EAST LOS ANGELES – He’s a college graduate. He’s now earning a master’s degree. He even speaks several languages. But that’s not good enough for Monterey Park resident Walter Sarnoi.
Fighting for the past 10 years, he wants to be a boxing champion.
Sarnoi, who at 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 126 pounds, doesn’t look like a fighter. But the junior featherweight said he used to mess around in school and finally channeled it in a positive way.
“I used to fight a lot in school,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to fight because I was fighting big guys. My friend then told me about a boxing gym in East Los Angeles.”
So, how did he – at age 13 – get to his first workout session?
“My mom took me to the boxing gym and the first day I just wanted to fight,” he said. “It just clicked with me. Every day after school after that I’d take the bus until I got my first car.”
Sarnoi said boxing then became his life.
“I’d go five days a week,” Sarnoi said. “They taught me my technique, my stance, how to throw a punch, the correct way how to bob and weave and my footwork.”
Sarnoi graduated from Schurr High in 2003. He eventually got a boxing scholarship to go to college at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., an opportunity he said was invaluable.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “The scholarship was paid for by the U.S. Olympic Committee. My skill moved up to another level by being around other elite athletes in other sports.”
He eventually graduated in 2007 with a degree in finance and is now attending Azusa Pacific University.
“It’s very important,” Sarnoi said of education and his studies. “You want to prepare for your life for whenever your athletic career is over.”
One of Sarnoi’s goals in addition to being a champion boxer is to become a politician and maybe even one day run for Monterey Park City Council.
Sarnoi added he tried to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team that went to Beijing, but lost in the Olympic qualifiers.
“It was mental,” he said of not making the team. “I have all the ability. I have all the skill. What kept me back was I had no steady trainer at the time.”
He now has a top-notch trainer at the Santa Fe Springs Boxing Club in the form of Danny Zamora. Zamora said Sarnoi has been a pleasure to train.
“It’s been great,” Zamora said of working with Sarnoi. “He’s a great kid, intelligent kid. He works hard and wants to learn it, just getting everything together. It’s just getting the right foot and taking advantage of it.
“This is the type of kid you want for your program. Even if he doesn’t come out as a great boxer, he’ll be a great leader.”
Sarnoi is currently undefeated at 6-0 with two knockouts and looking to build on that. He turned pro in 2008 and added he sometimes contemplates why he is in the ring when he has the academic background to do something else.
“I ask myself, ‘Why do I box when I don’t have to,’” he said. “But I want to prove myself to people and say you can do anything you want when you put your mind to it. So far, everything’s good.”
He added he doesn’t mind the paycheck that comes with being in the ring and said he is putting it to good use.
“The money is good,” Sarnoi said. “It helps me pay for school.”
But he still has loftier goals.
“I want to be a world champion,” he said. “I have a lot to prove still, but I want to be a champion and prove all the critics wrong.
“I also want to make a statement as an educated fighter. You can come from anywhere and be a great fighter.”
And what are his strengths?
“I’m a fast fighter who relies on his speed and reflexes,” he said. “But people want to see knock outs. I can knock people out, but I like to display the skill of boxing. I like to go the rounds.”