Justin Viloria's Mental Toughness Makes Him Special

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The undefeated super featherweight phenom is as tough as he is talented, as evidenced by a traumatic experience in his last bout.

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The push-up positions once sent heat beams down his tiny, thin arms. The seated squats against the wall used to make his legs quiver. Justin Viloria’s early childhood timeouts were workouts. 

Dominic Viloria, Justin’s father and the brother of Brian “The Hawaiian Punch” Viloria, never physically disciplined his boys growing up. If they did something wrong, penance came in holding a push-up position as long as they could, or the enervating squats against a wall.

Dominic, who served six years in the U.S. Army, was actually sharpening his son’s mental fortitude. At the time, the boys could not understand it. Though Dominic knew there would come a time when they would, when he might not be there for his sons, when the payments they made as kids would spell larger dividends in the future.

Justin Viloria is a 19-year-old super featherweight with a child’s face, and a scrap-iron attitude. On Saturday, March 30, he makes his 2024 debut against Erick Garcia on the Tim Tszyu-Sebastian Fundora card from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, live on Prime Video Pay-Per-View (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT)

Justin is 4-0 as a pro, with three knockouts and seems like he can adapt, so far, to anything. Even life-and-death situations that spill out in front of him before a fight.

That occasion occurred last September when for the first time Justin put on boxing gloves, his father was not there in his corner. Dominic was experiencing chest pains, yet showed a great wealth of mental resilience himself, wrapping Justin’s hands in the bowels of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, on the Canelo Alvarez-Jermell Charlo undercard, before retreating to get medical care. After each stanza of Justin’s six-round decision over Angel Barrera, he kept looking for someone in his corner he knew was not there.

“I get emotional thinking about it,” recalled Dominic, fighting back tears remembering that night. “It was tough. I was lying in the hospital with chest pains worried about Justin, looking at my phone, trying to keep track of what he was doing. The doctor goes, ‘Put that phone away.’ I told him, ‘You don’t understand I’ve been in my son’s corner for every fight since he was eight, and I’m not there.’ He goes, ‘If you want to remember your son tomorrow morning, you better put that phone away, because you can have a stroke.’ I just wanted Justin to come back to tell me he won or he was okay. It worked out.

“Mentally, and physically, he’s strong. No one wants to fight Justin. He trains hard.”

In the early morning hours of Sunday, October 1, 2023, Dominic went into cardiac arrest and flatlined out of surgery to insert stents. He needed to be revived twice. It is something Justin found out about later.

The last time he fought, Justin won by decision for the first time as a pro. He dominated, which was amazing considering his body and reflexes were there, and the rest of him was somewhere else—with his father.

After each round, Justin would turn to his mom at ringside, expecting to see his father seated next to her. His brother Brandon and uncle Brian worked his corner. He kept asking them, “Where’s my dad?”

“My mind was blank during that fight, because I was so used to hearing my father in the corner,” Justin said. “I relied on my instincts and my training. I kept thinking what my father would say. What would he want me to do right now? You are trained to hear certain voices in your corner. I heard bits of my uncle Brian and Brandon. But I kept thinking all the way back to training and training, building habits, and you can say, habits I learned since I was a little kid.

I get emotional thinking about it Undefeated Super Featherweight Phenom - Justin Vitoria

“I would say I learned a lot in that fight. I could have chosen not to fight, but my dad wanted me to fight. While he was leaving the arena for the hospital, he wanted me to fight and kept me calm. He told me I was ready and to handle business. I got through it.”

More than he anticipated.

The real fight was ahead. After winning, Justin hurried over to the hospital to see his father, by then with tubes hanging from his chest and arms, with the cacophony of beeping monitors in the background. It was the worst thing he ever witnessed in his life, coming after the biggest scare of his young life.

He held his father’s weakened hand, trying to stem his emotions. He did not want to see his father upset.

“It was crazy,” said Justin, the youngest of four. “I wasn’t really thinking about boxing in the ring. I thought my father was still in the building. If you look at the replay of that fight, you will see me looking at my mom in the stands. Not having him there, and having my father in that condition, it made me appreciate him a lot more. It made me listen to him. We were in Vegas for an extra five days for him to recover. I remember the first sparring session back with him how everything went smooth; everything felt right. We both grew from that experience. Me as a fighter, him as a trainer, to appreciate the time we have together.”

Justin started boxing at eight. He lost the first 10 amateur fights of his career. He says he might be where he is if he did not face that adversity. He cried after a few of the loses, though he knew the wins would come. After each loss, he was back in the gym working on the mistakes he made.

“I kept wanting to do better than I did in the losses,” Justin said. “I do not even know what kept me going and kept me positive. I know I didn’t like losing. But I guess my dad kept going. He kept me positive. He kept me believing in myself. It was relieving sparring again, going in there and beating someone up. That carries out to this day. If I have a bad sparring session, the guy I face next is going to feel it. Dragging losses was like dragging dead weight. It does no good. I learned that real early. I learned to let go. It was pretty quick. I am thankful I lost those first fights, because it kept me humble, and it kept me moving forward.”

Moving forward, Justin will be going back to the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.

Dominic will be back in Justin’s corner.

“I’ve been drilling the boys since they were young, and I remember every day when Justin was in the ring, I would yell at him, ‘Fix your face,’” Dominic said, laughing. “I’m slacking off as I get older (laughs). He pushes himself more than I do. I was with a recon outfit in the army. I brought that mentality with me. I suppose Justin’s toughness and mental attitude comes from me. The good looks come from his mother.”

For a closer look at Justin Viloria, check out his fighter page. 

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