An education in the sport of boxing becomes extremely tough, very early. The young children spending hours staring at themselves in the mirror, perfecting their stance, or the older teenagers skipping rope until they’re all out of bounce, are constantly sharpening their skills.
Irvine, California’s blue-chip prospect Alexis Rocha (16-0, 10 KOs), or ‘Lex’, has benefited from the guidance of his older brother, fellow Golden Boy Promotions fighter Ronny Rios. But as he approaches the fringes of world title contention, Rocha provided Boxing Social with an honest assessment of his last outing against the well-travelled Brad Solomon on Valentine’s Day (W10).
“I gave myself a C+ because I fought averagely,” Rocha admitted. “I shouldn’t be fighting like that. I took my foot off the gas pedal, but I should be putting constant pressure on. I needed more consistency. If I had put my punches together, my combinations and applied that pressure, then I know I’d have stopped him. I knew he would come out and do his thing, try to beat me, so yeah it was a competitive fight. He’s a slick boxer and it’s great to get that name in my book.”
Beating Solomon marked a noticeable step up in opposition for the 22-year old and it had some raising questions about his performance, with Rocha himself not entirely content. But already 16 fights in at such a young age, Rocha still has plenty of learning to do and is being guided carefully by Golden Boy Promotions and Oscar De La Hoya, who snapped him up once he’d turned his back on his Olympic dream four years ago.
Talk of the sport’s premier amateur tournament and fighting for professional world titles would have seemed preposterous though, if you’d attended school with Rocha.
Boxing now allows him to earn a living, but he first entered the gym after serious concerns were expressed over his weight and physical wellbeing, “I was very heavy as a kid. I was 11-years old and weighing 200lbs, so I had to take it upon myself to go to the gym and live a healthier lifestyle,” he remembered. “Little by little, I started falling in love with boxing, but the main aim was to lose weight first without going down the wrong side of obesity. I just wasn’t very disciplined with food. I would always eat junk food. I never worked out, I wasn’t athletic, I wouldn’t do anything other than eat.
“It was definitely hard – I was bullied because I was so overweight. Mentally, it builds character. It makes me who I am today and I know where I came from. I’m gonna help these kids today because I can relate. Once I started training alongside Ronny, I could see how hungry he was in the sport. He was a new prospect at the time and he’d just been signed by Golden Boy, so that influenced me a lot. It changed the way I would train and the way I would think, he was a great role model. To this day, he’s a great role model.”
Dedication and natural ability saw Rocha succeed as an amateur and tipped to represent Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics. After AIBA changed the amateur rules and removed headgear from its competitions, Rocha decided turning professional was the only sensible option. He cited the increased chance of injury as one of his reasons, opening himself up to the possibility of cuts and needless, long-lasting scar tissue.
Thankfully, stepping away from his chance of winning a medal and boosting his profile hasn’t hindered his professional career. Rocha secured a promotional deal, aged just 18, with one of boxing’s most powerful brands, fronted by a great Mexican-American champion Oscar De La Hoya.
“They’ve treated me very well and with great respect,” Rocha said, of De La Hoya and matchmaker Roberto Diaz, in particular. “I can’t thank them enough and they’ve been a big part of my progression. It’s already been a great relationship between us and I hope that continues. They have been challenging me. I haven’t fought as much as I’ve wanted because of injuries in both of my hands. That was unfortunate, but I think I’ve been stepping up in competition and I’m happy with that. I enjoy that challenge. The competitor in me wants to fight the best. When the time comes, I’ll fight against anyone, anywhere, and I just wanna stand out from the group.”
That ‘group’ of welterweight prospects includes fellow Golden Boy fighters Vergil Ortiz and Blair Cobbs, who Rocha is particularly looking forward to crossing paths with. For now, he is playing the waiting game. The current Covid-19 pandemic has halted the momentum built after defeating Solomon in February, but ‘focus’ remains the buzzword for the young Californian. After being invited to London as one of Josh Taylor’s sparring partners, Rocha made an impression on the unified world champion and members of his camp. “This kid can really fight,” they told Boxing Social.
Without boxing, Rocha isn’t sure he would have escaped obesity or stumbled across his purpose. Even now, between breaks from the sport, he pays respect to its gruelling schedule and sacrifice, continuing to train and staying ready. Distractions don’t seem to affect Rocha, a quiet man who prefers his own company to that of a crowd – ideal in a sport plagued with the wrong types of influence.
The A+ prodigy must ensure that when the bell rings on the big nights ahead, all of his studying finally pays off.