From campus to the boxing ring
Jalissa Rodriguez enters the dimly lit boxing club.
She wraps her hands, laces up her shoes and slips on her heavy gloves.
Prepared for her training session, she then steps into the ring to face a sparring opponent and starts her workout.
Three or four times a week Rodriguez makes the trip from her home in Waterbury to Springfield, Mass., nearly 56 miles away, and involving two hours of commuting. Her commitment to her new-found sport comes from a desire to learn all she can and to compete in boxing bouts.
Athletic competition is not new to Rodriguez, she has participated in sports throughout her years growing up. And, was an active athlete in basketball, volleyball, track and field as a high school student at Taft School, a private, coeducational school in Watertown.
But, she says, boxing, which she started in 2020, is by far the most difficult sport in which she has participated.
Boxing for Rodriguez, is a place for her to release any stress and leave it all in the boxing ring.
“It’s a place where I’m honestly able to get out any feelings that are holding me down. It’s a place for me to release,” the boxer says. “Whenever I’m training, or boxing, it brings me peace. I feel good about it,” Rodriguez says.
At Southern, Rodriguez, 21, is a part-time, commuter student. A senior majoring in economics in the School of Business.
She began her boxing experience at a gym in Waterbury, but as she advanced found she needed to make a change and take on the travel to Springfield where she trains at Rivera’s Boxing & Fitness Club.
“I decided to go to Julio Rivera’s gym because I previously met him through my first gym. I decided to go to him just because he had the credentials as far as his fighters. His fighters prove his work you know and who he is as a trainer and knowing the success of his fighters. That kind of made me more intrigued to be out there,” Rodriguez says. Rivera is her personal trainer.
Aside from the children attending Rivera’s club, Rodriguez is the only official female fighter.
The male-dominance of the sport does not faze her.
“I never really gave too much thought into it. In a way, it does make me feel empowered knowing that me, as a woman, can step into the ring [during training] with men,” Rodriguez says.
Under the USA Boxing Connecticut Local Boxing Committee, in the last six years 914 men were registered boxers through its affiliation, compared to 534 registered women boxers.
In 1904, women’s boxing first appeared in the Olympics but as a demonstration sport. This means the sport was played for promotion rather than competing for medals.
Amateur women’s boxing bouts are usually three rounds, and use heavier boxing gloves and head gear.
Women’s pro boxing bouts last up to 10 rounds ,and head gear isn’t allowed.
Her training at the gym, costs her $75 a month.
During a recent 90-minute training session, Rodiguez’s face and body drips with sweat due to how hard she must pushes her body. However, she says, the demanding challenge on her body allows her to feel good.
She starts her training off with shadow boxing, where she punches an imaginary opponent while practicing combinations of punches.
“It’s [shadow boxing] trying to develop muscle memory and see the mechanics of the punches and trying to work on technique it’s essentially like a real fight but you’re trying to work on different angles and work on footwork,” Rodriguez says appearing visibly exhausted from her workout.
Following this daily procedure is when her workout starts, and she is ready to go.
While in the gym Rodriguez starts with a solo work out until Rivera, can work directly with her. Rodriguez says she feels comfortable with their boxer-boxing coach relationship.
“We have a really good bond. He’s young which makes it easy to relate to him,” Rodriguez says. “Julio is more of a laid-back guy. He wants the best for you, but you know he doesn’t mind cracking a joke here and there.”
Using the punching bag to practice throwing punches is another common training technique Rodriguez to better her skills.
There are multiple types of punching bags—heavy bags, double end bags, speed bags, uppercut bags—hung along the gym, which along with bags occupies a regular sized and miniature boxing ring.
“[The full body punching bag] is definitely my favorite because there’s so many different combinations on a full punching bag,” Rodriguez says. “Obviously, every bag has its benefits but that one’s, my favorite.”
When using the punching bag, sparring, doing pad work and other boxing related training, Rodriguez straps on her blue Title boxing gloves and goes all in.
Rivera has been a boxing coach for seven years and trained Rodriguez for a year and a half immediately after she had switched boxing gyms. Transitioning her to a new boxing style than she previously had from her old boxing gym was difficult for Rivera.
“I got to challenge myself to make her a better fighter. I’ve seen a lot of progress like crazy progress,” Rivera says.
From a coach’s perspective, Rivera is working with Rodriguez to help turn her jab more and get her to use it more frequently.
The majority male filled boxing gym has led Rodriguez to spar with mostly guys, but she believes it makes her better at her craft. Sparring consists of two boxers simulating a fight to practice their skills.
