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Matthew Esquibel, gentleman and boxer, dies at 36

Jan. 19—As brutal as their chosen sport can be, you'll find that most boxers are true gentlemen — or gentlewomen — outside the ring.

There was no better example, friends and family say, than Matthew Esquibel.

"He'd always push himself to the limit in the ring," said Esquibel's uncle and trainer, Freddie Esquibel Sr., "especially his punishing body shots.

"It was just totally different from his personality, his love and the connections he made with the people around him, even his opponents.

"That's what I'll remember about him. No matter how tough and how devastating he was in the ring, he loved people, he loved himself. He loved everyone."

Matthew Esquibel, a boxer and a gentleman, died on Sunday. He was 36.

His uncle declined to discuss the details of his nephew's death except to say it was sudden and unexpected.

The young Esquibel was forced to grow up in a hurry. His father, Marty Esquibel, was murdered in a family dispute when Matthew was 9. His dad and his mother had long been divorced.

Living with his paternal grandparents and training under the tutelage of his Uncle Freddie, Esquibel achieved boxing success at an early age. In a 2001 interview, he talked about using his grief and hurt over losing his dad as motivation.

"In training," he said, "I take my anger out on the bags — my feelings and stuff.

"In the ring, with my opponents, I fight with my heart."

Esquibel, nicknamed "Papitas," was 14 when he won a Junior Golden Gloves national title in Las Vegas, Nevada, 15 when he won a Silver Gloves national amateur championship in Olathe, Kansas. He turned pro at 18 and, at about the same time, took a job with the City of Albuquerque as a bus driver.

Work, marriage, fatherhood and injuries at times interrupted his boxing career — he did not fight between May 2008 and November 2013 — and perhaps prevented him from progressing beyond the regional level. Even so, he reeled off 10 straight victories before being held to a four-round draw by Tavorus Teague at Route 66 Casino Hotel in June 2018.

Esquibel's signature win, perhaps, was his March 2019 victory by unanimous decision over fellow Albuquerquean Willie Villanueva in a fight some observers expected Villanueva to win. But five months later Esquibel suffered his only pro defeat, a loss by second-round TKO against Isaac Luna at Buffalo Thunder Casino.

He never fought again. Divorced and the father of three — daughters Monica and Ayla and son Fabian — he found there was no time to train.

"He was trying to juggle his job and his overtime — he had to work overtime to support his kids," his uncle said. "... He just had to make a choice."

Esquibel ended his career with a 12-1-1 record and five wins by knockout or TKO. He fought at weights ranging from featherweight (126 pounds) to welterweight (147).

At some point, Esquibel had stopped driving a bus and was driving a city garbage truck. He took as much pride in that, Freddie Esquibel said, as he had in his boxing.

"He loved his job," his uncle said.

News of Esquibel's death left the Albuquerque boxing community stunned and saddened.

"One of the nicest fighters I have ever known!" Albuquerque welterweight Josh Torres posted on Facebook. "I'll never forget seeing him go down but rising up and pulling off the win.

"Gave me so much inspiration seeing his heart and will to win."

Esquibel twice climbed off the canvas to win bouts, once in 2007 and again a decade later.

"Matthew, you will always be in our hearts," wrote Steve Garcia, a pro and amateur trainer and President of USA Boxing's New Mexico Local Boxing Committee.

Funeral arrangements are pending. An account has been established on gofundme.com to help Esquibel's family with expenses.