Ray Jay Bermudez, a Troy native, starts his mornings at the gym, where he spends five hours hitting mitts, sparring, stretching, perfecting his footwork and his striking technique. That gym could be in Braintree, Massachusetts, or Albany. He splits his time between both places to access the best coaches and training partners.
He breaks briefly after he’s put in his technique work and has dinner. Then he returns to the gym at night to lift weights and put in road work. This is the grind. It’s the formula for success in the career he’s chosen–the career he’s worked most of his life to attain.
“I basically gave up everything to pursue this dream,” Bermudez says, his red shirt moist with sweat. He takes a break from hitting the heavy bag to talk. “I graduated high school but I stopped going to college for this. This is it. This is everything I’ve worked for.”
That “it”—that “everything”—is his pro boxing debut.
On Sept. 23, after over 15 years of training, hard work, sacrifice and struggle, Bermudez will make his pro debut at Rivers Casino & Resort on the undercard of an event billed as “Rumble on the River.” Local boxer Will Madeira will headline the card.
When Bermudez enters the ring on Saturday he’ll have his family members by his side and in the audience, along with the members of the community who have helped him along the way. “Growing up in Troy was definitely rough but I worked around things. I don’t let the environment, nobody around me bring me down. I just stay focused and motivated. I know I don’t want to live here rest of my life. I want to make it out.”
Here at the Albany Boxing Gym, kids peer at Bermudez as he hits mitts. They flock to his trainers and promoter looking for a bit of attention.
Boxing runs in Bermudez’s family. It’s a tradition that was handed down to Bermudez’s father Ramon from his father. Ramon brought that tradition with him when he came to the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1991. “My father used to box, my uncle and cousins box, and it started growing on me at a young age,” says Bermudez.
It was Bermudez’s father who brought him to the Troy Boys & Girls Club to box. He recalls growing up watching old fights with his father and thinking that boxing was “boring,” but it stayed with him. He says he thinks he bought Ray Jay his first pair of mitts when he was three. “It wasn’t like I wanted him to become a boxer–just not be bullied in school but defend himself,” says Ramon. “One day he brought home a drawing of a boxer he did in school and I took him down to gym just for the hell of it and asked, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ He’s been boxing since.”
Ramon admits there were times when Ray Jay “didn’t want to do it anymore” but he pushed him. “I guess I forced him because we put in too much time and dedication to let it go.”
Ramon says the family has sold food out of their house to make a little extra money. They’ve sacrificed to travel to Golden Gloves competitions only to find there was no one in Ray Jay’s weight class for him to box.
“I don’t want to sound selfish but boxing helped me raise my son,” says Ramon. “There were kids around him–some are dead right now, and if he wasn’t boxing my son would probably either be dead or on a real bad path–so yes I do thank boxing a lot for keeping him on a straight path.”
After years of having his father as a mentor, Ray Jay moved to the tutelage of his father’s cousin, Hector Bermudez, and Bill Growick from Sweeney’s Gym in Delmar. He became the Northeast Regional Champion in 2012 at age 14.
Ray Jay has the chance now to make his pro debut near his hometown thanks to a partnership between Rivers Casino and Gunther Fishgold. Fishgold, who owns Tierra Farm in Valatie, has years of experience as a fight promoter. “What are you doing when you’re an amateur boxer, you’re 18 or 20 and now want to do it for a living?” he asks. “There is nowhere to fight around here anymore. We were doing shows around here every two and a half months but we weren’t making money.”
Fishgold says that the deal with Rivers Casino allows him to book good talent and hopefully make a few bucks. “Even if we break even I’ll be happy because it’s fun to do this,” he says. Fishgold also has a private training camp in Valatie that exclusively hosts professional fighters. Having regular fights in the area would boost him as a trainer and a promoter.
“I would like to exclusively do combat sports for the casino,” says Fishgold. “I’d like to come back with MMA [mixed martial arts] in November and do another boxing card in January. I want to keep these guys fighting.”
Fishgold is repeatedly approached by young boxers–some who know him and some who hope to get to know him. One such young man–who looks to be 10 at the oldest–asks Fishgold to book him a fight. “I want to be a star,” the kid says. “Keep practicing,” Fishgold responds.
Ray Jay doesn’t appear to be particularly hyped up for the fight. He’s calm and cool. He sees the fight at Rivers as the first step in his new career. He knows he won’t get rich immediately. He knows that boxing is a fickle sport where even a pristine record might not be enough to get you to stardom and financial reward. But he plans to win his pro debut, maybe take two weeks off and then get back to the same old grind that is training. “I’m just going to keep working, keep on fighting, keep trying to get my name up so I can get recognized and maybe wait for a big fight.”
Ramon says he played it cool when his son told him he was going to make his pro debut in the Capital District. “In my head I was like, after all these years, after all we struggled, this is what we did it for.”