DOWNEY — Life started rough for 32-year-old Walter “School Boy” Sarnoi. As a teenager, he was getting into a lot of trouble and headed down a troublesome path.
“I was a nut head, a nutcase getting into trouble,” said Sarnoi.
Lucky for Sarnoi, he found the 10-20 Club.
“When you go to 10-20 Club, it’s like an intervention program,” said Sarnoi. “I was very lucky. I met people, mentors like Darrell Jackson and eventually that’s how I met [Mayor] Rick Rodriguez. Just being around good people like that.”
The 10-20 Club was established in 1995 by former Jackson, a former Major League pitcher. Since its beginning, the 10-20 Club has given over 85 scholarships and has invested thousands of dollars to the education of at-risk youth.
It was an opportunity that proved invaluable for Sarnoi.
“Some people don’t take that path,” said “For me, I was able to go through the program [and] complete it through successfully. From there I was able to be part of the US boxing team. They paid for my schooling in Michigan, and I went on a full scholarship.”
After getting his Bachelors in Finance from Northern Michigan University, Sarnoi set his sights on what has been a lifelong goal of his: winning “the green belt.”
Sarnoi says that he was drawn to boxing because he “liked to fight.”
“As a little kid, my mom never really supported me boxing because she thought it was a really violent sport, and I get that,” said Sarnoi. “What happened was if you really wanted to go to the gym, you had to take the bus from the house to East LA. And that’s what I did.”
Sarnoi began boxing at the age of 12. His first year, he got “beat up.” But that didn’t stop him.
“Eventually, I got better,” said Sarnoi. “It drove me to be a better person and a better individual.”
Boxers that Sarnoi looks up to include Sugar Ray Leonard, Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather.
Sarnoi says that besides being successful fighters, each of those competitors have impressive images and attitudes.
“They’re flamboyant. They have that little charisma,” said Sarnoi. “I like that.”
Several of them also have something else in common that Sarnoi liked: a World Boxing Council championship. A “Green Belt.”
“WBC is one of the most prestigious organizations in boxing,” said Sarnoi. “Ever since I was a kid I saw the big champions wearing the ‘Green Belt,’ and that’s what I wanted. I wanted ‘The Green Belt.’”
It took 20 years.
“It’s a mission…headquarters is in Mexico City. I was flying back and forth at my own expense to talk to people at the press conferences,” said Sarnoi. “I finally got the call.”
The fight took place on Oct. 19 at the Coliseo Luis Donaldo Colosio in Jalisco, Mexico.. Sarnoi was matched against Luis Lugo for the vacant WBC Latino Silver Featherweight Title.
Sarnoi’s goal of winning a WBC championship wouldn’t come easy, a fact made obvious in the first round.
“I got hit hard as hell,” said Sarnoi. “Every time you fight, you want to see what the guy has in the first round. What happened was he hit me with a left uppercut that I didn’t see.”
“When he hit me with that left uppercut my legs went stiff, and he dazed me.”
Sarnoi didn’t show his opponent he was hurt. He quickly came up with a strategy.
“I realized after the first round I cannot stay on the outside and fight this guy,” said Sarnoi. “I have to get inside his chest and pound him, and smother his punches. And that’s what I did.”
It paid off for Sarnoi. He overcame his opponent with a third-round knockout.
Along with winning the WBC Latino Silver Featherweight Championship, Sarnoi improved his record to 21-4, with 13 wins coming via knockout.
“It’s great. It was like, ‘Damn, I’ve wanted it since I was a kid,’” said Sarnoi. “Finally winning one of the green belts, and now finally ranked in a major organization it feels so freaking awesome.”
Sarnoi now has three months to defend his title. While he doesn’t know who he will be facing yet, he is starting to ease back into training to prepare.
His next opponent will have to be within the top 15 of Latin America. Whoever that ends up being doesn’t seem to matter much to Sarnoi, though.
“It’s all good,” said Sarnoi. “I’m ready.”
Sarnoi encourages fans to follow him on social media. He can be found on Instagram at @waltersarnoi.