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19 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

Leija Still Going Strong





By Ron Valderrama: To say that everything in Texas is big is a myth, well kind of anyway. At 5’5" Jessie James Leija would prove his critics wrong by going on to become a boxing legend.

Leija was born on July 8, 1966 in San Antonio, Texas and went on to become the WBC Super Featherweight Champion; IBA Lightweight Champion; Two-Time NABF Lightweight Champion; and the NABF Featherweight Champion.

His father, Jessie Leija was a professional fighter and Texas Golden Glove Champion. But tried to discourage his son from boxing. Leija said his parents would not allow him to box until he graduated from high school, that day came when he was 19 yrs. old. After being told he was too short for the high school football team and he needed to lose some weight, Leija decided he wanted to start boxing. He started going to the boxing gym and it was there that he discovered he wanted to fight in the Golden Gloves. The ‘Texas Tornado‘, as he would soon become known started training in the garage of his home under the direction of his father. His father told his son that if he was going to box, it was going to be done the right way.

His amateur career began shortly thereafter and soon won the San Antonio Golden Gloves Title ending up with a record of 23-5. The win earned him a spot in the 1988 Western Olympic Trials which he won. Leija went on to lose in the semi-final round by a thin margin to two time World Amateur Champion Kelcie Banks who ended up making the Olympic team.

His 16 plus year career began in 1988 and ended in 2005 with a few title belts to his name, not bad for kid considered to be too short, to slow and would never make it in the boxing world. The critics forgot a couple of things though; Leija had the determination and the heart to become a champion, not to mention the experience of his boxing family. Not only his father, but his cousin Luis also boxed professionally and he knew in his heart he would make it.

Leija’s pro debut began with his 1988 first round tko win over Oscar Davis. As the young prodigy continued to rack up 14 more wins before fighting to a draw against Edward Parker in 1990. The "Texas Tornado" continued to battle for a world title and fought some tough fighters along the way and beat some notables such as Steve McCrory; Jose Luis Martinez, for the NABF Featherweight Title; Troy Dorsey; and Louie Espinoza to name a few. Leija fought Azumah Nelson and for the WBC Super Featherweight Title in 1993 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, the fight ended in a draw. A devastated Leija did not give though and a rematch with Nelson the following year sparked a buzz in the boxing world as Leija scored a second round knock down on his way to a 12 round unanimous decision win that earned him the WBC Super Featherweight Title.

In September 1994 Leija would lose the WBC Title to Gabriel Ruelas. The fight would go the distance with Leija going down twice and Ruelas once, Leija sustained torn ligaments in his ankle in the loss and would spend almost eight months recovering.


Leija returned to the ring in May of 1995 beating Jeff Mayweather by decision and later stopped Rodney Garnett with a seventh round knockout before moving up to the lightweight division in an effort to challenge Oscar De La Hoya for the WBO Title. The fight against De La Hoya in 1995 ended with a loss for Leija via a second round tko. Leija fought Azumah Nelson again in 1996 for the WBC Super Featherweight Title only to fall short losing by tko in the sixth round due to two severe cuts above his right eye.

Leija jumped back up to the lightweight division to meet Azumah Nelson again for the fourth time of his career. This time Leija won and captured the IBA Lightweight Title with a unanimous 12 round decision in commanding style. Leija went on to fight some of the biggest names in boxing like Shane Mosley, Hector Camacho Jr., and even challenge Kostya Tszyu in 2003 on his home turf of Australia for the Light Welterweight Title’s of the WBC; WBA; and IBF. Leija’s corner would stopped the bout after six rounds due to a perforated right eardrum.

His last fight in 2005 ended in a loss to the late Arturo Gatti and a chance at the WBC Light Welterweight Title. Gatti won with a knockout in the fifth round, Leija announced his retirement a week later.

This great fighter was written off so many times yet managed to somehow become a world champion. He is living proof that anyone can beat the odds with hard work and dedication. His manager was Texas Legend, Lester Bedford, who had the vision to market Leija and arrange some of the greatest fights that will go down in boxing history.

This writer caught up with 45 yr. old Jessie James Leija last week at the Central Boxing Gym in Phoenix and I have to say he looks to be in fight condition. Leija said he still works out almost every day and is on a protein diet only. He has his own boxing gym, ChampionFit Gym in San Antonio and says he will soon open a second and may franchise them out down the road. He also said he has a couple of pros and amateurs working out at the gym that he manages, as well as a wide range of individuals, from teenagers and mothers to business professionals. His son, who is in college also boxes but like his father, tries to discourages him from boxing until he is finished with school. Leija was in town training some fighters and hotel executives for a charity event in Las Vegas on November. 17th at the Tropicana Hotel. The event benefits the Latino Hotel Association, an organization that encourages Latino’s in hotel ownership. I just had to ask him which was his favorite fight of his great career; he said it was the second meeting with Azumah Nelson and the WBC Title, but the first meeting with Nelson was a close second.

In his retirement Jessie James Leija continues his championship ways by serving as Vice President of The Miracle League of San Antonio, as well as mentoring disabled and underprivileged children play the sport of baseball through The Miracle League of San Antonio. The Miracle League of San Antonio gives every child a chance to play baseball in its purest form. They provide wheel chairs and whatever is needed to assist the kids play. Jean Robb of "Remarkable Marketable Me", and advocate for charity prepared a link about Jessie’s career and his cause especially for Secondsout.com Boxing News. To see more Click Here

September 29, 2011



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