The mind of a professional fighter is an intriguing one.

It is the engine that generates a relentless mental drive needed to endure what could best – or worst – be described as physical madness beyond the average understanding. Pushing the limits and then shattering them, training with a ferocity down a path toward personal accomplishment only those in the game fully comprehend.

In any given gym on any given day, the dull thud of leather upon leather cuts through the thick, swampy air surrounding those chasing their own individual dreams of being a winner and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. All while training battles are externally waged against sparring partners, a bevvy of equipment and the pavement upon which countless miles are logged in all types of elements, the real fight is an internal one to never give up.

Toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow, in the corner of every fighter’s psyche, they are a contender – just how it should be.

This is the scene on a swampy midsummer evening within the humid confines of Rocky Castaneda’s home training facility, where his son – Defiance-area professional boxer, Raymond “Lil’ Rock” Castaneda III – is fully engaged in an intense sparring session to prepare for his next fight.

Under the watchful eye of Rocky – who doubles as his trainer – and the assistance from the night’s sparring pair of professional fighter Abel Ramirez and Fort Wayne slugger Juan Alvarez, “Lil’ Rock” is going another round in the family’s canvas-covered office with hopes of keeping his undefeated pro record intact.

But in order to do that on Saturday as the main draw of a projected eight-fight boxing card at Celina’s Mercer County Fairgrounds, the 5-0 local super lightweight will need to get through a tough test against an Ann Arbor pugilist also determined to remain unbeaten.

Dubbed “Hometown Showdown” by Apex Boxing Promotions out of Celina, Castaneda will take his Defiance pride into the ring against 1-0 upstart Maurice Anthony with the intention of adding another win to what is fast becoming a flourishing professional career.

“You’re going one-on-one with somebody, so it is a pride thing. For me it is,” said “Lil’ Rock” of his squared-circle motivation. “When I’m in there and somebody hits me hard, I’m trying to go hard, too, you know. You hit me as hard as you can, I’m gonna try to hit you as hard as I can. Basically, it’s almost like who has the bigger b*lls.

“When I take a good shot, it’s time to bounce back and give them my shot,” he explained. “So the pride thing is very big, but I think it is more heart than it is pride. Those two can go hand-in-hand.”

This ironclad combination is one that has been attracting a lot of attention for the Castaneda camp as of late, which was beyond apparent when the onetime Defiance Athletic Club national amateur made his way toward the ring on March 22 at St. Clement Hall in Toledo.

A wave of Defiance blue stood out among a standing-room-only packed house in Castaneda’s jump to six-round scraps, which resulted in a unanimous decision over Roanoke journeyman Latorie Woodberry that bumped him to 5-0. While Woodberry pressed the action early on, “Lil’ Rock” ended up rocking through the later rounds, dropping his opponent to the canvass at one point en route to the win.

The local support was added motivation and fuel he needed in a game where the mental meets the physical head-on.

“Out of that whole hall, I honestly feel like one whole side of that was for me. There were some for other people, too, but I think most of that whole side was my people,” said Castaneda. “It’s a good feeling being able to go to a different city and it’s almost like you’re fighting at home just because of all that crowd.

“It’s always nice, and I appreciate everybody that always comes out,” he added. “I just want to put on a show for them.”

And that means hardcore training, be it at the gym with his father-trainer, at Muscle Motion Fitness with Defiance-based strength trainer Adam Villareal or with a who’s who of sparring partners that regularly includes Toledo-area title-holders Sonny Fredrickson and Albert Bell.

Or inside his own head, preparing his greatest weapon of all – the mental toughness that is paramount to meeting the demands of climbing the professional ladder.

“I’ve got a good team of sparring partners in Toledo and I’ve got a good team that’s starting to come back here now from Fort Wayne,” said Castaneda. “They’re always gonna push me and I’m always gonna push them, especially with my dad being here when we’re all sparring and stuff. He’s looking out for them, too, just as much as he’s looking out for me.

“The sparring team and the coaches and the strength and conditioning coaches … everybody like that plays a big role in getting prepared,” he insisted. “So that part is a team and almost like a family.”

But then fight night arrives, and each step toward the ring brings with it an isolated focus on the opponent and a reliance upon all the sacrifice it took to prepare for what is about to transpire.

As the opening bell looms closer, the individual spirit depends solely upon its own resiliency.

It is a concept the aspiring area slugger has grown exceptionally familiar and adept with through his years of amateur and now professional experience in the “Sweet Science.”

“When it’s time to actually go in the ring, you know, your team’s not fighting for you,” Castaneda said matter-of-factly. “There’s nobody else to put the blame on besides you. Coaches can’t fight for you, sparring partners can’t fight for you … it’s you doing what you’ve got to do.

“Once you step in that ring, that whole team thing kind of goes away and it’s you and the other person,” he added with emphasis.

Back in the ring of the Castanedas’ home training facility, the Defiance hopeful is shrugging off the humidity while dodging punches from Ramirez and Alvarez, two larger fighters giving “Lil’ Rock” valuable opportunity to prepare for power. At a casual spectator’s glance, the scene could appear brutal through a haze of misunderstanding.

What is really going on behind all the perceived violence, though, is quite the opposite. Sure, punches for points are also generally wrapped with wicked intent … that much is the name of the game.

But they also come laced with a deep respect shared among all who throw them, and that much is undeniably evident as Castaneda speaks intently about how he would like to see his career develop. Winning fights and earning more prolific opportunities are top priorities within the ropes, but as his possible title trek progresses, his interest in giving back to the community is becoming increasingly important when the gloves come off.

With each step taken toward a wide-open future, the local fighter would like to join the ranks of other successful area athletes who clawed their way toward beating the professional odds. And much in the same vein of some, Castaneda’s wish is to reciprocate the widespread local respect that has been driving him blow-for-blow.

“I think it would be awesome to be almost like the Major League Baseball players that got drafted out of Defiance and be able to do stuff around the city,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. We’re slowly getting there; we’re slowly trying to put on events to involve the community a little bit.”

Before any sort of philanthropy, though, pugilism must be his main focus on Saturday when stepping in against a 1-0 Anthony who has proven to have knockout power.

According to his father and trainer, that focus is ready and razor-sharp.

“We’re gonna put on a heck of a show,” said Rocky. “He’s been working his butt off and he’s really focused for this fight, and we’ll hopefully come out with the win and be 6-0 and keep moving forward.”

As for future endeavors, a sliver of downtime is in order following Saturday’s slugfest to spend time with family and catch up on life outside the ropes.

But then it will be time to lace up the gloves once more in pursuit of something it takes a fighter’s mind to understand, either in the ring, on the field or in the grand scheme of simply bettering oneself.

“It’s still the same mindset as far as just taking it as far as I can,” said Castaneda, who has two knockouts to his credit. “When I step in there, I try to do everything that I’ve sacrificed time for, all the sweat, sometimes like the bloody noses, the messed-up lips and black eyes … and make sure all that pays off. So now I’m going for that sixth win.

“This is a sport where you never want to kind of lapse in it because when opportunity calls – and it can come any time – you’ve got to be ready for it,” he concluded. “So we’ll take a nice little break after this and get right back to it.”

Tickets for Saturday’s “Hometown Showdown” can be purchased in advance by contacting either of the Castanedas through Facebook or directly through Apex Boxing Promotions at 352-201-1909. Those interested in presale tickets – available in general admission, V.I.P or ringside prices – can also do so by visiting www.eventbright.com.

Doors for the professional boxing showcase – with Defiance’s own Casa Vieja as a major sponsor – are slated to open at 7 p.m., with the fight card scheduled to get underway at 8 p.m.

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