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New Bedford man gains perspective through boxing

By BRENDAN KURIEJune 26, 2019

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — It was late one November night as Wilson Mascarenhas lay in bed, chasing sleep as his mind raced uncontrollably.

He was tired. Oh boy, was he tired.

Like every other day, he’d been up since 5 a.m. that morning; at work by 7. The rest of the day was spent pouring and packing concrete.

But he wasn’t just physically tired. He was mentally exhausted. He stared up at the ceiling.

As tears rolled down his cheeks, he asked himself an existential question: “If you could do anything and run with it, what would you do? What’s the only thing you’re blessed with right now at this very moment?”

Sudden as a bolt of lightning, the answer struck him; a lone life raft in a sea of clarity.

“It was so weird,” Mascarenhas says a year and a half later. “It was like God answered me right there.”

The reply?

Boxing.

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The sky is overcast, a milky gray that nearly matches the light tan sand of West Beach as Mascarenhas emerges past the hurricane barrier, racing toward the bath houses at a five-minute-per-mile pace despite the 20-pound vest strapped to his chest.

A little less than an hour later, after a workout that would bring the most dedicated Tough Mudder to their knees, he will sprint back, maintaining that pace.

Seven days a week Mascarenhas, a welterweight, works with his trainer, Joseph Pemberton of Apex Athletics and the brother of former super middleweight Scott Pemberton, almost always twice a day. They spend more than 15 hours a week together, molding Mascarenhas into a physical specimen as he prepares for his third professional fight on June 29 against Anthony Ramirez.

Before getting in the ring, they take their workout to West Beach, where Pemberton has set up a series of cones and Mascarenhas sprints across the sand from one to the next, performing sequentially more difficult tasks — burpees to bag tosses to box jumps — at each. He grunts and strains, wipes the dripping sweat from his brow and grimaces as he throws the 55-pound sandbag over his head. But he never stops. His hands never touch his knees. He does it again. Then he does it again, this time with a resistance belt that Pemberton anchors.

“These are the proving grounds,” says Pemberton, wearing a shirt that reads But Did You Die? “What we do here trains you to do anything. I have a saying, ‘You have to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable.’”

Pemberton likes to keep his clients on their toes. He doesn’t tell them what their workouts are ahead of time, instead keeping things spontaneous, much like life in the ring.

“The physical preparation is a small part of what we do,” Pemberton says. “The mental part is the most important part.”

“Your biggest mental preparation is in the gym. This is where I get my mind ready,” Mascarenhas adds. “I feel more confident today than I did yesterday just because of today’s workout. This right here is what prepares you for the fight. Nobody is doing this. I’ve been to other boxing gyms and they’re not training like this.”

Pemberton has been training Mascarenhas for about 15 months, ever since Mascarenhas’ first pro fight against Miguel Ortiz at Twin River Casino on Feb. 23, 2018.

That fight came less than four months after his sleepless night. It marked the start of his new life.

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Wilson Mascarenhas was born in Portugal and was raised by his aunts in Lisbon until age 12, when he moved to the South End of New Bedford to live with his father.

He attended GNB Voc-Tech, playing soccer and sprinting for the track team before graduating in 2014. But by his junior year he was hanging with a rougher crowd. With a childhood background in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and some experience wrestling, he searched for a new outlet.

“I found myself getting into some trouble,” he admits now. “I was in the streets. I was trying to stay away from that. I always liked fighting and I always wanted to try different stuff. I tried boxing and I just saw myself developing more and more.”

He started at All Out Fitness, working with Jeff Nunez. His first fight was forgettable, in more ways than one.

“My very first fight I got hit so hard,” he says with a big smile. “I think that was my first time I ever saw stars. You really see stars, man. I was sad, man. It hurt. Especially when you train so hard for something and fail. That was my first time really trying hard on something and failing.”

But he didn’t quit. In 2013, he won a Southern Golden Gloves title and he went on to win six of his nine amateur fights. Yet, it was all a side hustle while he graduated from Bristol Community College and started taking classes at Bridgewater State, working toward a degree in athletic training.

“I always wanted to be around athletes,” he says. “If I wasn’t going to become an athlete, I wanted to be around athletes. That was my biggest thing.”

But soon he was struggling to afford school and he dropped out, concentrating on his job at Anything Concrete in Plymouth.

That’s when his great epiphany arrived.

