YOUNGSTOWN - Jack Loew has seen hundreds of fighters come through the Southside Boxing Club during his 25 years as a trainer.
During that span, he said he's only witnessed a few athletes with the talent of Alejandro "Popo" Salinas, a 132-pound amateur boxer who recently graduated from East High School.
"Pound for pound, he's one of the hardest punchers I've ever had in my gym," said Loew, the former trainer of Kelly Pavlik.
The 18-year-old Salinas was born and raised in Youngstown and holds a 67-15 record over a 10-year career. Loew raved about Salinas' combination of quickness and power - likening his skill set to that of former world champion Manny Pacquiao. The longtime trainer believes Salinas will be the next great boxer from the area.
"He's one of the best kids I've ever had in my gym," Loew said. "He has the whole package. He's the type of kid who could be like a Pacquiao-type guy. He trains his (butt) off. He does crazy stuff in the gym, exercise-wise. He's a workout fanatic. He can punch, he can box and he's got that Oscar De La Hoya smile. He has an extremely bright future in front of him."
Salinas, whose nickname came from his mother - "she wanted to come up with a name that would make me laugh," he said - showed off his talent from the first time he stepped in the ring. He won his first 25 fights, and Loew said he looked like he had been fighting for years. And in a way, he had been.
"Yeah, I would fight my older brother - and I'd get beat up," said Salinas of Juan, who was the first of four brothers to become involved with the Southside Boxing Club. "I believe it was worth it."
So does Loew.
He's very much looking forward to Salinas' pro career, but he said the two have agreed that Salinas will continue to fight as an amateur - for now. The goal is to continue to build his resume, which will lead to a bigger pay day when Salinas makes the jump to the professional ranks. Salinas said he is considering making a run at the Olympic Trials in 2016, and while it remains a possibility, he's more focused on short-term expectations.
"My goal is to win some of the major tournaments coming up, like the PAL (Police Athletic League) Tournament and the USA's (United States National Boxing Championships)," Salinas said. "And if I do good in them, I'll keep fighting amateur until next year."
The main reason Loew said Salinas would continue to fight as an amateur if he does well over the next year is because of the increase in pay it could create. If Salinas was to win either of the aforementioned national tournaments, or if he was to qualify for the Olympics, Loew said his signing bonus would jump from a possible 10 to 15 thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One of the benefits Salinas has going for him if he reaches the pro ranks is his marketability. As Loew said, the up-and-coming Puerto Rican is a "good-looking kid and a heck of a fighter." His hard-hitting and fast-paced style are equally attractive to potential promoters.
"He's like the LeBron James of amateur fighting," Loew said. "He's that type of kid who excites people. Every time I put on an amateur fight, when I go to guys that usually buy tables, the first thing they ask me is, 'Is Salinas fighting?' "
Furthermore, Salinas possesses the kind of lifestyle needed to enjoy continued success, Loew said. National recognition and money have led to a downward spiral of partying and falling out of shape for many fighters, but Loew doesn't see Salinas giving in to temptation.
"He's a good kid - a very religious kid," Loew said. "I've seen bad habits in fighters at a very young age. There are no bad habits (with Salinas). He's never had an alcoholic drink in his hand. He's never had a cigarette or a joint, anything in his hand. I can honestly say that about this kid."
Salinas' next fight will likely be in late August or early September, Loew said. The PAL Tournament takes place in late October.