Salazar lost to the boxer not once, but three times, because he kept coming back.
“He beat me a lot my first time,” said Salazar. “Then I [came] back for the second time, because I was thinking revenge, and he beat me again.”
Salazar went back a third time, and he lost again. From here he started training, but the boxer had already moved on in his career. Eventually they would meet again.
By the time the boxer returned, Salazar had already won seven fights. After losing many times to him, Salazar would no longer feel anger or the need for revenge, but something else entirely.
“[I] sparred with him, and I didn’t want to beat him so much, because it was so easy at the time for me,” said Salazar.
Finally, Salazar had his revenge.
Born in Cuba on July 31, 1942, Salazar was around 15 when he began learning how to box. In Cuban culture, boxers are trained as professionals.
Salazar was not considered a professional, but he was a very talented amateur boxer. After fighting 61 matches and winning 56, in his mind, Salazar was a professional boxer.
“I felt professional when I left boxing, because I knew everything that could happen with my opponent,” said Salazar. “I knew what my opponent [thought] even, and that is like a professional.”
This determination to succeed would be what helped Salazar make it to America.
As a boxer in Cuba, Salazar would take years off periodically, then return to the ring. During the years in between boxing, Salazar would work at a sweets factory, waiting for his time to return. This back-and-forth between boxing and factory work would continue until he was 25.
His longest break was four years, but when he returned to the ring he became the national champion.
Cuban boxers are sometimes given the opportunity to travel, and Salazar wanted nothing more than to come to America. However, he was never given the chance to travel, because his government knew he would not return.
In Cuba, Salazar said, the government knew everything. Neighborhoods would have special people watching and listening to everything that was said and done. Salazar had to be careful of what he did.
“They know everything,” said Salazar. “If you are not in agreement with the government for something, they immediately go to the police.”
Growing up in Cuba, Salazar lived in a family of seven, but now there are only three siblings: his brother, his sister and himself. He has two biological sons and a woman he thinks of as a daughter.
His niece and his brother would eventually make the transition into the U.S. easier for him.
His brother a minister, traveled to Spain for work and then America. After living in the U.S. for many years, he petitioned for Orestes Salazar to join him in the U.S.
On July 28, 2011, having been retired several years, Salazar was finally able to come to the states.
Salazar’s brother rents apartments in the Johnson City, Tennessee, area, and this is how Orestes came to live here.
“I came here with the main purpose to work and help my family, especially my sons,” said Salazar. “I know the conditions there; they live very poor.”
In his journey to America, several Cubans asked him why was he leaving after already retiring.
“My retirement is not enough for eating; not enough for dressing myself [or] to help anybody,” Salazar said.
After living in Johnson City for a few months, Salazar’s niece was able to get him volunteer work at Olson’s Martial Arts Academy and the Athletic Club.
After the Athletic Club in Johnson City closed, Salazar moved to Bang Bang Boxing and Fitness Gym. There, Salazar works alongside Scott Vance, the head coach. The two had previously worked together at the Athletic Club.
Vance, who has worked with Salazar for many years, said he really enjoys him. He has learned so much from him, and finds it a pleasure to learn from a man so knowledgeable about boxing.
“When he came in and started working, it was a little awkward, because he taught things a little different than I did,” said Vance. “Now I use things that he uses for boxers.”
At Bang Bang Boxing and Fitness Gym, Salazar trains boxers of all ages. He can see when his trainees have it, or when they just aren’t getting it. Salazar teaches them how to become a boxer by using dance to help them understand how the body works.
One of Salazar’s students, Julian Alvarez, says that he enjoys learning from him, and the respect he has for his coach makes learning easier.
“It’s just honestly kind of inspirational, because seeing what he’s done and what he’s been through, he knows how I feel,” said Alvarez. “When he’s telling me to work harder and stuff, it is easier to do what he says, because he’s been there.”
Bottom Left: Orestes Salazar proudly shows off his American flag in representation of his new life in America. Bottom Right: Salazar looks on as his students train. Salazar steps in to give a note or make a correction as needed. (Photos by Erin Hockman)