Rare disease forces David Mijares to give up his dream of becoming a boxing champion

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
David "June Bug" Mijares (L) fights Antonio Sanchez at Avalon Hollywood on March 21, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Sye Williams/Golden Boy/Getty Images)
David "June Bug" Mijares (L) fights Antonio Sanchez at Avalon Hollywood on March 21, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Sye Williams/Golden Boy/Getty Images)

Kimberly Mijares was very pregnant, but she wasn’t due for a few more weeks, so she saw no problem bringing her husband, David, to work, and watching him for a while. David Paul Mijares, a one-time collegiate gymnast, owned several gyms in Southern California and was a white-collar boxing trainer.

His most famous client was Bob Dylan.

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“Yes,” Mijares says, laughing. “That Bob Dylan.”

The day that Kimberly brought her husband to work was just like any one of a thousand others, but it wouldn’t end that way. Her water broke, and for a while, it appeared the couple’s son may be born in the gym.

David Paul Mijares managed to get his wife and unborn son to the hospital, where a few hours later on Sept. 16, 1995, a healthy child the couple named David Charles Mijares was born.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that David Charles grew up adoring boxing and dreamed of becoming a world champion, because he was nearly born in a boxing gym.

“Boxing is all he has known all of his life,” said Valerie Casillas, young David’s girlfriend of five years. “This has been his passion since forever.”

His biggest dream was to win a world championship and become one of the elites in the sport. But it wasn’t a far-fetched idea; no, David had an impressive amateur career which included four national PAL championships, the bronze medalist at the 2016 U.S. nationals and the California Golden Gloves championship at 152 pounds.

As successful as he was during a 56-12 amateur career, those who saw him believed he’d blossom as a pro.

“He’s a kid who was made to be a pro,” said his manager, Lyle Green, of Sheer Sports. “We had extremely high hopes for him.”

He signed with Golden Boy Promotions and made his debut on one of the biggest cards of 2016, when Canelo Alvarez headlined a pay-per-view show against Amir Khan at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Mijares fought on the first bout of the night, winning an easy four-round decision over Omar Reyes.

He’d spent hours in front of his computer, watching legends like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, trying to take bits and pieces from their games and incorporate them into his own.

Now 24, the dream is over for Mijares, who won’t headline a pay-per-view, who won’t raise his arms skyward in jubilation as a world championship belt is wrapped around his waist as he was once so certain would occur.

He’s been stopped, not by a faster, stronger or smarter fighter, but by an opponent he could not beat. At 7-0 with three knockouts with an engaging personality, a fan-friendly style and seemingly limitless potential, Mijares’ career came to a sudden, shocking and sad ending last year.

Problems surface as Mijares slows down in the ring

Green was an amateur boxer himself, and while he had high hopes for Mijares from the get-go, he is also a realist. And as the calendar turned to 2018, Green began to have doubts.

He started to see things that, from a boxing perspective, he did not like.

“When we first signed him, there was no question that this kid had the ability to be a world champion,” Green said. “But then, some of the fights he’d slowed down a little bit. Two fights ago, he was not at all himself.

“He fought a kid, Michael Meyers, who was a bigger kid but was kind of a straight-forward type of a kid. I didn’t think David would have much problem with him and would hit him and move away. But in the fight, he was slow. I was a little taken aback, honestly. His fight before that, he fought a kid named Evincii Dixon and he hit him with everything but the kitchen sink. But against Meyers, he seemed to have slowed down. 

“I know how kids develop and he’s getting the right fights but you weren’t seeing the kind of progress you thought you might see.”

It wasn’t, though, because Mijares had become lax and was ignoring his training. There were, though, problems.

Boxing dream shattered for talented prospect Mijares

After the winning over Meyers, Mijares signed to face Antonio Sanchez on March 21, 2019, in Los Angeles. He had a problem with his state-ordered medical exam before that fight. He’d taken it again, and passed.

He wound up winning a six-round decision and again, didn’t look like the fast, crisp-punching boxer his team had come to expect.

After that bout, he was sparring with Maurice Hooker, a super lightweight world champion at the time who was training for a unification bout with Jose Ramirez. Hooker hit Mijares in the head and something was wrong.

