Antonio’s family and friends came to see the match,” Farley said. “Considering we were fighting in the other guy’s backyard, Antonio had a lot of people there supporting him, including friends and family.”
“I think we have a bunch of young kids who are looking to have their first amateur fights as well, and I think Antonio paved the way for a nice youth movement at Haverhill Inner City Boxing.”
Fraza said he began this year with light workouts at the gym, but those workouts intensified once he learned he had a match.
“I think boxing is in my blood… that I’m wired for it,” he said. “I enjoy every aspect of the sport, from watching it to taking part in it.”
He said his trainer, Farley, didn’t give him very much information as he didn’t want him to worry about who it was he would be fighting.
“When I found I was fighting a guy who is 37, we decided to work on body shots to wear him down,” Fraza said. “After my first body shot I could see how it affected him (Kelly). After that I went on the attack.”
“As the referee held up my hand, I looked down at my mother, who was in the second row, and she was crying,” Fraza said. “My mom has been very involved in my training, in a sense she acts as my manager as everything need to go through her first.”
Fraza said he could not have won the fight without Farley’s guidance and encouragement.
“It had taken me a while to find a trainer who I had a good chemistry with,” he said. “Sean was a big part of this victory.”
Fraza says he hopes to fight in the Rocky Marciano tournament and next year in the Golden Gloves in Lowell.
“I took a week off after the fight to make sure this is really what I want to do,” he said. “I returned to the gym this week and I’m looking forward to getting back in the ring.”
He has some advice for young kids who might not even think about getting involved in the sport.
“Boxing can boost your confidence while teaching you how to defend yourself,” he said. “And it can teach you how to respect your opponent, as well as the people you train with, your trainer and others.”