Bullet cost Izzy an arm, but not his heart

PHILADELPHIA-- The stares were a little different from what Izzadeen "Izzy" Burgos usually encounters during a normal day at a shopping mall, or on a bus, or playing in a school yard.

It just took a few seconds for the hardened boxing crowd to absorb, trying not to make the 4-foot-5, 80-pound power pack too self-conscious with their quizzical looks.

It usually doesn't take that long to figure out Izzy Burgos has only his right arm.

This time, however, it did, as Burgos prepared to fight for the first time in front of a live audience June 24 at Philadelphia's Legendary Blue Horizon.

No one realized the 12-year-old's disability until the bell rang. This time, at least, Burgos would fight back against the scrutiny, when he faced another 12-year old that night.

Burgos was knocked down within the first few seconds of his amateur fight, hushing the audience. Then he roused the crowd when he stood, ready to fight on.

Izzy Burgos has been knocked down most of his life and reacted the same way -- never backing down or willing to accept the limitations others have always placed on him.

In fact, after the three-round session was over, fans stood and cheered, some confused as to whether they should clap or cry. But for Burgos, it was the chance to prove he belonged.

"I don't let anything get in my way," said Burgos, who lives with his mother, Lisa, and older sister, Michelle, in a blighted area of North Philadelphia.

"Sometimes, people have told me I can't do certain things. That's hard to take. Sometimes, I try other sports and other kids tell me I can't play. They used to make fun of me and other kids never wanted to know anything about me and what I've been through. They don't think I can play any sports, because I have one arm. I try to prove them wrong, when I get the chance. It's not easy to hear."

Philadelphia police officer Bo Diaz has run a boxing program for children in North Philadelphia since 2004. He seen his share of hardcore and troubled kids come through the door.

In late March, Diaz met Burgos, who wore a baggy shirt to disguise his body.

"We wanted to treat Izzy like any other kid and we taught him how to box with the mitts," Diaz said. "Izzy was well accepted. He fell right into the pack of kids and he performed better than most of them."

Diaz was familiar with Burgos through word of mouth in the neighborhood. The boy worked out for six weeks, hitting the pads and punching bag. But Burgos kept bugging Diaz for an opportunity to spar.

"I was very on top of Izzy's situation and I didn't want to place him in a situation where he could get hurt," Diaz said.

"I was very cautious; we all were. Izzy wanted to compete in the Middle Atlantic Association, but officials in the organizations told me he couldn't because of his disability. We tried special tournaments for boxing, but there was nothing."

With the help of Vernoca Michael, owner of the Blue Horizon, Diaz created an opportunity for Burgos to fight on the undercard of a pro show June 24. Burgos faced Chris Delvalle, another 12-year-old, who does not have a disability and has fought in numerous amateur bouts.

Within the first few seconds of the fight, Burgos was down. He landed on his backside, but immediately reached back with his right hand for balance and pushed himself back to his feet.

He attacked his opponent with his right arm and caused Delvalle to retreat. When the three rounds were over, the crowd roared.

After the fight, Burgos was presented with a championship belt and the memory of a lifetime.

"Izzy is a survivor," Diaz said. "I know for a fact he taught himself how to ride a bicycle and he always had it in him that he could succeed at anything.

"We would love for him to compete in a regular competition. We'd like to think that there is a doctor out there who could fit Izzy with a prosthetic limb, so he could compete. That's all he wants."

Nervously watching her son at ringside of the Blue Horizon was Lisa Burgos, sitting and standing with a camcorder in her hands, feverishly trying to train the lens on Izzy in the ring, while cheering him on.

Lisa was called at work one morning 10 years ago and told by her husband, Dennis Burgos, that their two-year-old son had been shot in the left arm.

A bullet had ricocheted off the floor and fragments shattered Izzy's left arm. Dennis Burgos, who was sentenced to eight to 20 years at a Graterford, Pa., prison for recklessly endangering a child, claimed the gun accidentally went off while it was underneath a bed.

"The doctors told us that we had no other options than to amputate," said Lisa, 38, an administrative assistant for an architectural firm.

"I was in total shock when they told me. Things happened so fast, with the media and everything. It was just an ongoing thing with the media in how my husband was depicted," Lisa Burgos said. "Dennis wouldn't have hurt any of his kids, but I just left it in God's hands. Oh, I was very angry and had resentment toward Dennis."

The relationship is on the mend. Izzy visits his father at Graterford (the same prison where former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins once was incarcerated), re-establishing their relationship.

But now the focus is on Izzy, who is on a waiting list for a modern prosthetic limb at Shriner's Hospital in Philadelphia. He was fitted with a prosthetic arm three years ago, but it doesn't fit him well anymore. He'd like to play football, basketball and baseball, as well as continue his boxing.

"There's a lot of anger and resentment with Izzy when he sees young kids do different things that he'd like to do," Lisa said.

"He wants to do acting and play football, basketball, baseball. He hasn't been able to get on a team, because he hasn't been given the opportunity, because no one has reached out to give Izzy the opportunity. That's why we're grateful to Mr. Diaz, who has given him the chance to try boxing. Izzy was made fun of plenty of times, and sometimes, he wouldn't tell me, but I could tell he was angry.

"He overcompensates for everything he does. He has a great attitude, because he won't let someone tell him he can't do something. When we go places, a lot of people still stare, and Izzy knows why. He feels very self-conscious. At one point, he didn't like to wear tanktops and stuff like that, but now he goes out with his shirt off. He's a multi-talented kid; he just needs the chance to prove it. He wants to be heavyweight champion of the world one day."

He already has the heart of one.

Joseph Santoliquito is the managing editor of The Ring magazine.