When Gabriel Duluc was just a young, skinny, Dominican kid, he lived in fear in a Dorchester project.
“Yeah, it was violent,” said the 26-year-old Boston super lightweight boxer. “I remember one month I was scared to go outside. Some kids were picking on me . . . they were always picking on me.’’
He also hated boxing.
“I thought it was stupid,” he said, sitting on a worn couch at the Grealish Boxing Club in Dorchester. “I said, ‘Why do people punch each other for money? Go get a job. Do something else.’ ”
Boy, things have changed.
Duluc (11-1, 2 KO’s) steps into the ring Saturday against Sonny “Pretty Boi” Fredrickson (14-0, 9 KO’s) as part of the undercard of the Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev light heavyweight showdown in Las Vegas.
The 5-foot-8-inch, 140-pound Duluc hopes it is a fast track to a shot at the super lightweight crown. The bout, scheduled for eight rounds, will be available for free prior to the pay-per-view event beginning at 7 p.m.
It’s welcome exposure. Duluc won the New England Golden Gloves in 2010 but he wasn’t allowed to fight in the national Golden Gloves because he wasn’t a United States citizen yet. His trainer, Martin Grealish, believes he could have made the Olympic team.
“He beat everyone,” said Grealish. “He beat the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the country in the amateurs.”
In a disturbing sidenote, the team photo of the New England Golden Glove winners shows Duluc in the front row making a fist. Directly behind his right shoulder is Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. “I remember him being really fancy, shiny shoes, tight jeans,’’ Duluc said. “Fancy clothes.’’
Grealish and Duluc form an odd couple; Grealish the gray-haired, 70-year-old Irishman from Galway and Dulac the skinny, wiry Santo Domingo kid who grew up in the Franklin Hill projects.
Grealish, who has been in boxing since he was 15, says this is his last hurrah. “I’d like Gabby to be a world champion, then I could retire,” he said.
Duluc has a 55-5 record as an amateur. The gym has eight championship belts hanging from the ceiling from his various tournaments wins.
“We fought all over the country,” said Grealish. “Florida, Vegas, Kansas City. You name it, we’ve been there.’’
It didn’t start that way.
Duluc came to the US at age 10 with his family. When he was 13, one of his middle school friends wanted to learn to box. Duluc knew about the Grealish Boxing Club, then in Uphams Corner.
He took his friend there on one condition. “I’m not going to fight, I’m not going to box, I’m going to just take you there and leave you.’’
That was half a lifetime ago.
All the other kids were bigger, Grealish remembered. “When I seen him first I didn’t think he was going to be a fighter, he was small and skinny, 106 pounds with very quick hands.”
At first Duluc felt he was ignored by the bigger kids, so he would outperform everybody else. It started with jumping jacks. “If they did 100, I did 101,” he said.
The mean streets claimed some friends from back then, like Jovany Eason, 20, shot in the back in Uphams Corner in 2009. Others got sent to jail, but Duluc kept coming to the gym. He was no punk, Grealish said. “That’s the last thing you’d think,” said Duluc’s trainer. “He had so much heart.”
When he moved to Charlestown, Duluc commuted by bicycle through the ice and snow, even when the headwinds felt like a punch to the windpipe.
“You name it, he was here every day of the week,” said Grealish. “I’d be worried about him going home. So I’d take him home.”
Grealish let Duluc live with him and his family whenever a big tournament was coming up so he could concentrate on school and gym work.
“Gabby is like a little brother and family member,’’ said Gerry Grealish, who assists his father in training and won numerous titles as a member of the US Marine Corps boxing team. “He’s a hard worker that still finds time to train for the chance to lift that title belt we all dream about.”
Duluc’s pro career began in 2011. His only loss since then came in a controversial first-round TKO against Jonathan Perez at Boston’s Royale nightclub in 2013. Duluc battered his opponent early, got too cocky, and got hit on the chin.
Even though he got up before the end of the mandatory eight count, the referee stopped the fight. “I was really mad about that,” said Duluc.
Local fights don’t have big purses so Duluc also works as a waiter at the Lennox Hotel. But he’s also had a taste of the bright lights of the Vegas strip. He won two pay-per-view bouts for BKB (Big Knockout Boxing) at Mandalay Bay. Fighters compete in a 17-foot diameter circular pit, with no ropes or corners for two-minute rounds.
“It was different,” Duluc said. “You don’t have a lot of room to move. I’m not a big puncher, but I’m strong enough. I think I can box pretty well.”
In one 2014 bout, Kendo Castaneda knocked Duluc down, but lost a majority decision. After the final bell, Castaneda hugged Duluc and muttered, “You’re a bad dude.”
Back in Dorchester, with Saturday’s fight looming, Duluc and Grealish work the mitts during a morning workout like a father and son. Duluc even knows the combination instructions in Grealish’s native Gaelic.
After his workout, sweat pours off the muscle-bound Duluc. He’s looking forward to the big fight.
“What I feel in life, things happen for a reason, you don’t have control of everything,’’ he said. “You just have to be a good human and do your best . . . so 12 years later here we are.”
And these days, Duluc says he’s not afraid of anything, or anyone. Even Fredrickson, who is 6 inches taller and undefeated.
“He’s got more to defend,” Duluc said with a smile.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.