The streets of Little Haiti gave him his bearings. He knew the neighborhood well enough, at a young age, to avoid the stereotypical traps that landed his father in prison and kept his old friends stuck in the slums of Miami.
“I grew up in a projects building and got food stamps. My father is still in prison, but I never use those moments in my life as excuses,” Daniel Bailey, former Soldier turned professional boxer, said with a prideful smile. “I always told myself because of my circumstances, ‘I had to work harder.’”
The hard work paid off as Bailey took one-step closer to facing top competition when he fought Luis Alvarado in a four-round bout in the Junior Lightweight category (130 pounds). He scored his third knockout victory out of four fights in 18 seconds at Hayes Gym as part of the U.S. Military Academy’s first hosted professional boxing program titled, “Ring City USA,” which was nationally-televised through Twitch and NBC Sports on April 22.
“I’m very proud to perform at West Point in front of cadets because being in the military is something special and it shows that I’m on the right track with my pro career,” Bailey said. “I was fortunate to serve my country as a Soldier and honestly, now that I’m a pro boxer, I’m happy to show the cadets and Soldiers at West Point that I’m not even tapping into my talent. It’s all hard work.”
It took 13 years of hard work and dedication to overcome the biases and prejudices meant to break his spirit as a young novice. From receiving tutelage from various coaches and competing in the amateurs throughout his adolescent and teenage years, to sparring against world class champions as a pro, Bailey, now at the age of 24, meditated on his journey and learned in his fourth pro fight what it meant to be resilient and tenacious while exuding a warrior’s spirit.
His reflection took him back to the year 2010. Bailey was 13 years old when he entered the Metro Day Boxing Gym. He was in awe of the spirited athletes training, committing themselves to a grueling but rewarding sport. The challenge to wrap his hands, don the leather gloves and compete gave him hope for the future.
The rhythmic bounce of a speed bag, the repetitive thwack of the jump rope rapidly hitting the floor, or the violent collision of combination punches landing on the heavy bag were the sights and sounds that constantly reminded Bailey of his ultimate goal to one day become a world champion.
After spending three months at Metro Day, the boxing gym closed down and Bailey soon found himself in a Cuban boxing gym called Tropical Park Boxing, where he trained under the tutelage of a boxing coach known by his friends as ‘Na Na,’ Bailey said.
“The Cuban style is crazy-technical,” Bailey said, explaining how the Cuban boxing style he learned stressed the importance of effective footwork and never wasting movement.
He trained in Tropical Park for two years. His greatest life lessons in this gym came with cultural biases. Bailey was the only black fighter in a Latino dominant gym and because of this, aspects of his training came with Latino coaches and fighters using their bilingualism as an advantage against Bailey during sparring sessions, he said.
“Some of the Latino coaches who’d work in the gym would tell me what punches to throw giving me instructions in the corner during sparring,” Bailey explained. “But I was sparring the son of one the Latino coaches at the gym and he was giving me specific instructions and then he would tell his son what I was going to throw so that his son would learn how to counter me.”
Bailey wondered for some time how some of the Latino sparring partners were always three steps ahead of him. Some of the bilingual spectators, trainers and fighters saw what was happening but chose to remain silent. This did not discourage Bailey.
“Over time, they saw that I was still coming to the gym working hard and eventually a Latino coach pulled me aside and said, ‘We’re going help you train and get better,’” Bailey said. “There were some coaches who treated me fair but didn’t know what was going on. People who knew what was going on were still not telling me what some of the trainers were doing.”
Unintentionally, the coaches were teaching Bailey how to adapt to his opponent’s counterattacks. The opponent’s foresight forced Bailey to think outside the box, get creative and develop a strategy that would put him five steps ahead of his sparring partner, Bailey said.
“I ended up beating the kid, despite his dad giving him the instructions he gave me,” Bailey said. “Then, eventually, somebody finally came up to me and was like, ‘you know they were telling him what you were going to throw’ and I was shocked after hearing that.”
Soon, Bailey would leave the mentorship of Na Na. The gym made some changes and reassigned him with a Puerto Rican trainer named Angel Nazario. Nazario had a no-nonsense approach to teaching fighters. Some of the coaches felt his methods were too stern, but Bailey accepted Nazario’s coaching style believing that adapting to strict training tenants would make him more mentally resilient, he added.
“Angel got fired for being too hard on the fighters,” Bailey added. “Again, I didn’t mind Nazario’s strict teaching style. I just followed him to Showtime Boxing Gym and that’s where I found myself in a more Puerto Rican dominant gym and learned the Puerto Rican style of boxing.”
As time passed in the Showtime Boxing Gym, Bailey added that Nazario eventually cut ties with Bailey to prepare the former undisputed middleweight world champion, Jermain Taylor, for his upcoming matches.
Soon after, Bailey enrolled in the Police Athletic League of North Miami Boxing and later in the 5th Street Boxing Gym where he trained until he was 18 years old.
While training at 5th Street Boxing Gym, he attended two Army World Class Boxing Program Tournaments.
“It’s crazy how life turns out because I met a Soldier from Florida who was competing at the tournament and he was competing at the same weight class as me. We spoke and I was like, ‘I been looking to get into the Army so I can box for them,’” Bailey said. “He told me how to get it done and I went and enlisted the following week.”
In 2015, Bailey enlisted as a food service specialist and two weeks after arriving at his permanent duty station at Fort Hood, Texas, he enrolled in the Army Boxing Program. Bailey added within five months after joining the Army, he won his first All-Army Boxing Tournament.
Bailey believed fighting for the Army was a prideful step in the right direction. However, it wasn’t enough to box in tournaments, serve in the Army and perform his typical Soldier duties. With his boxing ability, he felt he could contribute more to what the Army represented for the country.
After competing and winning four All-Army Boxing Tournaments during his tenure in the Army, Bailey and his leadership felt he was ready to represent the United States in the Olympics.
“We all have an opportunity to join the military, but most people choose not to,” Bailey said. “I always visualized myself representing my country on both levels because at the time I was a Soldier and I thought it would also be the right thing to serve my country in the Olympics. Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify.”
His ambitions for glory in the Olympics escaped his grasp. After six years of service in the Army, Bailey finally decided to elevate his position in the sport and become a pro boxer. His contract with the Army ended and he left his amateur career behind after 85 fights with a record of 70 wins and 15 losses, he added.
Bailey said it didn’t take long to earn the respect of prominent pro fighters. Since the beginning of his journey as a pro, he has gained the respect of current world champions such as the current World Boxing Association (WBA) Welterweight champion, Terrance ‘Bud’ Crawford, and current World Boxing Organization (WBO) Junior Lightweight Champion, Jamel Herring, who also served in the military as a Marine and sparred with Bailey leading up to their recent pro bouts.
“Bailey is my guy. It’s fun to watch his journey. It’s fun to see traces of myself within him. Similar to how I did it, he’s the younger veteran coming out from service and trying to make his own name in the pro rankings,” Herring said. “During our recent training camp together I told him, ‘bro, you already got what it takes to make it in this sport. Overall, you just have to believe in yourself.’ Just to see (Bailey) representing the new generation is a great thing to witness and I hope and pray that he finds the success that he’s looking for during his journey.”