While most high school kids are looking forward to winter break and hanging out with friends, Pomona High’s D’Angelo Sandate has just “a bit” more on his plate.
The Las Vegas born Coloradan is in Reno, Nevada preparing to compete in the 108 pound division at the US Olympic Boxing Trials, December 7-12. Sandate earned his way to the trials with his strong showing at the Pathway to Glory Olympic Qualifier 1 in June.
Sandate is supported by a strong family and he honors them every time he steps in the ring. He fights for his father, who has been his coach and mentor since he began. He fights for his mother who’s cheers drown out the crowd. He fights for his brother, inspired by his strength in having had a liver transplant at age five.
He want’s to show in Rio that he’s not only an “A” student in the classroom, but also in the ring. As we spoke about his journey and the road that lies ahead, it was evident that Sandate is a student of the game and not so much overwhelmed by the moment as he is ready for the opportunity.
I caught up with Sandate at Delgado’s Gym in Denver on the eve of his departure from the Mile High City in route to the Biggest Little City In The World to discuss the upcoming trials.
Standing-8: You’re eighteen, have been boxing for about ten years and are still in high school?
Sandate: Yes, about ten years, yes, I’m in high school at Pomona (Arvada, Colorado).
Standing-8: Oh, Pomona, you guys are in the state football championship on Saturday.
Sandate: Too bad I can’t go, I got other stuff , just a few things to do. (Laughs)
Standing-8: How did you get into the sport?
Sandate: I used to play football and you know how there is an off-season? My dad just took me to the gym, and I was in there and just loved it. I stopped playing football and just started doing boxing. My dad was a boxer, it’s always been me and him all the time cause we’ve been to a bunch of gyms, but in the end, it’s always been just me and my dad and that’s what I appreciate, that he’s always by my side.
Standing-8: Talk to me about this experience for you; you’re a senior in high school and you’re going to Reno to fight in the Olympic Trials for a chance to win the tournament and be on your way to Rio……to be in the Olympics!
Sandate: It’s a big thing because I’m still really young, I barely just turned eighteen and will be fresh outta high school when the Olympics come. I think it is just going to be a great experience either way it goes. I’m planning to out there and win, I want to go out there and win, but even if it doesn’t happen, it’s still a great experience and I still have four more years to stay in the amateurs and try again in 2020.
Standing-8: About your age, are you the youngest competitor in the 108’s for the trials?
Sandate: I’m the second youngest, there’s some guy from New York that’s seventeen, he turns eighteen out there though. Him and me were the youngest, fighting grown men, we just barely turned eighteen, it’s a great experience, I love it, other people get scared but, I don’t know, it’s a thrill ride for me.
Standing-8: Do you think there are advantages to being a bit younger and maybe exploit those advantages in the ring?
Sandate: I believe so, these guys have been in like major tournaments, not like this but big tournaments, I’ve only been in the boxing scene for a little bit because I’ve been taking my time. When I was sixteen, I could have fought open class and fought twenty year olds and my dad was like no, you’re going to take a little break, wait for your body to develop, use this time to get better. So that’s what I did and once I got older, I went out there and I fought, I did good, I thought I did good, my dad thought I did good, must have done good if I’m in the trials. I think we’re both really young but I’m just going to go out there and use all my energy that I can, like my younger energy I guess you can say. (laughs)
Standing-8: Talk to me a little bit about your path to these trials, you were a Golden Gloves champion?
Sandate: Before this one, I just lost to Melik (Elliston). It was my first fight from two years, first fight as an open fighter, three minutes, I wasn’t really used to it. I did great the first round, second half I started to gas out.
Standing-8: You won Golden Gloves in 2013, did I see that, any other tournaments you’ve won?
Sandate: I think it was 2012, I won Gloves two or three times as a junior. I’ve won National Silver Gloves before. I’m a little inexperienced compared to these other guys but it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to go out there and fight.
Standing-8: That’s the right attitude to have, really the pressure would be on them actually, right?
Sandate: Yes, because I’m the younger fighter.
Standing-8: From your experiences at the Golden Gloves and the Nationals, what do you believe you learned that will help you in the trials here?
Sandate: From those fights, you know, you win some and lose some, like the last Gloves, I lost. I wasn’t too down on myself, he was like twenty-two years old, he’s an older guy than me. I just learned from it you know? These guys have a winning track, even when you’re winning, it’s kind of hard to learn some things but when you lose, it’s much easier to learn from it, and that’s what I think is really good when I lose, I get better from it each time. I think I’ll be able to carry that out to the trials.
Standing-8: What it would it mean to you to win these trials, go to the Olympics and be representing the United States and Denver,Colorado
Sandate: I’d honestly be honored and shocked. This has always been a dream of mine since I was little. Me and my dad would be, 2016 Olympics, the 2016 Olympics, we’d always just fool around and now that it can come true, we’re like..oh my god.. we actually gotta start getting to work now (laughs).
Standing-8: Talk to me a little about your training and your preparation getting ready for these trials and your mindset.
