The trainer thought something was wrong. The fighter had just left the dressing room and he was back maybe ten minutes later still dressed in his robe.
“You just left,” the man told Elio Rojas, a featherweight from the Dominican Republic. “What happened?”
An overhand right by Rojas knocked Corey Goodwin (3-1, 1 KO) down 30 seconds into their fight at Madison Square Garden on the under card of Felix Trinidad and Ricardo Mayorga. The fighter from Abilene, Texas rose on shaky legs, but Rojas (7-0, 6 KOs) knocked him down again with two left hooks and another right, and the referee stopped the scheduled four-rounder at 1:05 of the first round, sending Goodwin back to Texas with a story he can tell his family if Rojas ever fulfills his vast potential.
Rojas happily returned to the dressing room where he met a party of trainers and fighters waiting with bewildered looks that slowly turned to appreciation when they learned he had won.
“I see myself in him,” said Lennox Blackmoore, a former junior welterweight title contender and Rojas' trainer at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. “That's championship material right there. He listens; he executes the game plan like I told him. He has the mentality that if you hit me and I'll hit you right back. In the gym, nobody wants to spar him. He has to spar two different guys at once- one in and one out every round because of how he fights.”
It may be appropriate to dovetail another talented featherweight on the heels of Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales' glittery bout on Saturday. One day, Rojos may inhale the same sanctified air that Barrera and Morales breathe – pay-per-view- air – but for the time being, Rojas is just another kid plying his trade on the underbelly of shows in remote locations. Still, Eric Bottjer, a matchmaker for Don King, who promotes Rojas, believes he has a gem on his hands, a youngster who is going places – even if it is a taxing process finding opponents for him to chew up and spit out.
“The guy looks like a young Tito (Trinidad),” Bottjer said over the phone on Monday. “He has that confident air about him. The guy looks like a fighter. He has good skills; he always comes in shape. He's a real professional.”
Perhaps a story about the difficulties in finding Rojas an opponent will better illustrate his appeal.
“I had to overpay one of his opponents to fight him one time,” Bottjer said. “It was a guy from New York who Bruce Silverglade (the owner of Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn where Rojas trains) referred him to me. The asking price was $3000. I thought about it and said 'sure.' Then Bruce came back to me and told me that the guy wanted $4,000 which told me that he didn't really want to fight him. The problem [with finding him opponents] is that people who know him don't want to fight him, so we have to fly guys up and have him fight in the Dominican Republic [where he is fighting next on December 9th].”
According to Rojas' manager, Antonio Tineo, Don King signed Rojas before his fight in October at the Garden. Normally, a promoter waits until a fighter has around 10 fights before offering him a contract, but Rojas has an excellent amateur pedigree, and Tineo says Rojas would have qualified for the Dominican Republic's Olympic boxing team and fought in Greece had it not been for a year suspension he received for taking an unidentified medication in violation of amateur boxing rules.
Tineo read about Rojas' suspension and flew out to San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, where Rojas was living with his mother and uncle and brought him back to New York to begin a professional career. He knocked out Wilson Ramos in the first round at the Olympic Theater in March at his debut.
Prospects don't come cheap and Tineo pays for Rojas' apartment in Jamaica, Queens and gives him $200 a week and additional per diem for food. Rojas made $2,500 for the fight in October, and the president of the Dominican Republic promised Rojas a $50,000 apartment if he won on Saturday, Tineo said.
Rojas dedicated the bout to his father, who died three years ago from a stomach ulcer.
“I went into the ring with the attitude that I would knock him out,” he said through an interpreter. “I feel sorry for the guy, but I have been training in the gym for that punch. I came to this country to get the belt.”