It wasn’t just Tristan Kalkreuth’s sheer size that caught the eye of the esteemed Ronnie Shields, writes Phil Rogers
RONNIE SHIELDS has seen it all before. The renowned trainer’s resumé of tutelage includes Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Arturo Gatti and Pernell Whitaker; some of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport have all benefitted from the education they received under Shields’ revered wing. So when a video landed in his lap of a 17-year-old cruiserweight, six-feet-four, who could move like a middleweight but punch with heavyweight ferocity, Shields was certain that he’d discovered a star of the future.
“My manager, Lester Bedford, put us onto Ronnie. He showed a couple of clips of me to him and Ronnie said I was one of the best prospects that he’d ever seen. So he took me on board and we got working,” Tristan Kalkreuth tells Boxing News.
Born in Duncanville, Texas, young Kalkreuth had coincidentally attended the same high school as another great prospect, Vergil Ortiz Jnr. Naturally athletic, he gravitated towards the team sports enjoyed by his peers but at nine years old was introduced to the noble art by his father and coach, Sean. It was a moment the Texan feels was written in the stars.
“It was almost as if boxing chose me. I feel like the day I went to the boxing gym I was like, ‘Alright, that’s my sport!’ I was just drawn to combat sports. I’m like a daredevil. I like it when things are thrilling, that feeling when you feel pressure. I definitely thrive off of that. Whatever gets my heart beating.”
Their father-son partnership was soon bearing fruit, with successful outings across the country leading to a call-up to the Team USA amateur squad. So too was their confidence, and by his adolescence Kalkreuth began to feel that this was a sport he could make a real impact in as a professional.
“I feel like once I turned 14 and started sparring these older guys and stopping them I figured that I had some talent. Definitely when I won my first national [2016 Junior National Championship]. That’s when I was like, ‘Okay!’ Then I just started winning and winning. Our main goal was to make it to the Olympics, but during that year I was a year too early to qualify. So instead of waiting ‘til the next Olympics I spoke to my team and they felt confident in me going pro.”
Alert to his plans, boxing’s promotional big hitters were soon swarming around, but the Texan and his family quickly settled on signing with Golden Boy Promotions. It wasn’t just the lure of working with a hero of his in Oscar De La Hoya, Kalkreuth was acutely aware of the demanding nature of their matchmaking for any of their blue chip prospects. There would be no padded record, only fights to test and develop him. It was a challenge he embraced hungrily.
“I go into every training camp like I’m fighting a world champion. My first tough opponent was only my third fight, when I fought on the Canelo-Kovalev undercard. Then I moved onto Tyler Vogel, that one went six rounds and that was a great experience. And I just feel like those fights made me stronger and matured me. So then in my last fight [against Dustin Long], the guy was rugged, tough, and had just come off the back of knocking out Marcelo Wilder, Deontay Wilder’s brother. I just felt like from those past fights I matured so much that I stayed calm, relaxed, feinted, executed my game plan, stayed behind my jab. And things got cut early.”
Indeed, the teenager’s first round destruction of Long on the Ortiz Jnr-Hooker undercard, as well as the crowd-pleasing backflip in the centre of the ring post-victory, caused plenty of fans to sit up and take notice. Kalkreuth reflects on this with a sense of humility, instantly lauding the work of his father, Sean, as well as the aforementioned Ronnie Shields behind the scenes.
“Ronnie’s trained all these great guys, these legends. The thing that stands out about Ronnie is he makes boxing simple and effective. Whenever he gives me a game plan I execute that game plan very well. It might not be working at that exact time but he always says, ‘Just keep with it’. Just like my second fight, this guy had great defence, and he’d look for this one shot, so we had this game plan to attack his shoulders whenever I got the chance. So I started throwing a bunch of punches throughout each round. And I started to get a little anxious, wanting to knock the guy out, but he kept saying, ‘Just stick to the game plan’. And each round you can see his arms getting lower and lower and tiring, and eventually I ripped the left hook and that was it. He [Shields] just simplifies everything.”
At just 19 years old Kalkreuth is already in an enviable position, progressing excellently in his education under the expert eyes of his coaches and receiving pearls of wisdom from world class stablemates such as Jermall Charlo and Guillermo Rigondeaux. How long he remains at cruiserweight is unclear, but one thing is for certain; the whole Kalkreuth team are firmly focused on him eventually developing into a world champion in boxing’s blue ribbon division.
“I feel real strong, I feel like I’ll stay at cruiserweight for the moment. But I feel I’ll almost certainly move up to heavyweight. Ronnie thinks so, my dad thinks so. I’m 19, you really don’t get that man strength until you’re 24, 25. When I’m 21, 22 I’ll probably emerge into a heavyweight. But for 2021 my goal is to get to 10-0, look fantastic and keep showing the fans that I’m a real fighter and I’m here to stay for a long time.”