“It’s definitely harder than sparring with girls that’s for sure but I do feel it prepares me better than if I was sparring with girls,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez described sparring with guys as them hitting harder and having a faster reaction time. She feels if she can go against any guy in the boxing gym, she will have no issue going against other females at any other gym.
Although the boxer has sparred many times, her first time she had no idea what she was doing.
“Looking back at them and I kind of laugh just because I see how much I have grown as a fighter,” Rodriguez says.
Her first experience in the boxing gym overall was filled with excitement and a bit of nerves bundled into one.
“Overall, I was pretty excited to just finally be able to get into the sport I always wanted to do I’ve always wanted to get into it,” Rodriguez says.
“But my parents didn’t ever really want me to do it when I was younger but considering I’m grown and able to make my own decisions, so it was overall really exciting.”
It took Rodriguez years to get into boxing because of her parents, Felix and Jennifer Rodriguez. Although they support her, they are always worried about their daughter competing in a heavy contact sport, she says.
“My parents are worried about it. My dad, he’s a big fan of boxing but seeing his little girl in the ring obviously getting hit and hitting other people but he’s proud of me,” Rodriguez says.
In fact, her inspiration came through her father’s love for boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, which she saw growing up.
Rodriguez’s father is also the reason she attends Southern. She previously attended Simmons University, a private university in Boston, but transferred to Southern this year to save money.
Her father works in the state university system. She hopes to graduate at the end of summer or in Fall 2023.
Two years ago, Rodriguez competed in her first bout at the New England regional tournament, The Lowell Golden Gloves. Although she didn’t win, she is excited to get back into the ring, compete and change her record.
The Lowell Golden Gloves is an amateur boxing tournament located in Lowell, Mass.
According to Laurie Purcell, a member of the New England Golden Gloves Chief of Officials & Central New England, many people ask her where the female bouts occur.
“They [the audience] love them because once the action starts in their bouts, they don’t stop punching until the bell rings in the third round. Most of the time they get a standing ovation. They put on an awesome show,” Purcell says.
Rodriguez’s mindset coming into a tournament is to have as much fun as she can and to avoid putting too much pressure on herself. Rodriguez allowing herself to put an excessive amount of pressure on her leads to the boxer getting in her own head.
“Whenever I’m going into it, I think alright let’s focus on the fundamentals but at the same time let’s make sure I’m having fun and enjoying myself,” the boxer claims.
Before a tournament, Rodriguez feels she must buy all new gear. For the boxer, her shorts cost about $150, her sneakers cost an estimate of $180 and her boxing gloves cost anywhere from $60–$100. Although boxing gloves are provided at boxing events where the bouts are held, purchasing gloves for training is necessary.
Along with her gear, Rodriguez also changes her lifestyle including diet, sleep habits, workout habits, to adjust to an upcoming tournament.
“I try to stay away from anything that’s heavy. Any red meats I really don’t eat. My diet consists of fruits, vegetables, and salads, I try to get as much sleep as possible. Rest is genuinely important for our bodies to recover.” Rodriguez says.
Regarding her workout habits, before a fight, she runs miles during the week if she is trying to maintain her weight. If she is trying to cut weight, she will work out harder.
Boxers cut, or lose, weight to place themselves into the fighting class they want to be in. The leaner they are the faster you are.
“I could fight at 150, but personally I feel too slow. That’s why a lot of us cut weight because obviously you’ll feel stronger, you’ll feel faster and you feel as though you can really perform to the best of your ability,” Rodriguez says.
When challenges such as cutting weight, training and boxing in general get hard Rodriguez, her good friend and pro-fighter Adrian Sosa, who has a 12–1 boxing record, pushes, and motivates her to do better.
“He really gets on me. He holds me accountable with a lot of things especially when I’m not doing the things I should be doing. That’s someone I go to for motivation,” Rodriguez says.
Outside of the boxing gym, Rodriguez is always on the go. The lash tech for three years runs her own business, attends the Edge Fitness Club and spends time with family and friends. But even outside the boxing gym, Rodriguez takes lessons from the sport.
“Boxing has definitely taught me a lot of discipline. Something else it teaches is to keep my composure and to respond rather than just react,” Rodriguez says. “We tend to think responding and reacting are sort of the same thing. But in the ring, you don’t want to immediately hit someone. You want to respond in the best, strategic way.”
Rodriguez hopes women who want to get into boxing take the chance.
“Boxing doesn’t have to be competitive. It can be something you decide to do as far as getting in shape,” Rodriguez says. “It’s great for conditioning.”
By: Hailey Roy