Boxer Javier Rivera prepares himself for fights with what he calls "pump up" music -- think Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and Queen's "We Will Rock You."
The 19-year-old from Palatine also recalls inspiring quotes, such as "To be a champion, you've got to believe in yourself when nobody else will," attributed to boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson.
School: Palatine High School
Who inspires you? My family, because they are always there for me, they are always pushing me forward.
What book are you reading? Nothing now. One of my favorites is "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton.
What's on your iPod? I listen to a little bit of everything: Mexican music, hip hop, rock.
The three words that best describe you? Humble. Hard worker. Caring.
Those tricks, coupled with hard-to-match work ethic and determination, have paid off for this rising boxing star, who earlier this month won a major amateur title to cap a skyrocketing three years in the ring.
"It was really tough," Javier said of his work leading up to the 14th annual Ringside World Championships held July 28 to Aug. 2 in Missouri. "I had been preparing myself for three or four months with really hard training every day, maintaining my weight, eating healthy, drinking protein, taking vitamins."
Javier, who stands 5 feet, 3 inches, competes in the 108-pound weight class for big tournaments, and a few pounds heavier for other events.
The mere fact that Javier prevailed in the 19- to 40-year-old senior open division is very telling, said Albert Guardado, senior business development specialist for Combat Brands, the parent company of tournament organizer Ringside.
"That open division in particular is the most competitive division there is in boxing," Guardado said. "That just speaks to his skill level. Being so young and able to win that division is something special, for sure."
Javier has won 29 of his 31 amateur fights. His titles include the 2011 Chicago Golden Gloves tournament and the Power Gloves tournament in 2012 and 2013.
While his goal today is to become a professional boxer and eventually world champion, his first sport was wrestling. He was on the wrestling team all four years at Palatine High School and was named MVP his senior year.
Javier always showed up early and stayed late for practice, said Palatine High wrestling coach Dan Collins.
"He worked the paper route at 4 a.m., then he'd come to school, come to practice, and stay after practice to get his school work done," Collins said. "He's just a stand-up guy."
Collins has coached for 13 years at the school, which he said boasts likely the largest wrestling program in the Northwest suburbs.
"He's at the top of the most coachable kids with the most work ethic," he said.
Javier said wrestling, and later boxing, has helped him stay out of trouble.
"When I was younger this community was pretty bad. There was a lot of gangbanging, a lot of drugs," he said.
"For me to stay out of trouble, the way I would look at it was, 'Stay after school and do sports. Stay out of trouble to try to get muscle and get fit.'"
The youngest of five children, Javier said his parents always taught their kids to choose right from wrong.
"My parents are my superheros," he said. "They taught us to follow the right path."
His father, Santos, works in a restaurant while his mother, Amada, quit working after her children persuaded her they would take on financial responsibilities.
Javier started boxing at age 15 with coach Pedro Calla, who at the time ran a boxing gym inside World's Gym in Palatine.
Calla, who said he was on the Peruvian national boxing team for 11 years, later opened his Rumi Maki Boxing and Fitness Club in Palatine. Rumi Maki means "stone hands" in Peru's indigenous Quechua language, Calla said.
Javier was slow to blossom as a boxer, but once he did, there was no stopping him.
"In the beginning, I did not see him as a natural," Calla said. "But because he was still training and training and training, and he liked to fight and grow up and be better, he learned a lot of techniques."
These days, Calla has to make sure Javier is not training too hard. "He can push himself too much sometimes," he said.
Calla has no doubt Javier will achieve his goals.
"He will be a pro, because he wants it," he said. "He wants to be a champion of the world. He can be champion. Not because he's my student, but because he can do it."
Javier said he owes much of his success to Calla.
"He's a great coach. He's really amazing. He has made me a champ," he said. "He is always there for us. He talks to us, gives us advice."
Javier said he hopes to go to college someday, but right now it's nearly impossible with his schedule. After boxing, he might pursue a career as a personal trainer or gym teacher, or even HVAC, electricity or plumbing.
While he said conditioning is key to success in the ring, the inner aspect of boxing is perhaps even more crucial, Javier said.
"You gotta have a heart. You gotta have a big heart," he said. "You gotta have faith and you gotta believe in yourself.
"If they tell me, 'He's a lot better than you, he's got a lot more fights,' my mentality is that I know I've been training really good, so I am not nervous," he said. "I leave everything in the ring. I really like to represent Palatine."