Juan Rodriguez (5-2-1, 4 KOs) is fighting in his first bout in two years this Saturday against 23-year-old Alexandria-based fighter Yurii Poliscuk (6-1-1, 2 KOs) at the Patriot Center in Fairfax.
Rodriguez, a 24-year-old Salvadoran boxer based in Haymarket, has done a lot of growing up since his last fight, a 2012 unanimous decision defeat of Akron fighter Damon Antoine.
Over the past two years, he’s had to deal with injuries and asthma, legal trouble and moving his family from El Salvador to the United States.
But, he said, all of his trials, tribulations and triumphs have made him a better person.
“I’m not the same person, I’m not the same fighter that I was two or three years ago,” Rodriguez said. “I’m more mature now and I know what I want.”
Rodriguez wakes up at 5 a.m. to get to his full time job as an endoscopy technician at a surgery center in Fairfax. After getting off from work at 3 or 4 p.m., he heads over to Olympia Boxing Center in Falls Church where he’s trained and managed by the gym’s owner Jim Ed Jones.
At Olympia, Rodriguez trains, or helps train other boxers, until around 9 or 9:30 p.m. – sometimes later. After that, he goes home to his wife of two years and his son, who turns two in February.
“I’m busy all the time. My wife tells me ‘You’re never home’ and I tell her ‘It’s sacrifice. Its part of sacrifice’…when a fight’s coming, that’s when I’m really busy, because I come straight to the gym,” Rodriguez said.
Jones said that Rodriguez’s schedule is one of the things that keep him focused and out of trouble.
“Whenever you know what you have to do, you do it,” Jones said. “People that don’t have any type of schedule are just idle. They don’t have any type of purpose.”
Another thing aiding his focus is having his family living with him in the states.
“Before, when I would train, I was looking forward to getting out of the gym, for training to be finished because I wanted to go to a gas station or store and buy a phone card to call my wife and see how my son is,” Rodriguez said.
“But now my mindset is more focused on boxing than going to El Salvador to be with them. Now that I have them here it’s a lot easier.”
Jones rested his hands on the ropes of his gym’s boxing ring while coaching Rodriguez, a welterweight, through his final sparring match before Saturday’s bout.
“You’re in the pocket. Don’t stop punching while you’re in the pocket,” Jones said to Rodriguez during the fourth round. Later in the round, Rodriguez connected with a few strong hooks against his sparring partner, Arlington-based fighter Bayan Jargal.
After that round, Jones touted his fighter’s power punching. “Do you hear that sound when he connects?” Jones asked.
Jargal was a good pre-fight warm up for Rodriguez. The two stood toe-to-toe and exchanged blows and combos for six rounds to sharpen up Rodriguez for his fight against Polischuk.
He said he feels good about the preparations going into the fight on Saturday.
But the boxer he’s facing, Polischuk, has fought four other opponents this year and beat them all. He’s got some buzz behind his name from this run and momentum going into the bout against Rodriguez.
“That just gives me more motivation because he’s got a good record, he’s getting a good build up. A lot of people are getting to know him,” Rodriguez said.
“And people haven’t heard about me in a while. They probably thought I retired or something, but…I’m confident I’m going to win…I just have to go in there and show it.”
World Champion Aspirations
Jones has high hopes for Rodriguez, who he’s been training for ten years. He said that now that Rodriguez is back, settled and focused he has a serious chance to be a world champion boxer in the welterweight division.
“Juan’s going to be the next big star in boxing,” Jones said. “Juan’s going places. He has a lot of good boxers in his weight division so we’ll be able to move him right up the ladder.” Jones nicknamed Rodriguez “The Savior” because, he said, Rodriguez is going to be the “savior of boxing in El Salvador.”
Rodriguez said that although boxing isn’t a popular sport in El Salvador, maybe his success could spark interest in the sport in his home country.
There hasn’t been a world champion from El Salvador since Carlos Hernandez became the first world champion from that country by defeating David Santos in 2003 for the International Boxing Federation’s super featherweight championship. Jones said his fighter will be the next Salvadoran world champ.
“Juan’s going to go, he’s going to make it because he’s got great boxing skills, but he also has awesome power for his weight class. He hits like he’s much heavier,” Jones said. “He hits like a 180 pound boxer, not like a 145 pound boxer.”
Rodriguez said he feels that way about his potential, too, and wants to be a world champion, like Oscar de la Hoya, one of the boxers he said inspired him to put on gloves.
“If I wasn’t confident what would be the whole point of doing this. You might as well go to school or do something else,” Rodriguez said. “But I believe in myself. When I’m training 100 percent, eating right, sleeping right and doing everything I have to do I’m confident I’ll do very well and make a lot of noise in boxing.
“But I’m not the person who talks a lot. I just want to demonstrate it.”