Pepe Reilly stopped eating his breakfast and listened to two boxers in their early 20s discussing the day's fight card at the next table.
"I was going to fight this guy and he was asking who Pepe Reilly was," Reilly said. "The other guy looked over and pointed at me."
Upon inspection, the two didn't laugh outright. It was more of a giggle. Reilly appeared to be a walkover--an easy mark in the 106-pound golden glove ladder.
Reilly heard the snicker but didn't respond. At least, he didn't respond then. Instead, he presented his rebuttal in the ring.
"I wanted to shut him up," Reilly said with a sheepish grin. And with an easy win, he did.
Reilly, a junior at Hoover High, is a dancing, dodging, jabbing paradox. Though he is 16-years-old, he appears closer to 12. His voice is so soft it is often inaudible. His large, brown eyes reflect a certain innocence. His 5-foot, 7-inch frame is thin, almost slight.
His record is 140-10.
Reilly is the California Golden Gloves 106-pound champion and holds the U. S. Amateur/American Boxing Federation state title. He was Western Olympic Trials runner-up to Eric Griffin of Houston, Tex.
One of his 10 losses came at last month's Olympic Trials in Concord, Calif. Gold medal favorite Michael Carbajal, 21, of Phoenix, Ariz., won a decision over Reilly in the first round of the tournament. It was the second time he had beaten Rielly--the first was a year ago in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Interestingly, it was Reilly who ensured his first fight of the trials would be against Carbajal. He had awakened early for a pre-Trials meeting and was the only 106-pound weight class representative available to draw the lots which would determine the day's pairings. Reilly later reflected that he should have stayed in bed.
And even though the day got off to a rocky start, it didn't end too badly. Carbajal is at his best when slugging toe-to-toe, not jabbing and moving, Reilly said.
"It was pretty close," Reilly said of the fight. "But Carbajal's already a man."
Exactly the sentiments of Sugar Ray Leonard, who was ringside at the Trials. He was impressed with Reilly's fighting style and presented him with two T-shirts and a tote bag bearing Leonard's name. But that wasn't the first time Reilly has attracted the attention of well-known fighters; he trains, and often spars, with Paul Gonzalez, a gold medalist in the 1984 games.
Maybe it's his experience with Gonzalez that gives Reilly a ring savvy which some boxing enthusiasts believe is unrivaled by fighters his age.
"It's like poetry in motion," said Reilly's father and trainer, Fellini Reilly. "When he moves, he moves as good as anybody." In fact, Reilly's combination of quickness and grace have made him an elusive target for opponents.
But because he has yet to reach physical maturity, Reilly lacks the strength and punching power of many fighters in his division.
"Those guys that are his age, and even younger, are men. They're shaving already," Fellini said. "That's one of the reasons we're going to have to wait another four years. He just didn't mature and he's almost 17."
Even if Reilly had made the Olympic team, he would have barely cleared the age requirement. In order to participate in international competition, a fighter must be at least 17. Reilly will celebrate his 17th birthday later this month.
"They just keep telling me to wait until 1992," said Reilly, who hastens to add that he will be going on a number of international trips once he turns 17.
Even if he can't wait for his birthday, Reilly isn't too anxious to lose his boyish looks. He says having a baby face weighs in his favor.
"Some guys take me easy but I still beat most of them," said Reilly, who says he is often approached by people who cannot believe he is a fighter. "They think I'm just here to watch."
Obviously, he is not to be taken lightly. "He's never been knocked out or knocked down," said Fellini. "He's never even had a bloody nose."
And Reilly's natural athleticism extends beyond the ropes of the ring. He plans to try out at point guard for the Hoover basketball team this season.
But his first love was neither boxing nor basketball. It was playing shortstop in T-ball. When most youngsters were struggling to acclimate to their positions, Fellini says, Reilly resembled Ozzie Smith. For Reilly, over-the-shoulder catches were commonplace.
"He used to be in the dirt all the time--loved it," said Fellini. "You take any good athlete and he can play any sport."