QUINCY — There was a time when Ryan Kielczewski’s days would start at 5 in the morning — 6 if he decided to sleep in.
He’d have two jobs waiting for him. He had been holding down a job at Polar Beverages for six years, but was also punching the clock for a construction company.
By the end of his work day, he said, “I’d get out I’d be dead tired, I’d be at 50 percent.”
It didn’t matter.
Boxing wanted whatever he had left in the tank.
He would go to the Cyr-Farrell Boxing Gym in the heart of Quincy, the gym he’d grown up in since he was 6 years old, knowing he had hours of training ahead of him.
“I’d come here and I’d work out 100 percent of that 50 percent,” he said.
Then he’d work more.
Too wired to sleep, he’d run.
“I’d be so hyped up from the run, running at 9 o’clock at night, that I couldn’t fall asleep until 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “Then I’d be up at 6 going to work the next day.”
For his first 16 professional fights, he managed to weave his life around his training and still go unbeaten with six knockouts.
But his next fight has the potential to be a game-changer.
When the Polish Prince puts his perfect record up against Miguel Soto’s 11-0 record on Friday — Kielczewski’s 24th birthday — in an eight-round super featherweight bout, it will be high stakes.
But as a part of ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” card at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., it will also be high-profile.
“This is the next step,” Kielczewski said. “This is what’s going to get my face out there. I’m fighting to really look good on this card in front of everybody in the nation. Maybe people will see me and start paying attention to me and we’ll get bigger and better fights from here. This is definitely a golden opportunity.
For all those reasons, he’s taken a completely new approach going into this bout, with the goal of stepping into the ring a different fighter than he’s been at any point in his young career.
“I see the energy level, I see the focus,” said Rick Kielczewski, his father and manager. “It’s just all-around better. You can see how different he is. He’s been awesome right through. You’re going to see a different kid.”
First, in the months leading up to the fight, he cut work out of the equation to focus completely on training.
He took a leave of absence, so instead of punching the clock in the wee hours, he’s already into his daily routine.
The pre-fight focus, he said, has been as much on strength and conditioning as it has fighting. He spent a large chunk of his time in New York with Hector Bermudez, part trainer, part mad scientist, working on a way to manage his body weight leading up to the fight while also focusing on ring technique.
“I’ve been picking up a lot of tricks,” he said. “He’s teaching me a lot. It’s not so much the boxing aspect of it. It’s the strength, conditioning, mental aspects. Everything that goes around the boxing. It’s not just boxing, it’s everything. It’s the science behind boxing is what I’m really learning right now.”
The number of sparring rounds for Kielczewski is well over 100, he said, but for one of them, Bermudez had him train against a mixed martial artist.
“I got hit with a couple of backhands,” Kielczewski said, grinning. “But it’s all right.”
Knowing that Soto is a lefty, Kielczewski’s attention to detail has heightened. He’s only seen one southpaw in his career. If boxing is one brutally elegant dance, steps that have come naturally for Kielczewski will suddenly change against against Soto.
“It’s definitely tough,” Kielczewski said. “It takes a while to get used to that. In my whole career, for every 500 rounds I box with a righty, I might box one round with a southpaw. I know everything I’ve got to do, it’s just breaking it down and critiquing it and getting it perfect.”
He’s gotten in as many sparring rounds as possible against southpaws, even if it means sparring with fighters 20 pounds heavier, like Manny Medina, who trains out of the Cyr-Farrell Gym but fights two classes above Kielczewski. Medina’s brother, Jose, also trains at the gym.
“Just giving him different looks,” Medina said. “Him having to fight a southpaw, it’s almost trying to expose his weaknesses. He’s fought a lot of orthodox people, I just give him different looks, different angles. He’s very good at digging into the body so if he can find those right angles against a southpaw, he’ll do all right.”
The biggest difference, though, will be killer instinct. The moment has come in essentially every one of Kielczewski’s 16 professional fights, when he can see his opponent’s legs noodle, when he knows he should let his hands loose, when, as his trainer Jimmy Farrell puts it bluntly, he should, “Get rid of him.”
“When you watch him, he has this intuitive sense, this sense of anticipation,” Farrell said. “He can feel what you’re doing. The great athletes have it, you know? He has a gift.”
Kielczewski can always sense it.
“Pretty much almost every fight,” he said. “I always feel like I really hurt the guy in the beginning rounds and then I’ll try to pick my shots and try to get him out of there, but I won’t go full force and try to take him out.”
Something always made him hold back. For a while, it was an injured right hand. It wasn’t broken, he said, but there was something floating around in his fist. Punches would do as much damage to his hand as it would to his opponent.
“It was definitely a frustrating situation,” he said. “Especially when you land a nice punch and it hurts.”
It made him tentative about throwing punches with his dominant hand.
“I’d go in there and I’d barely throw with my right hand,” he said. “Pretty much it would look like I’d throw it, but I’d kind of pull it back real quick. So nobody knew that I might have tweaked my hand in a fight and I’d win the fight on jabs.”
If he wasn’t thinking about his hand, he was thinking about making sure he didn’t unleash a flurry of blows that would leave him winded the rest of the fight.
“I’ve never had a problem with my conditioning as far as going the long rounds,” he said. “But I’ve never really pushed myself to try to end a fight early, because I wasn’t always mentally there in the mind with my conditioning.’’
If he had his opponent reeling in the first round, he’d catch himself backing off. Instead of going in for the finish, he’d start picking his spots. He’d tell himself that he’d get another chance later in the fight. He learned that sometimes those chances don’t come.
“This time around, we’ve got that mental block out of my head,” he said. “We’re training hard core, doing hard-core sprints, powerlifting, the whole nine yards to get to that mental block out of my head.”
The preparation, he hopes, will mean the difference between sensing an opportunity and seizing it.
“I’m 100 percent focused on this fight,” Kielczewski said. “It’s such a big opportunity for me.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.