Multimedia film by Troy Stolt, Photo Editor —
Story by Chris King, Sports Editor —
The relationship between Roger “The Hitman” Hilley and Joseph “2 Fast” Francisco expands much further than just any ordinary brotherhood. Their brotherhood feeds off the adrenaline and constant hard work that goes into the sport of boxing.
From an early age, Roger Hilley and Joseph Francisco knew each other were tough, especially Hilley who wanted to spar with Francisco at the age of seven.
“We [Hilley and Francisco] used to wrap our hands with socks and I’d get on my knees and we would go at it,” said Fransisco. “We would actually be hitting each other with full force too and I would knock him down every time, but he would always get up and keep going. He would come to me about it too, I never forced him to spar me.”
The brothers’ journey in the boxing world all started with YCAP, which is an organization for kids ages 10-14 who have been referred by either the juvenile court system or the school system. The brothers got involved with the YCAP Boxing Club and their love for the sport grew from there. Thanks to YCAP, Hilley and Francisco were taken in by Joe Smith and his family when the brothers were kids. Smith was instrumental in creating the YCAP Boxing Club.
A unique story of brotherhood can be told from the various life experiences that Hilley and Francisco endured that led to where they are today. From long, hard days in training camp to working part-time jobs to provide an income, the strong brotherhood bond between Hilley and Francisco expands much farther than just the sport of boxing.
Joseph Francisco & Roger Hilley
At the age of 19, Joseph “2 Fast” Francisco participated in the Olympic trials where he was invited to a tournament to fight in his usual weight class, but after making weight, he got food poisoning. Francisco wasn’t allowed to fight, but rather than giving up, he decided to move down to a division that was much lighter to qualify. The weight cut caught up with him, and after making it through a few fights, he lost. Following the Olympic trials, Francisco decided that enough was enough and he wanted to go pro.
This resulted in a falling out with the Smith family, and he left Chattanooga. After leaving Chattanooga, Francisco decided to fight at a gym out of Knoxville and took two last-minute fights that he had not prepared for. Francisco ended up gassing himself out in the first round of both matches. Following the two matches in Knoxville, he moved to Kentucky, where he got involved with the wrong crowd and made some mistakes that ultimately resulted in him doing five years in prison.
“After the Olympic trials, I was ready to go pro and make money,” said Francisco. “At the same time, I was just living in the streets. So I took a couple of losses just because I was looking to get paid, I didn’t prepare properly. After that second loss, I never thought I would fight again, so I took to the streets full-time, that’s when I got into trouble.”
While all of this happened with Fransico, his brother, Roger “The Hitman” Hilley, began to get good at boxing. It took him a bit longer to catch on but he began to show real promise. When it was time for Hilley to think about his future, he was given two options. He could go pro and work at YCAP Boxing Club part-time, or he could have a full-time position. Roger chose to follow his dream and go pro. Around that time, Francisco was about to get out of jail and Hilley reached out to him, asking him to come back to Chattanooga and train with him.
“So many people I had taken care of, or paid for, never bothered to stay in my life once I got locked up,” said Francisco. “The only people who were still there were my family (his biological mom and the Smith’s, who he had lived with as a child). So when I spoke to Roger [Hilley] and he told me I should come ride this wave with him, I found someone to hit the mitts with and started preparing.”
Francisco took advantage of the opportunity that Hilley offered and came back to Chattanooga. He got a job detailing cars at Capital Collision Center and training whenever he was off from work. For Francisco, that meant waking up at 5:30 a.m. to do a weightlifting workout at the gym, then going to work and during training camps, a sparring workout after he gets off.
“I knew what it would be like having him come and train with me, he’s someone I can chase after,” said Hilley. “He’s faster than I am, I’m younger, but he pushes me to be on top of my game.”
Hilley is the quieter, more serious one of the two brothers. He’s more guarded toward people he doesn’t know. When he’s in the ring, he goes after his opponent relentlessly, fighting largely off instinct and willing to take a punch to land several devastating blows to his opponents.
The brothers, along with head trainer Andy Smith, assistant trainer Chad Henley and strength and conditioning coach Brice Johnson, make up the “hit squad.” Both brothers refer to Andy Smith as their brother, since Smith’s father took in Francisco and Hilley as part of the family when they were kids. Henley helps the brothers in the corner because he’s a former fighter and understands what it’s like to be in the ring. Johnson implemented an Olympic-style of weightlifting workouts as well as strength and conditioning training twice a week during training camp. Both Roger and Joseph attribute their recent successes to adding Johnson to the “hit squad.”
Leading up to the King of the Hill event on Oct. 7, Fransisco and Hilley spent three months preparing for their main event match. The brothers spent long, hard days in training camp in order to better prepare themselves for whatever their opponent had to offer. Between weightlifting, going for long runs, and sparring, both of them looked to each other for extra motivation throughout the whole training camp process. They pushed each other to do just a little bit more, to train just a little harder.
On Monday and Friday morning’s, the brothers participated in strength and conditioning workouts together. These workouts consisted of grueling, intense activities that are meant to simulate a real fight (meaning they go all out for the length of a round, then get a rest as they would in the corner). Francisco and Hilley looked to each other to get through it and once they finished, they were excited to have given everything they had and sometimes more than they thought they had.
“The first time I sparred Roger [Hilley] after getting back, he cracked my ribs, that’s how that goes,” Fransisco said. “We love each other until we step into the ring, once we’re in there, though, there’s no love at all.”
The only time the brothers aren’t looking to help each other is when they spar during training. When they step into the ring with each other, they both have the intent of knocking the other’s head off. While they spar, the mood in the gym is tense, and it’s an all-out war. As soon as they get out of the ring, they go back to being each other’s number one fans.
“Me and Joe [Fransisco] go to war when we spar, we go to war when we run and we go to war in the gym,” Hilley said about the two always pushing each other to do more.
Training camp for a professional boxer is repeatedly choosing to give everything they have throughout the process. Francisco and Hilley pushed each other to make that choice, feeding off each other in order to make a better life for their families.
“This is our way to make a better life for ourselves and our families,” Fransisco said. “We didn’t get the chance to go to college or learn a trade, this is what we can do so that one day our kids won’t have to.”
Francisco and Hilley both competed in the King of the Hill event on Oct. 7 at Camp Jordan Arena. The brother duo each competed as the co-main events and both cruised to victories. The special King of the Hill event that was originally supposed to take place under the lights at Lookout Stadium.