It takes quite a lot to heft it, but it took even more work to earn it. It’s the belt that Raul “El Tigre” Casarez won back in October, a championship prize taken by the Edinburg fighter in Florida.

Last week he brought the WBO middleweight youth title belt to the gym in east Edinburg to show all the guys; they took turns checking out the gleaming leather and metal and were all surprised at how heavy it is.

“That’s the real thing, not an imitation,” said trainer James Gogue proudly, as he talked about the progress of the 24-year-old boxer, who improved his record to 16-2 with a 10-round split decision over Anthony Greenidge Oct. 16 in Kissimmee, Fla. It marked Casarez’ first complete 10-round bout, and a definite high point in a career that began back in 2002.

“Tigre has really come of age,” his trainer stressed. “He’s dedicated and disciplined, and he really put on a show out there in Florida. Everyone was coming up to us after the fight, he really made a good impression.”

It was the big chance for Casarez, and he came through against a taller opponent who fought hard. The Edinburg native, who got back into the gym to spar last week after some time off, enjoyed the experience and is ready for more.

“It was crazy over there, really crazy,” said Casarez, who fought at 158 for his second win of 2010. “There were a lot of Puerto Ricans in the crowd and I thought they didn’t like Mexicans. But after they saw me out there they started chanting, ‘Mexico, Mexico!’ It was cool!”

As for the future, it looks like “Tigre” will finally sign a contract with one of the name outfits, either Top Rank or Golden Boy Productions, both of whom are ready to make a deal.

Gogue notes that the Casarez camp is keeping its options open, but will make a decision some time after the first of the year.

“He has proven that he is a quality fighter on the scene,” Gogue said. “He makes good fights, he’s a crowd-pleaser and he has a good future ahead of him.”

Casarez put in four sparring rounds with Tito Ramos, another up-and-coming fighter in the Gogue stable, one who is 12-0 as a pro and despite a lingering elbow injury is on the rise.

“Tito is also ready to explode this season,” said his trainer of the long-limbed banger who won a series of bouts in Matamoros this year. “He is a great counter-puncher, and one of these days he is going to win a title.”

Later in the training session Ramos went four rounds with the baby of the bunch, 16-year-old Ricky Alvarez, who may have the most potential of all the Gogue fighters. A smooth technician who has grown three inches this year and added 15 pounds, Alvarez showed what he’s made of in 2010 with Silver Gloves titles at the state and regional level and a solid showing at the national tournament in Missouri.

“Ricky is super already, he can get in there with the grown men and more than hold his own,” Gogue crowed. “The guy has it, for sure. He can punch and he has great defensive skills. When he gets his man-growth, that growth spurt in terms of upper-body strength, he could become one of the best fighters the Valley has ever seen.”

With superb balance and smarts, Alvarez is always in position in the ring. He punches with economy, never wasting any motion, and throws combinations in crisp, efficient style.

“That guy is good, no doubt about it,” said Ramos, and Casarez agreed. “Ricky is going to be something some day soon.”

Ramos will be back in action Jan. 17 down in Mexico, while Casarez should be in the ring once again in early spring. Gogue would love to feature all his boxers in a pro-am event some time in 2011.

“There are all kinds of guys coming over to train with us, we have got a full house on some nights,” he said. “People know that they will get a full workout with us, some good sparring, and all the teaching they can handle.”

And anyone coming over to the Owassa Road facility will also get a chance to see a champion in action. Casarez says that winning the belt in Florida has given him all the positive feedback he needs to keep the momentum going.

“I felt like I was the main event even though it was just on the undercard that night,” he said. “Some people might have been intimidated by the television cameras, and all the people. Heck, there were more fights in the crowds than in the ring! But me, well, I always love the attention, and it just made me fight even harder!”