“It was a moment of struggle and stress and depression,” he says. “It was tough. Everything was piling up on me. I was by myself, living on my own trying to make ends meet. I had to look into my future and ask if I could see myself in 10- or 20-years working construction. The paycheck was good, but I was looking more into my future.”

What he saw was a ring. A bell. Boxing gloves. Maybe, down the line, a belt.

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Mascarenhas lost his first fight to Ortiz, who was 2-1 at the time. All three judges scored it 40-35 against Mascarenhas.

“That first fight taught me a lot,” he says. “It didn’t really hurt me. I felt like I let my people down, in a way. But, personally, I knew I was going to get stronger and get better. I didn’t take the loss personal. I just got back to the gym and trained harder. I learned a lot from it.”

He also picked up a new trainer, Pemberton, and a new management company, 23OHSIX, based in the North End of New Bedford. They set him up with a series of local strategic partners. Healthy Bites Meal Prep prepares all his food during fight camp, adjusting his diet weekly. Light House: Mind, Body, Spirit Sanctuary provides him with Yoga and a special bio-energy health mat. GotChew came on as a sponsor and delivers tickets to his upcoming fights.

“One thing I can never say is New Bedford didn’t support me,” says Mascarenhas. “Everywhere I go people are like ‘When is your next fight?’ Even when I stopped for a little bit, and I wasn’t even thinking about boxing, people would be like ‘When is your next fight?’”

At his last fight, on April 26 at Twin River, Mascarenhas sold 256 tickets to New Bedford residents.

“It’s cool to see people supporting me,” he says. “It pushes me and gives me energy. I believe in energy a lot. The people behind me always support me and give me that energy to keep going. I used that force and run with it. It’s amazing.”

That fight featured Mascarenhas’ first professional win. It came against Stacey Anderson, who came into the bout 0-5, by unanimous decision. What went different?

“Everything,” he says. “My stamina. My comfort level. I just felt great. Prior to that I was training so hard with Joe. He taught me a lot and I learned a lot.”

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When Mascarenhas used to go to Foxwoods for a weekend of fun, he would wander by the Fox Theater and peek inside.

“I’m going to fight on this stage one day,” he told himself.

On June 29, he will.

“It was like a law of attraction,” he says. “I always saw myself in that ring.”

Mascarenhas (1-1) will face Anthony Ramirez (2-1) of Fortuna, California, as part of CES’ Live Championship Boxing.

“Forget the arena, the boxing ring stays the same,” Mascarenhas insists. “The only thing that changes is the opponent. I adapt, I adjust and I’m ready for it.”

Mascarenhas has had to be adaptable, because his opponent has changed twice. Initially, that threw him off.

“Once you get an opponent you start thinking ‘I’m ready for this guy. This is the guy I’m ready for.’ I feel like that fires me up,” he says. “Then they change (fighters) and it’s like ‘Damn, now I have to get ready for you.’ It kind of messes with me a little bit.”

To assuage Mascarenhas’ concerns, Pemberton gave him some advice: “Nothing changes. Just go in there and do what you’ve been doing in the gym. Nothing changes. Go as hard as you’ve been going.”

“Now I feel like every time they change my opponent, I step up more and get angrier and go harder,” Mascarenhas says. “It’s good to have a coach like Joe because he always knows what to tell me, the positive reinforcement. It’s real stuff. He doesn’t sugar-coat anything. I feel it.”

Despite being just 24 years old, Mascarenhas isn’t looking past this fight. He may not have a five-year plan, but he has the focus where it was once lacking in his life.

“Whatever the universe brings,” he says when asked where he hopes boxing takes him. “I’m ready for it all. I’m just going to keep training and keep training hard. That’s all I can do. We’ll see what comes.”

As his third professional fight nears, Mascarenhas is once again feeling the love from New Bedford. More than 70 residents came out to watch him at an open training session on a recent Saturday.

“When I got in the ring for that first (pro) fight, to me it was an accomplishment. Not for me, but for my friends and my city,” he says. “It meant that everyone can make it here. Everyone can dedicate themselves and stay focused and make it happen. It was bigger than me.

“I never, ever saw myself in a position like this. It was never the plan. To be here, I feel blessed. I’m very thankful for New Bedford for always supporting me. It’s amazing.”

Online: https://bit.ly/2IDqwwK

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Information from: The (New Bedford, Mass.) Standard-Times, http://www.southcoasttoday.com

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