Patricio Manuel made history this month by becoming the first transgender male to compete in a professional boxing match in the United States. The fight was sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), which in recent years has been at the forefront of combat sports regulation in the country.
Manuel, 33, was raised female, but he has long identified as a male. After winning women’s amateur boxing titles, Manuel qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials. An injury prevented that opportunity from being fully realized, though, and that was one of the key triggers in Manuel undergoing gender confirmation procedures.
“Boxing was this thing I love, but it was also a distraction from me really looking at myself, and being like ‘Who are you, really? What will make you happy?'” Manuel told NPR. “I was just always like, ‘Boxing makes me happy.’ But there’s more to me than just a sport. And when the sport was taken away from me (from injury), I really had to look at myself, and be like, ‘There’s more to this than just losing the fight.'”
Manuel began medical transitioning not long after. It began with hormone treatment and eventually a mastectomy. Just over two years after his final fight as a female, Manuel underwent a $6,000 surgery to remove breasts and create a male-shaped chest, all of which was paid for by his grandmother.
The fallout impacted Manuel’s fighting career, because he no longer felt welcome at his longtime training facility and felt it was necessary to relocate to Duarte Boxing Gym, where trainer Vic Valenzuela welcomed him into a supportive environment.
It wouldn’t be until 2016 when Manuel would return to the ring for competition. He had difficulty finding opponents, but would compete twice in amateur bouts, splitting the results of those contests. That experience helped spark the decision to turn professional.
A thumb injury delayed Manuel’s aspirations to fight professionally, but once he was healed, he went looking for opportunities. Manuel’s story landed on the radar of Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy promotions, with president Eric Gomez showing a particular interest.
As Gomez told the L.A. Times, he was in position to open doors for Manuel and provide a platform.
“It really inspired me,” Gomez said. “This is a story that is bigger than boxing. It’s a very tough sport. You compound that with what Pat went through. The inner struggles, the process of transition and to keep wanting to fight?
“Just that drive is impressive. It’s very different than any athlete I’ve met. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
Getting a license to fight as an amateur was complex, but Manuel had the chance to do it because of policies USA Boxing put in place prior to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The International Olympic Committee ruled that female-to-male transgender athletes should be allowed to compete “without restriction,” so that led to Manuel receiving a license to fight in California from the national governing body for amateur competition.
Those exact rules don’t apply to professional licensure, though, so when Manuel opted to turn pro, the CSAC was put in a unique position. Fortunately, the CSAC is arguably the most progressive commission in existence, and so long as Manuel followed the necessary guidelines for licensure for a female-to-male transgender athlete, he would be allowed to compete.
According to a CSAC statement obtained by Rolling Stone, he did just that.
“Manuel met the requirements for licensure and is able to fight competitively in California sanctioned events,” the statement reads.
Manuel got in the ring for his pro debut on December 9th in Indio, Calif. He took on winless opponent Hugo Aguilar and would work his way to a unanimous decision after four rounds of action.
The crowd offered a mixed reaction to Manuel’s triumphant performance, but that didn’t derail his high. Right there in the ring, Manuel opened up about the hate he’s received throughout his life and said there’s no obstacles he wouldn’t try to overcome.
“I’m a black trans man,” Manuel said. “I’ve had people saying cruel, hateful things to me my entire life. People booing me — it’s more about them than me. They don’t know me. They don’t know what I’ve been through. They don’t know how much I love this sport, how happy I was in that moment. I refuse to give them power over me by feeling even angry toward it.”
At 33 and with just one pro fight, Manuel’s climb to become a top-tier boxer will be a challenge. That won’t prevent him from trying, though, and continuing to push for greatness inside the ring.
“This wasn’t a one-show, this wasn’t a publicity stunt,” Manuel said. “This is something I love, something I’ve invested my entire life to, this is something I’ve sacrificed for. This is just the start.”