Sandate: I mean, there is a saying, 90% is mental and 10% physical, I believe when you train, the most important part is to be mentally strong. Anybody can be physically strong in what they do but, if you’re not mentally strong it doesn’t matter. When you go out there and let’s say you’re losing, you will just go down the drain…oh my God, I’m losing..it’s not going to fix anything. But if you are mentally strong, you go out there you lose, the second round you come out and adjust and come out and try and win.
Standing-8: Who are some of your favorite fighters?
Sandate: Juan Manuel Marquez. He’s a great fighter, he’s really old (laughs) and he’s still fighting and keeping up with these young guys and I love his style, him and his coach are great, Nacho Beristain.
Standing-8: Is your style comparable to a particular boxer, did you mold yourself after Marquez kind of style?
Sandate: A little bit, he’s more of a counter puncher, I can’t really be like that because I’m the shorter guy, I got to go in there and bring the fight. I follow his style a little bit, like the way he keeps his hands, how he’s composed, and I brought a little of Brandon Rios kind of, coming forward but more defensive. Come forward, head movement, catching punches, throwing punches n bunches. I also like Manny Pacquiao because of his speed.
Standing-8: What are your long term goals? We talked about using this as a learning experience if it doesn’t go exactly like you’ve planned, you come back in four years?
Sandate: It all depends on what happens out there. I would love to turn pro, that’s always been a dream of mine too, to turn pro and be a World Champion. If I get offers, I’d probably turn pro and then not wait the other four years but if I don’t then definitely wait the four years and try it again. Then if I don’t get an offer, I’ll just turn pro on my own.
Standing-8: What are your long term goals in the pros, weight class?
Sandate: Did you just watch that fight, it was a while back, “Chocolatito” (Roman Gonzalez) vs Brian Viloria, you know what weight they are their like 114, I’m guessing that will be around my weight, maybe 120’s, it all depends on how my body develops. Unless I get a growth spurt (laughs).
Standing-8: I spoke to your mom and I know she is very excited and nervous at the same time. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Sandate: She is, when we go to the fights, she is always the loudest. Yes, I have a little brother.
Standing-8: What do you think about the removal of the head gear?
Sandate: I was a little nervous at first but when I went out there, I felt a lot better, seeing a lot more, you can obviously feel a lot more and you can feel those elbows coming in, especially headbutts. The championship night at the qualifier, I got headbutted and got a pretty nasty black eye. You know what? I love that, I’m hoping I go to this tournament and get some cuts and bruises, I know it sounds weird.
Standing-8: Battle scars, you back to high school wearing them like a badge of honor. Let me ask you about your high school, Pomona. How aware are they about the trials? This is a big deal, you’re going to the Olympic trials
Sandate: A lot of my teachers know that I box but they’re more behind their football team, especially since they’re going to state and last year our wrestling team came runner-up and the year before that our wrestling won state so they’ve always been behind the big sports.
Standing-8: I know that they will be behind that, but in your case, they have a student that is going to the trials for a chance to go to the Olympics and that’s a big deal. They should of had a “King (Sandate’s nickname) for a day” and gave you a pep rally.
Sandate: (Laughs) Today, they read on the announcements, “Good luck D’Angelo in the Olympic trials” It was pretty cool. It’s going to be a great experience, I’m really excited for it. I’m kind of glad I’m going in there as an underdog. Malik and Pablo and Nico are the top three guys and expected to do real good, they’ve been around the boxing scene. The other people in there like me, we’ve kind of been underlyers. I think it’s my time to shine.
Standing-8: Who besides Melik have you previously fought that are in this tournament?
Sandate: I’ve only fought two, Malik and Pablo. Those are two of the top three guys which I’m fine with. When I fought them, a lot of people were expecting them to blow me out of the water but that wasn’t it, I brought the fight to them.
Standing-8: That says a lot for you heading in here, you’ve already fought some of the top guys and even though you weren’t victorious you held you own. You know, a couple of things here and there and these trials could be a different outcome.
Sandate: I’ve improved. I know it sounds bad but losing is a good thing. I lost to the Pablo guy and I’m going to learn from that so when I go in there and fight him again, it’s going to be something different. I lost to Melik, gassed out, this time I won’t get gassed out, I’ll be in shape and be able to fight all three rounds.
Standing-8: I thank you for giving me this opportunity, and I wish you the best of luck. I look at you still being in high school and how cool that would be. Best of luck to you.
Sandate: No, thank you, thank you, I appreciate it.
The “elder” competitors in the 108 pound division would be wise not to sleep on Sandate. His mindset of how he will approach the trials and his explanation of what he learned from his losses indicates that his ring I.Q. may be a bit above what to expect from a fighter his age. No doubt a credit to his coaches, his father and Shann Villauer.
Sandate is a dangerous opponent, in that he’s not, even by his own admission, one of the three favorites in the division. A fighter with nothing to lose and so much to gain.
If youth is served and Sandate wins the field, maybe he’ll get that pep rally after all and a proper send off to the road to Rio.