Brian Arregui has made his way through life with his fists. Now 18, he's punched his way into contention for a gold medal as Argentina hosts the Youth Olympics this week.
He began boxing at age nine to cope with the loss and fury he felt when his father died. He became a father himself at 17. Now 18, he captains the "Pitbulls" – Argentina's junior boxing team.
"I grew up with blows," he says with a mischieveous grin. "My life is a fight."
But there's no hiding the blow of losing his father. Father Raúl's image is tattooed on his chest.
His cousins introduced him to boxing when Raúl died. He was eight years old. "I had to blow off sadness and anger."
The youngest of four brothers, family is sacred to him. His father-in-law is his trainer.
Now with a family of his own – a 14 month-old daughter Briana, and a four-year old from his partner's previous relationship – he's ready to take his career forward.
"I'm someone who goes right at it. I give as good as I get. I'm not a stylist," he says.
Obliged to fight
Norman Mailer, the US writer, once said that the greatest fighter of them all, Muhammad Ali, became a boxer to take revenge on the kid who stole his bicycle at age 12.
Brian says he was "an angel" at school and the first time he ever fought was "in the ring."
Responsibility for a young family is a lot to carry for an 18-year-old who earns less than US$300 a month, half of which he sends to Villaguay, far to the north of Buenos Aires. It goes to pay the labour on a house he's building a few blocks from his mother.
An adult boy
"He has a clear objective, he is going to devote himself to it," said the Pitbulls' trainer Mariano Carrera, former WBA middleweight champion.
Ahead of the Youth Olympics – a scaled down version of the Games for young athletes being held in Buenos Aires – Brian and his team have spent the last 10 months at Argentina's high performance center.
Whip-thin but hard as nails, he's a superwelterweight at 69 kilos, and has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram. Many are adolescents like him.
"He's an adult boy. He's very responsible, and he can be Olympic Youth Champion," says Carrera.
"I'm relaxed waiting for my moment, I want to be a professional, live boxing and be a world champion," his young charge says without hesitation.
When he steps in the ring this week, Arregui's inspiration will be another Argentine – Brian Castano, the undefeated WBA super welterweight champion.
He likes fighters who go in the ring and don't hold back.
For Arregui, life is like sport: "He who wants to grow has to take the hardest blows."
by by Daniel Merolla, AFP