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Lupe Contreras' successful journey

Ring announcer Lupe Contreras has seen the sport of boxing take him quite literally around the world. Courtesy of Lupe Contreras

The journey from humble beginnings to the culmination of one's dream takes many turns down the road of life, with vivid memories of difficult hurdles cleared along the way.

For Lupe Contreras, one such moment was his first day in the United States after his family made the move to Houston, Texas, from the border town of Reynosa, Mexico. At the age of 5, the future boxing ring announcer felt very much a stranger in a strange land.

"I didn't speak the language and my older brother, who had come over a year earlier with my father, sat us down and was drilling us on how to say basic things in English like asking for a drink of water," Contreras said. "It was like a boot camp. To know you will be around other people you can't communicate with, talk about landing on an alien world."

Contreras playfully refers to his parents and five siblings as "a small Mexican family." But he looks back with pride on what the family of eight had to overcome, from the modest beginnings of a three-room house with a tin roof, partial dirt floors and an outhouse in the backyard.

It was in these moments that Contreras built a resolve and philosophy regarding life that has become the foundation for who he is both personally and professionally.

"You learn to adapt and adjust to deal with whatever is thrown at you," Contreras said. "Instead of saying woe is me or this country is unfair for this or that, you take it and you make adjustments. It's a lot like being a fighter -- you are going to have to figure out how to make it and survive."

As one of the most internationally recognized voices in the sport, Contreras, who resides in Houston, has done just fine adapting along the way. At 43, he has been privileged enough to travel the world "doing things thanks to boxing that I never could possibly imagine."

According to Contreras, his unlikely career as a ring announcer "kind of just happened." He received his first big break in 2001 by winning a contest put on by promoter Top Rank and television network Univision called "La Voz del Box."

"They were looking to replace the gentleman who was doing the ring announcing, and they wanted someone in particular," Contreras said. "They wanted someone who was bilingual and knew a lot about boxing. They wanted you to look a certain way. I tell people that I have all these qualities that do me absolutely no good anywhere except as a ring announcer."

Yet it's the combination of these qualities that helped create what Contreras calls his intellectual tool belt. Through years of hard work, he believes the right position "kind of finds you as opposed to you seeking out the job."

Contreras broke into boxing with a diverse background in community theater, radio and various public speaking engagements. At the time of his big break in 2001, he was employed as the spokesperson for a crisis hotline and was studying bilingual education, which he credits for helping him fine-tune his Spanish.

Nearly 15 years later, it's his ability to switch between languages on the fly that has become his calling card as a ring announcer, along with his catchphrase of "Veremos quien es el mas macho," (which translates to, "Let's see who the tougher guy is.")

"[Boxing fans] get a big kick out of the fact that I can flow from one language to the other pretty easily without much of an accent," Contreras said. "People fail to realize that's the way you talk as a kid at home. You might be speaking Spanish to your parents, but then you spin around and talk in English to your brother. It's something you've been working on for all of your life. You hone those skills through the years and never realize they will come in handy one day."

As a child, he began a love affair with boxing. He would see his father Jose Luis -- a hardworking provider who Contreras calls the kind of guy who never bought himself a new pair of pants -- have no problem laying down the money to watch Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez fight on pay-per-view.

A fascinated Contreras would often wonder what it was about this one athlete that would motivate his father to be so captivated and feel such a deep connection.

"I couldn't figure it out until I was older, but I see it now -- this person represents me and represents my struggles," Contreras said. "He comes from the same modest background as I do, and it gives you hope and inspiration. It lets you know that you can start from the bottom and make it to become an international superstar. Chavez represented boxing to an entire nation and culture."

Contreras, not coincidentally, names his most memorable in-ring moment as the night he was the ring announcer for Chavez's penultimate bout against Ivan Robinson in May 2005 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. And it's that feeling of electricity in the final moments before the start of any main event that never gets old.

"I call it very similar to a roller-coaster ride," Contreras said. "To me, the most frightening part is that little climb before they let you go. It's going so slowly that they give you time to figure out how crazy this is. That's what you feel when you're in the center of the ring."

Although the rush of the moment can be overwhelming at times, Contreras knows there is no turning back the moment the second fighter enters the ring. That's when it's time for business.

"Once you get the other opponent in the ring, I know I have to go to my mark, and there's about maybe three steps you can take from the back rope to the center of the ring," Contreras said. "And when you take that last step, that's when your mindset has to be right. You need to be calm and you have to be ready to perform."

Although he has worked exclusively for Top Rank the past four years, Contreras has experience working with all the major promoters on just about every single network. And part of his growth as an announcer has been learning the nuances of his craft, including the relationship with the audience.

"You learn what is going to trigger a reaction from the audience and you play to those," Contreras said. "You can sort of conduct their reaction by the way you say certain things and the inflection of your voice. They are going to follow you and they are almost trained to react.

"So you figure out those patterns. And you learn that it's a drama and you have to be dramatic. It's not only the moment for the fighter to shine, but it's also your moment as well. You need to give it a little flair and a little drama. It's what I call 'Bufferizing' it."

Contreras calls veteran Michael Buffer the gold standard for what a ring announcer would want to be and believes anyone in the business who hasn't learned from or taken anything from him is lying. Still, Contreras has done a great job carving out his own space in a job where very few grow to gain crossover notoriety.

"First and foremost, Lupe is a pro. I don't think fans truly understand how difficult a job ring announcing is," said Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti. "His command of both the Spanish and English languages is a true asset for our shows.

"Secondly, he is a true boxing fan. He KNOWS boxing and fighters and loves the sport. I think that shows and is reflected in his work around the world. Top Rank was wise to sign him to an exclusive contract. His brand is becoming more and more recognized throughout."

From humble beginnings to a dream-come-true career, Contreras is a happy man whose passion comes through in his performance. He knows the day he no longer feels the same sensation of nerves and excitement will be the first day this wild ride has ever felt like a job.

"I think the hardest part of the job [early on] was just reveling in the moment," Contreras said. "But what I think finally helped me cross that is when my cue comes, I'm loving it. For the next three minutes, I'm the only thing going. You have to enjoy yourself, and when you do enjoy yourself, you become confident across the screen, and I think people pick up on it."