Up to the late 1950s, Milwaukee was a major professional boxing venue, producing and showcasing such well-known fighters as Bob Moha, Richie Mitchell, Joey Sangor, George Black, Dave Maier and Doll Rafferty. Milwaukee’s only recognized world champion is Pinkey Mitchell, who won the junior welterweight championship in 1922 (but in a magazine voting contest, not the ring).
Native Milwaukeean Luis "Cuba" Arias, 25, is an undefeated middleweight (160 pounds) who hopes to lead a boxing renaissance here when he fights at the Wisconsin Center this weekend on Saturday, June 4 against Jorge Silva (20-10), from Tijuana, Mexico.
Now a Florida resident, Arias talked with OnMilwaukee about his homecoming and his ring career.
OnMilwaukee: How does it feel to be making your first professional appearance in your hometown?
Luis Arias: I'm very excited. I have always wanted to compete in Milwaukee, even as an amateur. Now that I'm a pro, it's an honor to be headlining a great event in front of my home crowd, which will mostly be filled with friends and family. I cannot wait!
Your dad came to Milwaukee from Cuba. Where did you grow up and go to school here?
I grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee. I went to Nativity Jesuit middle school, Marquette High School and then Marquette University for a couple years. My father came from Cuba in the ‘80s and my mother from Nicaragua. My dad moved to Milwaukee for boxing, actually, so that the legendary Israel "Shorty" Acosta could train him at the United Community Center. My mom had family that had recently moved to Milwaukee at the time. My parents and most of my family still reside in Milwaukee.
How did you get started boxing at the age of 7?
At first boxing was just a hobby. I needed a sport that was year-round since baseball had ended. I remember walking into UCC hoping to play tackle football, but they said I was too young. I asked my mom to try boxing, so we went to the gym upstairs to see if they would let me do that. Soon as I walked in there, I saw some guys sparring and I loved it! I wanted to try it right away. Shorty said to come back the following Monday. I won the state Golden Gloves three times and now I box for a living.
Your dream from the time you first put on a pair of boxing gloves was to win a gold medal in the Olympic Games. What happened to that?
2012 was going to be my year, but I didn't turn in some whereabout forms and I did not advise U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that I was going to be training in Las Vegas. That was my third strike at the time. I was issued a one-year suspension for it one day before the Olympic Trials. I was ranked No. 1 in all the important age categories. I had won the US Men's Nationals twice, the Under-19 Nationals, as well as the Junior Olympic Nationals.
Now you’ve had 14 professional fights and won them all (six by knockout). What have been your best and worst experiences in the pro ring?
My best moment as a pro so far would be my last fight [on March 4, a unanimous decision victory over 11-0 Gilberto Pereira dos Santos]. I went 10 rounds with no problem in my first successful main event. I learned a lot from the Angel Martinez fight, going a hard eight rounds while fighting through a cut in the toughest rounds of the fight.
I showed the dog in me. Luckily, I have not experienced too many bad injuries. I’ve had a couple cuts on my eyebrows from elbows and head butts, and have suffered some small sprains to the hands, but overall I’ve been healthy and blessed.
My worst experience was finding out the dirty business of the pro game the hard way. I had a rough transition between my first promoter to my new one. Luckily, the tough times passed, and we are back on the right track.
Your first promoter was Floyd Mayweather Jr. What was that like?
It was overall a good experience, and I learned a lot about the boxing business, as well as the work ethic necessary to be extremely successful in this sport. I thought Floyd was going to take me to my first world title, which would have been a great story. He had other plans, though, and after 10 fights he decided to release me. A couple months later I signed with Roc Nation Sports.
Your goal obviously is to win a world championship. Do you have a timetable for this?
I need to be ranked in the Top 10 and in talks for a title shot by next summer.
You promised your mother you would complete requirements for a degree in corporate communications and public relations at Marquette University. How close are you to doing so?
I have about a year-and-a-half left of school, and I do plan on going back to Marquette and finishing.
Many now consider boxing to be just a niche sport. Do you think it can ever reclaim its long-ago position as a major sport?
I think it can. Boxing has a lot of history and will forever be a great sport. It just needs a couple superstars that the people can relate to. I will be one of them.
What's a typical training day like for you?
I have two daily training sessions Monday-Friday. Every morning I go to the boxing gym. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I have strength and conditioning. The other days I run at night. Sunday is my rest day.
You have a one-and-a-half year old daughter. What would you like her to say about her dad 20 years from now?
My daughter means everything to me. Her name is Leylani Arias. She has become my main motivation. I want her to be able to say that her dad gave her the world.
What can your hometown fans look forward to seeing in your fight at the Wisconsin Center?
Local fans will get their money's worth. I have a very exciting, fan-friendly style. I am coming to knock my opponent clean out on June 4. I'm pushing myself to the limit this training camp to make sure that happens. People should not miss this event!
Where do you look forward to celebrating your victory on June 4?
At my momma’s house! My mom’s cooking is beyond amazing. Soon as I'm done making weight and then taking care of business at the Wisconsin Center, I'm heading to her house to eat for a whole week!
Information and tickets for the June 4 bout are here.