Tanya Dubuclet figured her son was just going through a phase when he first told her he wanted to be a boxer.

She considered Jonathan "John Boy" Montrel more of a "pretty boy," one who wouldn't want to take a chance on getting a tooth knocked out or having a black eye.

But then she and other family members saw Montrel's passion and dedication and realized this was much more than just a phase.

They saw his grit and determination. 

They saw him dominate most of his amateur fights.  

They watched the countless miles he'd run up and down Bayou St. John chasing his dream.

They saw the hours he put in at the gym, before and after he worked his daily shifts at Neyow's Creole Cafe, his mom's restaurant in mid-city.

"My trainer always tells me boxing is like a jealous woman," Montrel said. "It wants all of your time. From the food you eat to the hours you put in the gym to the time you sleep. That's why I put in the hard work."

On Saturday, Montrel and his family members get to see the fruit of all that labor come to fruition when Montrel makes his professional debut on the undercard of Saturday night's Top Rank boxing event at UNO's Lakefront arena.

Montrel will fight Bronx native Samuel Forjoe in a four-round super lightweight match.

"I don't think I could ask for a better opportunity," Montrel said. "I thank God every day to be fighting on a World Class card with Regis Prograis. We want to turn up and out on a show for our city."

Montrel is somewhat of a late bloomer in boxing circles.

He's 28.

It was about three years ago that he decided to take boxing seriously, which explains his dedication that those close to him so often rave about.

"I had to work extra hard because I started late," Montrel said. "I had to make sure I was outworking the people who started before me. Some people came up in boxing when they were 5 or 6. I started at 20 right before my 21st birthday. So I had to work extra hard."

He actually started about 13 years ago. He started taking up the sport at a local gym briefly, but then Hurricane Katrina interrupted those plans.

The family moved to St. Louis, but came back to New Orleans the day after Christmas.

The family returned home. 

Eventually, Montrel returned to his passion.

Steven Hemphill, or "Coach Spyder" as he is known around the New Orleans Boxing Club, noticed Montrel's drive the first time he saw him. 

"I see nothing but sheer passion and discipline in him," said Hemphill, who has helped trained Montrell for the past three years. "He has such an extraordinary work ethic and a passion that I can't see anyone stopping him. He comes from a middle class hardworking family and he applies it to himself. That's what's unique about him."

Montrel's father runs the Bayou Bistro, right next door to Neyow's.

Posters promoting Saturday's fight hang on the doors of both of the restaurants.

Derick Montrel, John Boy's father, expects at least 50 family members to be at Lakefront Arena.

"My family is my motivation," Montrel said. "I see my mom go get it every day. My daddy, no matter what he goes through, he keeps getting back up."

Montrel is one of three New Orleans fighters on the card, along with headliner Regis Prograis and McDonogh 35 grad Jeremy "Zero" Hill.

Louisiana fighters Jonathan Guidry of Dulac and Travis Scott of Baton Rouge are also on the schedule. They all thank Prograis for this opportunity.

"If it wasn't for Regis, I wouldn't be doing this interview," said Hill, 2-0 as a pro. "I was No. 4 in the nation in amateurs and people didn't seem to be interested. Once Regis came along, a lot of doors opened for people in the city."

It's what Prograis wanted in his homecoming fight.

"I don't want to have a card in New Orleans and I'm the only one on the card," Prograis said. "You want to have the local guys. If we want to bring big-time boxing to New Orleans, we need to establish the local guys. Hopefully (in) five or six years, they can be headlining something and sell out Lakefront arena."

Montrel is hoping for the same.

He wasn't one of the seven boxers sitting on the stage Thursday afternoon to promote Saturday's fight.

This is just his pro debut.

But he believes his day is coming.

"Five years from now, I see myself on top of the game," he said. " I see myself with the big pay day, fighting big fights like Regis is fighting."

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.