MMA has Ronda Rousey and this summer we should get a peak into the future of women's boxing when 18-year-old Team USA boxer Jajaira Gonzalez attempts to slugs her way to an Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If you didn't catch her in May in New Taipei City, Taiwan, where she won gold in the youth lightweight division at the Junior and Youth Women’s World Championships, then pencil these dates in and don't play yourself. Gonzalez' road to international stardom begins with The Pathway to the Podium Olympic Trials Qualifier, which will take place June 22-27 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with the top three finishers earning a spot at October’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Shadow League's J.R. Gamble kicked it with The Pride of Glendora California, before she left for Colorado. Gonzalez, the only U.S. female boxer to have won both a junior and youth world title, is a ferocious, confident but cordial volume puncher who was raised among three brothers, a tolerant mother and a dad whose passion for boxing is only exceeded by his faith in his family and the love they share for each other.
Here is our first-person pow wow with boxing's new pioneer.
Runs In The Family
My family is my backbone and the driving force behind my boxing success and obviously the reason why I started boxing at age 8. That's not a craft a young girl usually gravitates to. You can kind of say my dad Jose forced me into boxing. My two older brothers were in it and my dad really liked the sport so I started going to the gym because of him. A lot of times I would try and get myself sick just to get out of going to the gym. Eventually I really liked it and I liked pushing myself to get better. I realized that I was pretty good at it...I mean I didn't suck or anything and I was doing OK when I sparred with the boys. At this point I'm more than used to the aggressiveness, especially when fighting other girls.
I train in Azusa, which is like five to ten minutes from Glendora, California, but boxing's not really big out there. If we want to get in some sparring we have to go to some other city and even then no one is really that serious about it. That's why we stay in the gym and I work with my brothers. They are my biggest help for sure.
My oldest brother Joet, he’s a pro boxer on the Golden Boy roster.
When I spar him, he’s so hard to hit, but he doesn’t hit me hard. My other brother Jousce is 20 and he's a national silver medalist and Olympic hopeful too. He says he doesn’t hit me hard – but he hits hard. I get scared to spar with him.
And then my little brother JonJairo is 14. I used to beat him up, but now that he’s growing, he’s getting stronger and better. They really beat me up in training.
Hearing my story, you might think I was always a rough and tough chica. But before I started boxing I was really girly. I didn't like getting hit or anything, but that fear helped me as I got more serious about my craft, because if I don't like getting hit then when I do get hit, I will come back and hit harder and show good defense.
I lost my first boxing match when I was nine. My opponent had a little bit more experience than me but my dad said I did well for fighting a more seasoned fighter. Then I fought her again and I lost and my dad was less thrilled with my performance. He told me I was just fighting scared because she beat me the year before. Then finally I beat her in the third fight like 2-1, but she quit boxing after that and I didn't see her anymore. (She was the first boxer Jajaira put into retirement, but she surely won't be the last.)
The Come Up
Boxing really took off for me when I was 15 and my dad was talking about this boxing tournament in Reno, Nevada. He said if I make the team I get to travel and compete. We made the drive there instead of flying because money was tight. There weren't many girls there, in fact, there was only one other girl in my weight class and we were the only girls fighting in that whole tournament. I stopped her in the second round.
I turned 16 the next month and that's when we started traveling. My first international trip was to Finland and I got very homesick because I wasn't used to being away from my family for so long. I was there for a week. We had two weeks of training camp in Colorado and then we had a week out there but we only fought on one day.
Your basically on Team USA if you win Nationals in Reno. That's your goal -- to be able to represent the United States internationally. The team was small at the time, there were only six girls. We went to World Championships after that and I won there as well. After that I was just training and doing local tournaments and then the next year I won the Nationals again and at that point I was asked to be a resident at The Olympic Training Center.
So in 2014 I was gone from January to the end of April and then I came home after boxing in a world qualifying competition for the Youth Olympics. I was home all of May and I left again in June. I was gone from June until the end of August and during that time I won gold at the Youth Olympics.
Then I came home again the first day of September and I was just training until 2015 when I won Nationals for the third year and then in May I recently won gold in Taiwan at the Women's World Championships.
I had to win five bouts to capture the title. We fought every other day except for Friday and Saturday which is semis and finals. I fought back to back on those days. I get more tired as the tournament goes on because I get sore from fighting and sometimes when I smell blood I tire myself out because I start looking for the knockout punch. I just have to learn how to relax and pick my punches instead of going crazy and losing all of my energy.I ended up with a huge swollen lip from a vicious head butt in a tough fight against a boxer from China, but Its part of the sport. You have to be able to push through anything you want real bad. The pain is temporary. I'd rather go through the pain and struggle than go through a loss.
