When red-hot, super featherweight prospect Elio “The Kid” Rojas entered the Madison Square Garden ring on the January 7 undercard of the Zab Judah-Carlos Baldomir, O’Neil Bell-Jean-Marc Mormeck championship doubleheader, you just knew he would not be denied.
Although his face was somewhat relaxed, his body looked like a coiled bundle of rope. His opponent, Priest Smalls of San Diego, who was 17-9-1 (6 KOs) going into the fight, was known for being somewhat durable and resilient.
He never stood a chance against Rojas, who stormed across the ring, his defense tight, even as his hands threw debilitating punches with terrifying speed and ferocity. Double jabs were followed by his vaunted right hands and left hooks, many of which were thrown so quickly they could hardly be seen by the naked eye.
Before the first round was over, Smalls was unable to continue. Rojas raised his record to 15-0 (11 KOs) and showed himself to be one of the sport’s brightest prospects. It is hard to find anything wrong with anything he does.
“Elio only makes things look easy,” said Lennox Blackmoore, who lost a 1981 junior welterweight title challenge to Aaron Pryor and is now a highly regarded trainer. “He is the best prospect I have ever worked with. His power is just a bonus to all of his other artillery. He has so much talent, but he also listens and learns when you tell him what to do.”
“In one year I will be ready for anybody,” said a jubilant Rojas. “I see myself fighting all of the best. [Marco Antonio] Barrera, [Erik] Morales, Manny Pacquaio are all on their way out. I am on my way up. I hope I get the opportunity to fight them and beat them.”
“We will put the Dominican Republic on the map,” added featherweight contender Joan Guzman, Rojas’ close friend and countryman who is 24-0 (17 KOs) as a pro and will challenge Scott Harrison of Scotland for the WBO title on March 25. “Elio has boxing rhythm. He can box and punch, do it all. Just like me.”
The 23-year-old Rojas, who was born and raised in San Francisco Macoris, Dominican Republic, now calls Jamaica, Queens, his home. His father got him involved in boxing at the age of eight. Since then he has dreamed of nothing other than becoming a championship caliber professional boxer.
He is a veteran of 208 amateur fights, many of which were fought at the international level. He won gold medals in the Central American Games and at the 2002 Pan American Games where he beat the highly touted Cuban Roberto Rigondeux.
He was expected to represent his native country at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but was precluded from doing so when an illegal substance was found in his system. He insists that it was prescribed medication for a muscle injury.
Losing out on the opportunity to be an Olympian has only made him more determined to become a professional champion. According to co-trainer Chelo Betancourt and manager Antonio Tineo, who also handled former WBA middleweight champion Julio Cesar Green, no one works harder in the gym than Rojas.
“There is no better prospect in the sport,” said Betancourt. “He is a better prospect than Floyd Mayweather was at the same stage of his career. I want him to get two more fights experience, but think he could beat Manny Pacquaio right now.”
In the coming months Team Rojas says they will lobby hard to garner him big money, high-profile HBO fights against the likes of Barrera, Morales, and Pacquaio. Rojas said that he can beat any type of opponent, but would have little trouble with most Mexican warriors because of their affinity for brawling.
“They would put pressure on me, but with my fast hands and combinations they would play into my hands,” he said. “They would be the easiest fights for me.”
Rojas might be putting the cart before the horse right now, but no one can deny that he has the tools to cash in in a big way in the not too distant future. He is tenacious, ferocious, hard-hitting and, most importantly, all-action all of the time.
However, although he looks like a hell-bent warrior, his technical proficiency proves that there is a method to his madness.
While coming through the amateur ranks, Rojas, who is not married, most admired Roy Jones Jr. and Felix Trinidad. From all indications, he seems to have learned valuable lessons from both of them. While he believes immensely in his power, as did Trinidad, he also puts much trust in his ability to throw rapid fire combinations like Jones.
He has also learned no shortage of lessons on life and boxing from his good friend Agapito Sanchez, the super bantamweight contender who was shot to death several months ago. Sanchez was a tough veteran who had no shortage of ups and downs, but finally seemed to be coming into his own when his life was tragically snuffed out.
“He was a good friend and a good warrior,” said Rojas, whose eyes begin to water when speaking of his fallen friend. “I used to always see him in the gym. Now I’ll be wrapping my hands and I’ll look around and he won’t be there.
“But I think of him often. I thought of him tonight in the ring. I wanted to wear a shirt with his face on it, but forgot to bring it. But he was with me all night. He was there when the bell rang to begin the fight and he was the there at the end, too. He’s always there.”