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Home Game Gabriel Muratalla, the preschool teacher with a puncher's chance

Gabriel Muratalla, the preschool teacher with a puncher’s chance

Gabriel Muratalla gave a fist pump as he walked away from his fallen opponent. A big smile came over the 26-year-old bantamweight’s face as the referee decided that Fernando Robles was unable to continue in the first round of the fight. In front of a national audience on ESPN and under the bright lights in the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on June 11, Muratala scored the knockout win doing something that he, during his day job, preaches should never be done: hitting someone in the face.

After all, Muratalla is a preschool teacher.

“People never believe me when I say I’m a preschool teacher and a boxer. It’s like two different worlds,” said Muratalla. “It’s like that Disney show ‘Hannah Montana’ — she has two sets of lives. I feel like that sometimes.”

Muratalla clearly made an impression with his first-round knockout of Robles. Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman told Muratalla to stay ready, and on Tuesday, Muratalla faces Sergio Lopez in a four-round bout that will open the ESPN broadcast at 8 p.m. ET.

It’s another high-profile opportunity for Muratalla (3-0, 3 KOs) inside the ring, but even as he pursues his boxing dreams, his day-to-day life remains in Southern California, teaching at Lion’s Center East in Rancho Cucamonga.

Having his last outing televised nationally was surreal. Everyone in Muratalla’s circle was excited for him — family and friends, students and parents. But it’s been a few months since Muratalla has conducted class. He had no idea the scope of what was to come in March, as fewer and fewer parents were bringing their kids in by the day.

“I didn’t think much of it, ” Muratalla said of his initial thoughts on COVID-19. He thought it would go away quickly, like many others did, but then classes were shut down. Even as he’s getting to live out his boxing dreams, a chunk of his life is missing.

“I miss them to this day,” Muratalla said of the 3- and 4-year-olds he teaches. “You hold a connection with them, and I love the ages I teach, as well. All my students, they were perfect in my eyes.”

Muratalla has kept in touch with parents via email, but at the moment, he has no idea if and when he will be able to conduct classes again. Muratalla knows the unbelievable pressure that parents are under while trying to balance childcare with their own careers and providing for their families, and that’s under “normal” circumstances.

“Just by seeing the parents, they love the break,” Muratalla said of the moment when kids are dropped off to class. “I don’t mean that in a mean way, but the parents need a little break, and I’ve seen that from so many parents. So that just teaches me, it’s super hard to be a parent.”

In a moment of uncertainty for so many, Muratalla is fortunate enough to have boxing as an outlet and an opportunity. Some fighters focus exclusively on boxing and commit to the sport from an early age. Others prioritize their careers as a means to put food on the table, and boxing is secondary.

But Muratalla, who holds a degree in psychology from Cal State San Bernardino, wants to do it all.

“You just have to believe,” said Muratalla. “I have a lot of goals in my life, you just have to make time for everything. People say you can’t make time for certain things, but deep down you can. I know I wanted my degree, so I had to get that.

“But what’s given me motivation, as well — because in order to achieve, you have to have motivation — and that’s my brother, Raymond. He pursued boxing at an earlier age than me and he’s 9-0, right now, signed with Top Rank.”

Raymond, 23, is the most boxing-focused member of the family. He impressively halted Arnulfo Becerra in five rounds in his last bout, back in November.

“I have to take advantage of it,” Gabriel said of his opportunity to fight on ESPN. “My brother, I think he barely started going on TV, I think until his seventh or eighth fight. And for me to already be on TV on my third fight, it’s a blessing.”

While Gabriel is enjoying his moment and ready to ride his current wave of success in boxing to wherever it will crest, in the long-term, his pursuits have pointed him down a different path.

“I knew I always wanted to work with children. I actually wanted to be a social worker,” said Muratalla.

His first job was working with abused children, and then he worked as an after-school program teacher at a middle school at Maple Elementary in Fontana. He fell further into teaching as his primary pursuit with his current job, where Muratalla found his passion in life.

Before the lockdown, Muratalla had a hectic schedule. He would arrive at Lions East at 7 a.m. to set up for his 8 a.m. class. His second session began at noon and ended at 3 p.m. After driving back home to nearby Fontana, he took a one-hour nap, and then by 4:30 he was training in his backyard, which has now been turned into a full-fledged gym.

For the past couple of months, Muratalla has been able to just focus on his training and preparing for fights. As his career progresses, and the stakes are raised, there will be decisions made about how much time he can devote to training, weighed against his other responsibilities. Muratalla admits that at this juncture, he hasn’t thought much about it, but added, “To be honest, I do believe boxing would take over,” if his success continued.

Right now, Muratalla is just focused on being present in this moment.

“I definitely feel full-time, it’s different for me,” Muratalla said. “It’s paying off for me, right now. It’s a bad time with the coronavirus, but for me, [this moment has] been a blessing — TV, ESPN, having that opportunity. I’m able to train full-time. I can’t ask for anything much better.”

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