Experience gives his boxers an edge, notes coach David Rivera of Lancaster City Boxing Club.
But even with that edge, the four boxers heading to the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Regional Junior Olympic Tournament this weekend must fight hard to make it to the goal — a shot at a national title in June.
Xavier Rodriguez (24-12) made it to the semifinals of the 2018 National Junior Olympics. The 12-year-old took home a bronze medal, and was ranked in the top five of his weight class nationally.
Now fighting at 80 pounds, and coming off a win by unanimous decision at districts, the young boxer said he is both excited and confident about this weekend, and his ability to get to nationals.
“I have a good chance of making it,” he said, leaning against the wall and wrapping his hands in new neon-colored hand wraps.
Teammate Jasiah Ortiz (6-3) is also very excited, he said.
“It feels more important because it’s a bigger fight,” he said. “... Club shows matter but tournaments are better.”
But, at this level, there’s also the pressure of tighter rules. There’s no weight allowance in Junior Olympic boxing. Ortiz is training, but also working hard to stay at 106 pounds.
“I’m eating fruit a lot,” he said, which is fine with him because he likes fruit.
Rivera acknowledges the challenges of Olympic-level competition. The boxers he and coach Will Torres will take to weigh-ins Friday will face athletes coming in from six separate divisions. Gyms from Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and even West Virginia are sending winning boxers.
Lancaster City Boxing has triumphed over those gyms before, Rivera said.
“They know the goal is attainable,” he said of his team.
But in order to step into the ring on Friday or Saturday, they have to “beat the scale first,” Rivera said.
Jaren Colon, (13-7), has no concerns about the scale. This spring he fought at 65 pounds in the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves, and won a central Pennsylvania championship. In this tournament, a week shy of his 11th birthday, he’s fighting at Bantam class — 70 pounds.
As a Pee Wee last year, Colon didn’t have to win to advance to nationals. This year he does and it’s both “nerve wracking and exciting,” he said.
But, he added, his nerves won’t stop him from doing what he loves — “Winning, moving on, and fighting again.”
Fourteen-year-old Will “Puba” Torres (17-11) is in the Junior division for the first time this year. He’s heading to the event, but expected to get a walkover.
The 2019 Mid-Atlantic Regional Junior Olympic Tournament will begin Friday and continue Saturday — with a possible extended day of Sunday — at Must Fight Boxing Gym, 504 Edgmont Ave., Chester.
The bout sheet will be finalized Friday, and bouts begin at 7 that night.