Mark DeLuca was just a wide-eyed 3-year-old when his father took him to a local boxing program in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Asked if he understood what boxing was about at such a young age, his answer rang true.
"I don't understand boxing now," DeLuca said, "never mind back then."
As the Cowardly Lion said in The Wizard Of Oz, "Ain't it the truth?"
It doesn't matter how long you're involved in boxing in any capacity. If you think you've got it figured out, you're only fooling yourself.
Boxing is subjected to the same vagaries as the rest of life -- maybe more so -- and what at first seems to be an organic progression can easily be disrupted by outside influences or unforeseen circumstances. Both have impacted DeLuca's 11-year professional boxing career, but his commitment has remained constant, even in the most trying of times.
He's 30 now, and his career trajectory finally seems to be progressing in the manner he always thought it should, back before life steered him in different directions.
"I always wanted to be a professional fighter," he said, "but I didn't know what was involved until I was more mature."
DeLuca (20-0, 12 KOs) will be headlining Saturday's card at the Marina Bay SportsPlex in Quincy, Massachusetts (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes). He'll be fighting late substitute Ramses Agaton in a scheduled eight-round, junior middleweight bout.
This is his home patch, and De Luca's fan base will be out in force. He's one of them, a guy many have known since he was a kid.
He grew up in a home immersed in the boxing culture. His police officer father, Mark Sr., was a former fighter and used to run the South Shore Police Athletic League gym in Quincy. Boxing was all around, all the time.
"Being from an Italian-American household, Rocky Marciano was big," DeLuca said. "We're from the same area. I looked up to him and Marvin Hagler and Tony DeMarco, local guys who made it."
"The No. 1 reason I joined the Marines was to help out and do my part for the United States ... Because of boxing, I was used to discipline and the work ethic at a young age. That helped me get through the military, for sure."Mark DeLuca
All of DeLuca's siblings, including sister Rachel, boxed at one time. But they moved on, leaving the eldest to follow in his father's footsteps.
He also inherited his father's nickname, "The Bazooka."
"They called my father that because of how hard he hit," he said. "I don't hit as hard as he did. I like to be a little slicker."
"I didn't have half the talent that kid does," Mark Sr. said during the lead-up to his son's pro debut on April 7, 2007, at Freeport (I.B.E.W.) Hall in Dorchester. It was a night Mark Jr. won't soon forget.
"I was 19 at the time. The house was packed, and they were all there for me, so there was big, big pressure going in," DeLuca said. "I was fighting a slick guy [Elija Dickens]. It didn't go long. I guess he sprained his ankle or something like that."
The first-round TKO led to five additional victories. Then, in 2008, DeLuca joined the United States Marine Corps.
"The No. 1 reason I joined the Marines was to help out and do my part for the United States," DeLuca said when he returned home on leave after graduating from the Marines Corps Boot Camp in Parris Island, South Carolina.
"Because of boxing, I was used to discipline and the work ethic at a young age. That helped me get through the military, for sure."
Today, he looks back on the time he spent in Afghanistan -- as a machine gunner, guarding convoys and going out on patrol -- through a more comprehensive lens.
"I served my country, but I also got to meet all kinds of people from different cultures and religions," he said. "It shows you that there are things out there bigger than yourself."
DeLuca is quick to say that his time on active duty in the Marines was not the main reason for the gaps in his career. A broken hand and four shoulder surgeries had a lot to do with it.
Growing up in a tight-knit New England community, it was almost inevitable that he would form an alliance with Murphys Boxing, a promotional company founded by Ken Casey, bass guitar player, songwriter, singer and one of the founding members of the American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys.
"We run in the same circles and know all the same people," Casey said. "It was a bit of a no-brainer. I've done 10 or 11 of Mark's fight."
An avid boxing fan since he was a kid, Casey realized early on that there is a synergy to being both a musician and a boxing promoter.
"Basically, it's the same thing. You've got to put asses in seats," said Casey, who will be co-promoting Saturday's show with Golden Boy Promotions. "But I have a bit of a unique situation in that I'm able to use that [music] platform, along with social media, to reach the fans. A lot of times in boxing you see a half-empty venue, but I'm proud to say we usually have a full house."
In another boxing crossover, Casey has written songs about John L. Sullivan and Micky Ward. Could "The Ballad of Bazooka DeLuca" be next?
A catastrophic, life-changing event occurred on July 12, 2013, when DeLuca's father was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. He sustained multiple orthopedic injuries and a traumatic brain injury.
"Mark has been there every step of the way helping his dad," Casey said. "It makes you want to root for the kid. When a guy puts his money where his mouth is, which is rare today, you've got to give him respect. That's why I want to help him as much as I can."
"It's been tough," DeLuca said, "but luckily, I have the help of my brothers and sister. We all get together and help. I make it happen. I'm the eldest in the family, so the burden is greater."
DeLuca used to think of his boxing career as "sort of a natural thing. You win the Golden Gloves, turn pro and become world champion." He knows better now. At an age when most fighters are reaching their peaks or are past them, DeLuca is still building, still looking toward the future.
A win Saturday will keep alive his dream of becoming a champion, a dream that began the day his father opened a gym door and ushered him into the intoxicating world of boxing.
But DeLuca is not a toddler anymore. He has experienced the harsh realities of life and knows how elusive a dream can be. But that hasn't stopped him from fighting on, confident that he can handle whatever the future throws at him, just like he always has.
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