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Early lessons have Williamsburg’s Ochoa set for stardom

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Zachary Ochoa’s successes in and out of the ring are grounded in the lessons he learned as a 13-year-old kid who had just picked up boxing.

The 22-year-old Puerto Rican fighter, who grew up in Williamsburg, never lost sight of the work ethic ingrained in him by his father. He harnessed it, and is now in position to become one of the next boxing stars to come out of Brooklyn.

Ochoa, who is 8–0 with four knockouts, takes the next step toward that goal at the Barclays Center on Dec. 6. He fights Jose Miguel Castro in a super-lightweight fight on the undercard of David Lemieux against Gabriel Rosado for the North American Boxing Federation middleweight title.

“Everyone in Brooklyn and New York knows who I am now,” Ochoa said. “Now that that is settled, I have to keep working hard so the whole world can know me. I have a big fan base, but I want the whole world to know me.”

What they will find is an up-and-comer who was taught never to let fatigue or laziness keep him from his dreams, even when he couldn’t step into the ring. His father would tell him little things, like you can’t breathe through your mouth or rest your arms on the ropes when sparing.

Ochoa, who has never drank or smoked, used it all as motivation and never stopped working. It was going to have to be done right if he was going to succeed.

“I’ve always been dedicated and intense,” he said. “Nobody would be training me and I would be doing a million push ups, hundreds of sit ups, going rounds and rounds on the bag until the gym closes.”

It is something he has carried into his training to this day — and a message he tries to get across to his fans as well. If he isn’t going to stop working at what he loves, why should you?

“What you have been through, you can do whatever you want in life. You just have to be focused and put your mind to it.” Ochoa said. “ ‘He’s training hard,’ ” he imagines young fans saying to themselves, “ ‘maybe I can do my homework like the way he trains.’ ”

That message, combined with Ochoa’s good looks, have made him a hit on social media. He has nearly 90,000 followers on Instagram. Paulie Malignaggi, a much bigger star, has just 16,000. Social media for Ochoa is a meaningful way to connect with fans.

Ochoa, who can overwhelm opponents with his speed or power, said his unorthodox style can be hard to figure out in the ring. But how he got to this point in his career is clear.

Inside the scrappy boxer there is still that 13-year-old with a dream and the dawning realization of the physical gifts he was born with. Ochoa is going stop at nothing to make sure his gifts don’t go to waste.

“You can’t let anybody take your spot because there is always somebody behind you,” Ochoa said. “I feel like I am the guy always behind everybody else coming up. I have to train harder.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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