TOKYO – The more you learn about American Richard Torrez Jr., the more you might be wondering why he’ll be in the boxing ring.
On Saturday, in a quarterfinal bout, he’ll face Dainier Pero, a 6-3½ Cuban. Torrez, who at 6-1 and 200 pounds is among the smallest boxers in the superheavyweight division at the Olympics, knows the drill.
“The ref will call you to the center of the ring and you’ll touch gloves, and usually I have to touch gloves above my head now,’’ Torrez said. “It’s definitely an experience.’’
It’s an experience if you run into Torrez. An amateur magician, he said he’s been taking a deck of cards with him while walking around the Olympic Village.
“I just learned a new magic trick,’’ he said. “It’s a good way to break the ice and exchange pins. It’s really cool in the this Olympic village.’’
Suffice to say, Torrez, 22, is not your average boxer. Unless, that is, you know a boxer who graduated from high school as valedictorian. And who was on the chess team and in the robotics club in high school. (Torrez did all of that at Mission Oak High School in Tulare, California.)
And a boxer who enjoys listening to classical music before his training sessions and fights. And who keeps a dream journal. And who has YouTube videos celebrating his love for engineering.
“I just watched a video of this guy building a pool table, but it wasn’t just a pool table,’’ Torrez told USA TODAY Sports. “It was a pool table that would choose a shot for him. He designed this pool stick to make every single shot for him that he wanted to make. That type of stuff just amazes me."
In fact, Torrez was ready to head off for California Polytechnic State University after graduating from high school in 2017 when he got a call from USA Boxing. He got an invitation to move to the U.S. Olympic Paralympic Committee training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
So he talked to his parents, both educators who had instilled in him the importance of education.
“They said you can always go back to college,’’ Torrez said.
Something else you should know: Torrez’s father fought for the U.S. team but never made it to the Olympics. His grandfather was a boxer too.
A third-generation fighter, Torrez said came up through the amateur ranks of boxing with a mix of brawn and brains.
“Boxing is known as the sweet science,’’ he said. “People call it a chess match, you know? It’s a thinking game. So I do think a lot of boxers have this in them. I just think they don’t show it in the same ways I do.’’
Speaking of chess, Torrez plays it – usually on chess.com. And though he has postponed his education, he said he took an online course in philosophy and wrote his midterm paper about French philosopher Rene Descartes.
“I think therefore I am," Torrez said, referring one Descartes' greatest hits.
Torrez said he thinks he is a gold-medal caliber boxer and, well, there’s no reason to argue now. He dominated Algerian Chouaib Bouloudinats in his opening bout Thursday and one more victory will propel him into the medal round.
He is trying to become the first U.S. boxer in the super heavyweight division to win an Olympic medal since Tyrell Biggs did it in 1984.
“I may not be the fastest," Torrez said. “I may not be the strongest. But I am one of the most conditioned."
And he’s probably the only boxer who likes to quote Gandhi.
“I’m really into that Gandhi saying: Live as if you were to die today, learn as if you were to live forever."
There is little more worth learning about Torrez before his next fight.
In 2019, when COVID-19 disrupted the world of sports, Torrez wanted a dog. He picked a Golden Retriever puppy who the breeder had given a temporary name – Tokyo.
“So I thought this is meant to be," Torrez said. “I got Tokyo and then I renamed him Dempsey because we have a tradition in our family that we name all of our dogs after famous boxers and so after Jack Dempsey."
Dempsey reigned as heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926.
“I love his ferociousness," Torrez said. “I see (Mike) Tyson talk about Jack Dempsey all the time, too. That’s kind of how I got into it.
“Then I’d go and study some of his films and he was a little guy. Jack Dempsey was a little guy just like I am. And he would go out there and just take out the giants, and that’s what I’m trying to do too."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Olympics: American boxer Richard Torrez Jr. ready for big match