For many professional boxers, the day begins at 5:00 a.m. with a pre-dawn run to get the metabolism working and shed off the excess pounds. For Juan Rodriguez Jr., the day begins an hour earlier.
That’s when the unbeaten welterweight from Union City, N.J., clocks in at his day job – loading and unloading trucks for a company affiliated with Home Depot. The work is physically taxing and lasts until 12:30 p.m., at which time Rodriguez goes home and changes into his running gear to do 8-to-10 miles.
After a short nap, Rodriguez heads over to the Union City Boxing Club at 5:00 p.m. to train with dreams of making it big in professional boxing running through his mind.
It’s the time of life that Rodriguez (11-0, 5 knockouts) and other fighters who aren’t signed to major contracts have to live in search of boxing glory. But with five children and a wife to support, it’s part of the sacrifice that he makes every day to provide.
“It’s just daily life struggles. I was a full-time boxer before, I never had to work and it always put the pressure on my wife,” said Rodriguez, 27. “She had to work and worry about all the bills. Everything caught up so I had to get a job, started working. Working, boxing, had to figure out the timing.
“But this makes me want it more, more determined to be where I need to be in this boxing game.”
It has been nearly a year to the day since Rodriguez had been in the ring, but he’ll finally get his make-or-break opportunity when he faces Samuel Vasquez (13-0, 9 KOs) this Friday, April 18 at the Convention Center in the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville, Pa. The fight, scheduled for eight rounds, will be a part of a ShoBox: The New Generation tripleheader, and it's Rodriguez’s first time fighting on television. The card is promoted by Iron Mike Productions.
“I’m pumped, it’s an opportunity to get exposure, let the world see my talent,” said Rodriguez.
It’s the kind of opportunity that Rodriguez couldn’t have foreseen himself receiving a decade ago, when he was a juvenile delinquent in and out of correctional facilities for stealing cars and street fighting.
Under the tutelage of police sergeant and boxing trainer Joe Botti, Rodriguez got his head on straight, leading to a 2009 New Jersey Golden Gloves title after a 56-6 amateur career. Rodriguez turned pro in 2009 but fought just once in 2013 and hasn’t fought since then.
Vasquez, 28, of Monessen, Pa., also has a solid amateur background. While enlisted in the Army, Vasquez won All-Army and All-Armed Forces championships in between two stints in Iraq. Vasquez has fought 13 times since turning pro two years ago, and twice this year already. In his last fight in February Vasquez knocked out 7-0 Berlin Abreu in four rounds,
“I heard he jumps in a lot, he still has an amateur style, but I’m not sure,” said Rodriguez. “I’ve really not watched any video or nothing on him. I heard he comes out fast but not too sure.
“I really don’t know much. I don’t know anything about any of my opponents, I let my manager and trainer handle that. I just prepare myself for the fight.”
Alex Kut, who promotes Rodriguez under KEA Promotions, says that they received a call from matchmaker Chris Middendorf about Vasquez, and after doing some research they accepted the fight.
Kut believes that his guy will have the edge in this battle of southpaws.
“[Rodriguez] actually boxes and does not want to just look for a KO. If the KO happens, it happens, like when he fought [Daniel] Crabtree in Atlantic City. But he sticks to the basics and that will really pay off in this eight round fight,” said Kut.
Rodriguez has taken a week off from work for this fight. If Rodriguez shines brightly enough, perhaps he can get enough big offers to leave the 4:00 a.m.-12-noon shift behind for good.
“It pushes me to my max because now I know I have to go in there and do more than I have to do already because I’m going into his territory, he’s the favorite already,” said Rodriguez. “I have to go take what’s mine.”
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.