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Many believe boxing has been dead in the Region for years, that it couldn't fog a mirror today.

We had some great ones in the past: Jack "Kid" Callahan, Carlos "The Force" Tite, Mike "The Fireman" Landini, Angel "El Diablo" Manfredy, Eric and Marty Jakubowski, Jermaine "Too Sweet" White, "Dangerous" Don Lee and Duke "I Got Next" Tanner.

They used legendary Tony Zale as their GPS.

Other hopefuls either burned out, were victims of crooked promoters or grew weary of the politics often stinking up their sport.

The Hammond Boxing Club's Caleb Hernandez and Julian Smith hope to change that perception and add their names to the Region list of ring favorites.

They are headed to the April 13 Chicago Golden Gloves Championship at Cicero Stadium in Cicero, Illinois, Hernandez at 178 pounds, Smith at 152.

Winners advance to the Golden Gloves Nationals on May 14 to19 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Julian is an intriguing story. He is hearing-impaired and communicates during fights with his corner frantically waving multi-colored towels to relay their strategy.

HBC manager Jesse Wright says we'd be wise not to bet against these tough kids.

"Caleb is extremely wise and mature for a 22-year-old. He has the outlook of a 35-year-old who's been through a lot in life even at such a young age and I love that," Wright said.

"As a fighter, Caleb has what I refer to as 'The Matrix Vision' like the movie 'The Matix.' It seems as though he can see the punches coming in slow motion and he's always thinking three steps ahead in every fight."

The 2014 Crown Point grad is 32-4 and trained by Rudy Costello and Rafael Ruiz.

"Caleb's boxing IQ is through the roof. He can see what happens before it happens and is a phenomenal counter puncher because of it," Wright said.

Smith, 27, is from Robbins, Ill., has a 72-13 record (15 KOs) and is trained by Pierre Scott and Ruiz.

"The only way Julian knows how to fight is at 100 miles an hour until he hears the final bell," Wright said. "He can't change pace, can't slow down. You watch and you can tell he's having fun while he's fighting. He has a great chin and is tough as nails."

What exactly those colored towels signify, of course, remains a secret between fighter and corner.

Spend time with Smith and Hernandez and you feel they might be an answer for what ails boxing today.

They're the power-wash wands on a grimy fence.

"I lost my brother to gun violence in 2012. I was so angry and grief stricken by his death that I put on gloves as a symbol to put down the guns," Smith said of his motivation.

"I know about grief. It's a painful thing."

Both fighters remain humble, but aren't surprised by their accomplishments in the ring.

"I am successful because of my hard work and dedication to training daily. I want to be known as the first deaf world championship boxer," Smith said.

"I'm not a boring fighter. I try to dominate the competition as much as I can," Hernandez added. "I get eight-counts a lot ... stoppages. I win most of my fights on points.

"And I'm friendly. I'm talking to everybody afterward."

I asked Hernandez why step into a ring and risk bodily injury? His reply is why not? Boxing comes natural to him and he's darn good at it.

"I can be kinda timid but when I'm in the ring, I feel right at home," he said.

Both have their goals posted in plain sight at home: keep winning, earn a national ranking, and turn pro.

Hurry up, guys. That short list of Region greats needs some company.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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