I've been lucky to be able to go and see a lot of parts of the world most kids my age don't get to see, but I carry my family with me wherever I go so it's like we are all doing this together. It's kind of tough sometimes because I am away from them for so long and I have to make a lot of sacrifices that most teenagers don't have to make. I fell behind in school because I missed so many days for boxing. It's stressful sometimes, but it's a part of life you have to get used to.
But like a boxer coming from behind to win on points, Jajaira was able to get her grades back up and graduate. It's certainly not the typical path of an American teenager, but her destiny has obviously taken her on a unique road, one that 99 percent of the kids she grew up with could only dream about.
While most high school kids are worried about the latest kix and instagram drama, Gonzalez is eating right, focused on refining her jab and increasing her stamina through a disciplined and dedicated training regiment with one immediate goal in mind: Olympic glory in Rio 2016. She's turning the tables on the boxing game and reaping the benefits and recognition hard work brings.
My life's changed a great deal due to my boxing success. At school when they see me walking some of my friends announce me and say, "Here comes the World Champion" and stuff like that. I don't really like it. I feel the same. This hasn't changed me or anything. Like, when I'm on Twitter people are always telling that I'm famous and it's a bit awkward. Other people get really excited when I retweet them or follow them. But I feel the same. My dad is the one who really gets the biggest buzz from all of this.
After all, he's the mad scientist behind the long-haired terminator with the pretty smile and the relentless offensive arsenal.
My Dad cries all the time when I win. Then when I'm gone and I'm away and I FaceTime the whole family and tell them how much I miss them, he starts crying. My mom is really supportive too. She really kind of goes with the flow and knows not to interfere with boxing. If I'm doing something bad at the gym and we come home and my Dad is upset and telling me about it, my mom knows not to say anything about it or tell him to leave me alone. She only bugs me with normal every day things.
The Chosen One
I know that I'm the favorite in my weight class entering Rio and I think that's cool. I get to represent my country.
There will be some fighters with way more experience than me but I'm not really nervous about my competition. I know they're all great athletes but I work hard in the gym and I leave it all there. I'm always pretty confident in myself because I have to put myself through a lot of tough training to make sure I'm in top shape. My aggression is what makes me dominant. I throw a lot of punches so that kind of helps. If you hit me with one shot I'm going to hit you with like five. But we will have to see because I cant underestimate anybody.
Outworking her opponent is something Jajaira has mastered. A typical day for the 18-year-old sounds like a training camp itinerary for one of her favorite boxers, Juan Manuel Marquez.
I wake up at 6:30 am and I try to start running by 7:00 am and then I'll run five to seven miles. Then I come home, I shower, I eat, I rest and then its the second workout when my dad gets home from work. Then we are there three to four hours in the gym. I come home, I shower, I eat and then I sleep. I'll be chilling on my phone for a little bit and then that's pretty much it...an every day lifestyle.
I don't do much outside of boxing. Sometimes I clean and help my mom around the house. Or I'll go to work with her, but really I don't have time to do much of anything. I don't really have much of a social life. Hanging out with friends rarely happens. When I had school I would see my friends at school but now that schools over I really don't get to see them. If I'm getting ready for competition or they ask to hang out I wont even bother asking my dad because the answer is no. I have to stay on my training. I have to keep my diet good and if I go with my friends I'm gonna lose control and eat the wrong food .Sometimes when I'm not in competition and he wants to be nice, he will let me go out for an hour or two but that's it.
If women's pro boxing becomes bigger I will eventually turn pro like my brother. Right now its getting looked at more because a lot of us have been doing really good, So if by the time I'm thinking of going pro, if the purses and popularity is bigger, then I will do it. If not, I would go to school to be a certified trainer and own a gym. My brothers could do the promotions and promote fights for our company. Definitely women's fights, because there are a lot more girls on the national circuit. Not really at my gym. Girls here who go to the gym go for a week and its only to get in shape. They don't want to fight and if some think they want to fight, as soon as they get in the ring they disappear and never come back. So I've been the only girl in my gym since I was 8, but around the different states, I am seeing a lot more girls in competition. But I don't see any of them beating me.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Heavier are the punches that Jajaira Gonzalez throws with a flick-of-the-wrist fury. Every movement needs a face and women's boxing is still relatively new to sports fans. Lalai Ali types don't come around everyday. Gonzalez however, has the youth, pedigree, training, experience, demeanor and cocky charm to take the sport to another level of marketability if she continues to be the "Real Deal Holyfield" inside the ring. With U.S. boxing in need of some exciting talent and a popularity boost, there's no better stage than the Olympics to birth the beginning of a new sports era and introduce the world to the Mexican-American firecracker that gets the fiesta popping.