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Fighting Chance

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

This is Anthony Rodriguez, hotel valet by day, amateur boxer with dreams of making it big by night.

"My goal is to be a world champion one day,” he said. “I'm looking forward to turning pro next year and then by then I'll be 26 years old and hopefully by 28 or 29, I'll be fighting for a title shot."

But living to see 26 wasn't always a guarantee. In fact, making it to his 21st birthday nearly didn't happen. On July 20, 2011, Anthony's past life nearly cost him his own on the day he stepped into a car for what he calls a routine marijuana transaction, and almost didn't make it out.

"I tried to open up the door and it was on child safety so it wasn't opening,” he said. “The guy in the front seat pulls out a gun and says 'sit down and relax.' At that point I thought my life was in danger so I grabbed his gun and kind of pushed it out my face, and that point the gun went off and then shots were fired right next to me."

When the gun stopped spraying, 13 bullets had entered Anthony's body.

"I was shot in this hand. I was shot in this hand. I was shot six or seven times down this arm right here. I was shot three times in my side,” he said. “This is where they had to cut me open to fix the collapse lung that I had. I was shot on my thigh right here and I was shot right here."

The shooters then pushed Anthony out of the car and into the road, and as he sat there in the summer heat desperately clinging to his life, the life he had and the future he hoped for flashed before his eyes.

"I'm 20 years old. I didn’t get a chance to show people what I was working hard for, which was boxing,” he said. “I had been training my hardest to turn pro one day to take care of my family. I just prayed and from there I tried to get help to get to the hospital."

His prayers were answered when help finally arrived and he made it to the hospital. And from that moment on, Anthony swore to change his life.

Just like in boxing, when you're up against the ropes, it's the coach in the corner that helps you get back on your feet. For Anthony. it's Axel Murillo, a personal trainer and former boxer.

"For me, I was betrayed because I trusted him,” Murillo said. “I put a lot of faith and a lot time into this kid to get him out of a situation where I didn't know where he was going."

Murillo stayed with him on his journey because he had to. Rodriguez was one of the several dozen boxers from around the metro area devoted to spending their weeknights at the Kenner Boxing Club, a non-profit gym Murrillo runs to fulfill his personal mission of teaching boxing while keeping kids off the streets. His facility provides one thing missing in many of these youth’s lives.

"Direction, and some of them are looking for direction, but they have no idea how to find it, and the parents don't either," Murillo said.

Murillo happily provides that direction. The club is open to kids of all backgrounds, some disadvantaged others privileged. And while their lives at home may be different, in the ring they're equal and must follow the same rules.

"I need to meet every single parent that comes through that door so I know these are the rules, these are the guidelines,” Murillo said. “And I have to know what's going on. If you don’t want me to know what's going on in your child's life, then maybe this program is not for them."

Fighters have to turn in report cards and maintain grades or they can't train. Attendance in this club? Mandatory.

"The only thing that forgives them from coming to the gym is a school function, a church function or a family function. If they're not here, then they're not going to get trained," Murillo said.

And perhaps most importantly, any punches thrown outside the gym are met with punishment.

"They cannot fight at school,” he said.

For Murillo, it’s truly a labor of love. The personal trainer for the Mackie Shilstone Fitness Principle Program said he doesn't break even on the gym, but love of the sport and making a difference in these young men’s lives is more than enough to keep him going.

"These kids, we can't let them go,” Murillo said. “We see the majority of these kids more than their parents do sometimes."

The program has become an overwhelming success. Some simply develop their self-esteem; others are good enough to advance in the sport.

"For us, it's so rewarding because the level is endless,” Murillo said. “You can start here and we're under the same umbrella as the U.S. Olympics. Some of these kids, we let them know, 'hey listen, you can be an Olympic athlete and represent the United States of America.’"

As for Anthony Rodriguez, his life has done a complete 180. Five years ago he was nearly a statistic, now he's a husband, father, and on his way to his ultimate dream.

"He is the model of this is what you don't do and now you see where he is now when you do the right thing," Murillo said.

And Anthony will be the first to tell you that Murillo's guidance keeps him on the right path.

"He was behind me all the way and he still believes in me to become the world champion one day, Anthony said."

Five of Murillo's fighters advanced to the Junior O and are preparing for regionals.

Donations keep the club up and running. One of their donors is Saints running back Travaris Cadet.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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