It turned out he had a bleed on his brain. That often ends a fighter’s career and subdural hematomas are the leading causes of death among boxers. But there were other problems on his medical tests as he was looking to get a fight after defeating Sanchez. There were indications that he might have HIV or hepatitis.

“This battery of tests he was undergoing, they were going sideways and when we heard it might be indicative of HIV or hepatitis, we were all stunned,” Green said. “We couldn’t figure out what was going on because David was extremely, extremely clean.”

While doctors tried to figure out what was going on, Mijares went back to work. Green arranged for a June 13 fight for him, and things were looking good. He was having a good camp and his old speed and snap seemed to have returned.

He never made it to the ring. Golden Boy put on a show on June 13 at The Avalon in Hollywood, but Mijares failed his medical tests. Dr. Rhonda Rand of the California State Athletic Commission wouldn’t clear him to fight.

Mijares and his team felt it had all been a mistake, and considered getting a second opinion that would clear him. But there wasn’t enough time, and it turned out that it is fortunate there was not.

It was discovered that Mijares had a rare condition known as Wilson’s disease. He had an excess of copper building up in his body and he needed a liver transplant.

“My doctor told me, ‘Dude, you’re going to have to retire for sure, because there is no way you can put your body through this,’” Mijares said. “I was just in shock and for a while, I was very down and very depressed. I couldn’t believe my dream was shattered. I’d worked so hard to get to a certain place and then they’re telling me I couldn’t do this.”

David Mijares and his girlfriend Valerie Casillas. (Photo courtesy of Sheer Sports Management)
David Mijares and his girlfriend Valerie Casillas. (Photo courtesy of Sheer Sports Management)

Optimistic Mijares plans to pay back Medi-Cal

You don’t have to know Mijares for very long to know he’s not the type to wallow in his problems. He didn’t stay down or depressed for long. Anyone who knows him even casually raves about the type of young man he is and the positive attitude he’s always carried.

“David is a very caring, very loving person,” Casillas said. “He has an amazing outlook on life and it’s infectious. People just love to be around him.”

Not shocking to those who know him, Mijares has attacked his problem with good grace and humor and has accepted that he can no longer fight. He’s on the list for a liver transplant, and several times, has come close to getting one. The most recent time, his father said “we got to the 5-yard line” before it fell through. 

“We were at the point where they were actually going to put him under and take him to the operating room and possibly start the procedure,” his father said. “They’d let us know that there was a good chance that they wouldn’t know [whether he was a match] until the very last second.”

He wasn’t, and he still has to wait for his liver. But he’s otherwise healthy and isn’t in danger of dying, so he’s not high on the donor list. 

He’s been urged to continue to do his boxing training, and to eat healthy like he had been, because that will help his immune system, which has been compromised by the disease. And so he goes to the gym most days to train, like he did when he was pursuing a title, and he continues to eat a healthy diet.

But superfoods like kale, spinach and broccoli, which had been a staple of his diet when he was training to fight, were out because of their high levels of copper. His liver isn’t able to metabolize those.

He’s not sure when he’s going to get a new liver, and he knows he’ll never be able to box again. He doesn’t yet have a job and plans to go to school to learn to become an electrician, but he’s going to face mounting medical bills.

A state program in California called Medi-Cal offers free or low-cost health care for adults with limited income and resources. It will cover most of his costs, at least for the time being, but Mijares is an optimist and knows his fortunes will change some day.

“What I have is a rare disease and it calls for a transplant, so my doctors have to go to Medi-Cal and plead the case for me,” Mijares said. “They have to show I need this transplant and that I’m unemployed at the moment and I have no way over covering myself. So now, I’m relying on California to take care of my situation.”

For many people — most people — that would be the end of it. But that’s not the type of person Mijares is, who is thinking of others in worse shape than he is even in his darkest hour.

“I want to pay them back for this, or as much as I can,” Mijares said. “There are others in the same situation or worse off than I am who really need this and I want to do what I can to keep it available for them. I’m lucky that this plan exists and that my doctors are able to find this opening for me.

“But it would be selfish to just say, ‘Thanks so much,’ and move along. I’m having some issues now, but I’m fortunate. I have a good head on my shoulders and I know I’ll get my life in order at some point, so I won’t forget what the state has done. I’ll pay it back as best as I can, because I’m thankful for what is being done for me and I want to give someone else the chance like I have gotten.”

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