San Antonio Amputees Get Their Shot At The 'Sweet Science' Of Boxing

Nov 17, 2014

San Antonio boxer Joey Benegas working out with the heavy bag
Credit David Martin Davies

Three nights out of the week you’ll find Moses Sonera at the Randazzo Brothers boxing gym on San Antonio’s Northeast side. He’s working the speed bag, driving combination punches into the heavy bags and getting ready for his next big fight. 

But look down and you’ll notice that Sonera is missing a leg.  He’s boxing with a prosthetic limb. The 41- year-old lost his leg during a mortar attack in Iraq, in 2004. 

"To me it means everything like a second chance at life," Sonera said. 

Sonera grew up boxing in Puerto Rico with his father training him.  He boxed some while in the Army.  Sonera counts himself as lucky because he only lost his left leg.

"So every time that I throw (a punch) I’ve got my right leg to push off forward," he said.

Sonera is among the first fighters in the National Amputee Boxers Association. NABA was founded almost two years ago by Shaman Owensby....a personal trainer, who was working with an amputee who wanted to box.

"He wanted to go out and have a match – in the state of Texas or any other state amputees as an adaptive sport it was not offered for them to be able to box competitively," Owensby said. 

  San Antonio is a logical place for amputee boxing to develop. The city has a high concentration of wounded vets since it’s the home of U.S. military medicine. Owensby's challenge wasn't finding boxers - it was getting sanctioned by the Texas Combative Sports Program. At first the state didn’t understand what amputee boxing was and how it was even possible.

"The development of prosthetics over the last ten years has been so…it’s been so good that it’s taken time for people to actually see it," he said. 

Once state officials saw video of the fighters, their concerns fell away. Two months ago Texas became the first state to sanction amputee boxing. Soon after, NABA held its first official fight.

The 20 or so members here include fighters who've lost limbs in accidents, and to diseases like diabetes.  But most are wounded veterans like 33-year-old Joey Banegas.

"I didn't think that I would ever be able to box again," he said.

The retired Army sergeant lost his leg in an IED roadside explosion in Afghanistan.  When he came, back he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He says boxing has been a big help in dealing with the PTSD. He now is better at dealing with the stress and frustrations of daily life. And can get a good night’s sleep without medication.

"I was an infantry guy in the army and being in the army you are always physical – most of us are physical – so finding something I can do again as an amputee. It’s tough your options are limited when you are a physical guy and you lose your legs," Benega said. 

Santo Randazzo is the owner of the gym and he says others have shunned the amputee boxers - but not here.

"Nobody even notices they’re any different until they look down maybe at the end of the night and they realize 'wow, that dude missing a leg or something.' But boxers is boxers you know," said Randazzo.

“Boxers is Boxers” – some ringside philosophy. But some boxers are more because they have a little less but they make up for it with heart.

The next fight night is in May. Until then, the fighters keep training and word keeps spreading about amputee boxers. Their next goal is to be included in the Paralympics.