The two scars between his chest and abdomen remain visible, but Patricio Manuel insisted on no special treatment before or during Saturday’s fight. He made that abundantly clear at Friday’s fighters meeting, and even requested that ringside commentators not so much as mention that he was once a woman.
Of course, that was unlikely to happen as that is an enormous part of his story, and why his professional boxing debut on Saturday evening at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio was historic.
Manuel's unanimous decision victory over journeyman Hugo Aguilar in the 128-pound super featherweight division was significant but will likely be viewed by the masses as a mere footnote. What was of more consequence was that Manuel became the first transgender male to compete as a pro boxer in the United States, according to Golden Boy Promotions.
“It’s a high right now,” said Manuel, 33. “I’m just really happy. This is the definition of true happiness in this moment.”
The bout, though, wasn’t a gimmick. Golden Boy Promotions President Eric Gomez wouldn’t have been up for that. He heard about Manuel’s story, that he was a five-time national amateur champion who competed as a woman in the 2012 Olympic Trials before a shoulder injury forced him to withdraw.
Manuel described that blessing in disguise.
“I needed all that to happen,” he said. “I don’t know if I would be able to perform. I think it needed to happen this way. I’m just really glad with the way everything played out.”
With the Olympics no longer an option, Manuel began to medically transition to a male, following USA Boxing and International Olympic Committee guidelines. He began with hormone treatment in 2014 and surgery the following year that left two scars across his chest where his breasts were removed.
But he wanted to keep fighting, and eventually turn pro as a man.
Doing so as a trans man proved to be difficult. Finding a trainer willing to coach a trans boxer and opponents who would take fights against one was next to impossible, and nearly ended the dream. Veteran trainer Vic Valenzuela eventually took the challenge and his connection with Gomez opened the door for a professional debut.
Gomez loved Manuel’s story. He said it moved him and offered to help in any way he could.
He helped set up a pair of amateur bouts, which Manuel split, and believed that he was ready to take the next step and debut as a professional. Gomez had just one condition: He didn’t want it to be a circus or a side show. He wanted everyone to know that he was giving Manuel a shot because of his ability, not because of the history it would make.
“I’m in a position where I can help, and I wanted to help and that’s it,” Gomez said. “You can’t hide it. I’m not trying to hide it, either. But I’m not going to use it as publicity.”
Manuel wanted the same thing: For the bout to be merely like every other between two men. Yet, he understood the significance of it all. He trained for two years for the bout, enduring a broken thumb and other injuries that sidetracked an earlier debut, hoping to prove that he belonged.
Licensing a trans fighter provided another obstacle, so Gomez worked closely with multiple boxing officials to make it happen, including Andy Foster, the Executive Director of the California State Athletic Commission.
Together, the two discussed the details at length, with Gomez telling Foster that if he didn’t feel right about sending Manuel into the ring with other men, he would respect his decision. He didn’t want any special favors and would accept whatever outcome.
Foster did his due diligence and discovered what Gomez had, that Manuel could actually fight at a high level. Foster issued the license and Gomez, the Golden Boy executive, buried Manuel on the undercard of the Carlos Morales versus Rene Alvarado main event, which Alvarado won, to treat it like nearly every other pro debut, although he knew it wasn’t.
“This is bigger than boxing,” Gomez said. “It’s for all sports. The story is, I don’t care who you are, what country you come from, what nationality. It doesn’t really matter. If you’re good enough to compete, you’ll be able to compete. All you need is a chance. I’m just happy to be a part of it
“Pat (got) his chance tonight, and win or lose, in my eyes, he’s already succeeded.”
Manuel brought nearly 70 friends and family members with him to watch as he joined Mixed martial artist Fallon Fox and Thai boxer Parinya Charoenphol as trans males who’ve fought professionally in combat sports.
With Jonathan Coachman providing the play-by-play on the Facebook Watch streaming platform, and boxers JoJo Diaz and Randy Caballero providing commentary, Manuel dictated the pace early and came forward with a mix of jabs and body combinations. However, he was dropping his hands and opening himself up for counter punches.
He was nearly knocked down in the second round when he was caught with a right hook that sent him stumbling before controlling the second half of the fight, with Diaz and Caballero both complimenting his style. All three judges scored the fight 39-37, or 3-1.
“This was a big hurdle to get over” Manuel said, “and this is not where I’m stopping.
“I’m so happy that Golden Boy Promotions did the right thing. They didn’t wait. Like, most people would say, ‘Oh, I would’ve.’ They actually stepped up in that moment to help me. I’m really grateful.”
Still, Manuel made a point to say that he won’t live in this moment forever. Now that the debut is over and he’s proven he can step into the ring with other men, he’s hoping that he’ll be accepted by the sport and that this will be the beginning, not the end.
He already knows where he wants to go from here.
“Next fight,” he said. “I’m just another boxer that’s 1-0 and wants to go to 2-0.”