MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It’s OK for Jousce Gonzalez to hit his little sister Jajaira.
She punches him right back.
Their father Jose wouldn’t have it any other way.
After all, Jousce and Jajaira are in a boxing ring and Jose is their coach. And Jajaira, 18, is not so little – she and her 20-year-old brother both weigh 132 pounds, though he’s taller.
Yet sometimes Jose, who also has two other sons who are competitive boxers, wishes Jousce would pull his punches just a bit while sparring with his sister.
“I told Jousce to take it easy,” he said. “Sometimes he goes too hard, but he doesn’t listen. He likes to work, that’s for sure. And that one is making Jajaira so strong. She never gives up.”
Jajaira, the first U.S. boxer to win a Youth Olympic Games gold medal and a youth and junior world champion, is fighting Friday night in the challenger’s division at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing. If she defeats Tiara Brown, she will advance to the lightweight final on Saturday against Mikaela Mayer, who defeated her in a split decision Tuesday. The tournament is double elimination.
Jousce is in the semifinals of the Pathway to Glory Olympic Trials Qualifier III for Men, with two in each weight class going on to the men’s Olympic Trials in Reno, Nevada, in December.
Tyrieshia and Antoine Douglas, who qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials, are so far the only siblings to achieve the feat.
The Gonzalezes' older brother Joet, 22, is a professional, boxing at 122 pounds, and younger brother JonJairo, 15, will probably fight at 141 or 152 pounds. Jose is happy they’re all in different weight classes so brother never fights brother in a real bout.
|Jajaira Gonzalez (red) fights against Ciara Ginty of Ireland (blue) in the women's lightweight final during the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games at Nanjing International Expo Centre on Aug. 26, 2014 in Nanjing, China.
“My family’s the reason why I’m where I am today,” Jajaira said. “My dad and my brothers are always pushing me to fight the way I fight and to train me and they’re always pushing me to be the best. If I’m tired, it doesn’t matter. My dad says he’d rather have me crying working out rather than crying in a fight or crying after the fight because I lost.”
Sparring with her brothers prepares Jajaira for matches against female opponents.
“They all have different things that they see and they’re good at certain things,” she said, “like maybe Jousce hits harder – he says he doesn’t but he does. Another brother has better defense and the other brother might move a little better.”
Jousce takes his duty as big brother seriously. “Going easy on her isn’t going to make her better,” he said. “I gotta be mean to make her better. I know I’m hitting her hard, but I tell her I’m not, to keep that in her mind. I’m hitting her hard, but I want to push her to her limits because I know that no female is going to hit her as hard as I hit her.
“She helps me, too. I work on my footwork a lot with her. I work on my boxing skills a lot with her. She throws a lot of punches so she makes me work. She always has me on my toes no matter what, because I know that there’s not going to be even a split second where I could just sit down and relax. I know I’m always going to have to keep moving.”
They take being in each other’s corner sometimes literally. On Thursday night, Jousce helped Jose during Jajaira’s fight against Rianna Rios. For Jousce’s bout against Yousif Saleh, Jajaira was in the first row with the video camera, cheering while keeping her hand steady.
With two victories in one night, “I’m a proud man,” Jose said.
If both were to make the Olympic team next year in Rio, “It would mean the world to me,” Jousce said. “We train together, we work really hard together, we push each other to our limits. As soon as we get to that, we know that all our hard work paid off and I know that we won’t be finished there. There will still be more to come after that.”
Jajaira said that while the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, “felt like an actual Olympic Games, just for younger-aged people,” Rio is “the big one. The real Olympics. That’s my ultimate goal and I’m not stopping until I reach it.”
The family journey started with another Mexican-American boxer who inspired Jousce and Joet to try their hand in the ring. They told their father they wanted to box after seeing Oscar De La Hoya defeat Fernando Vargas in their “Bad Blood” match in 2002. Jose had been a teenaged fighter in his native Mexico, but only at the amateur level.
“We couldn’t find any local gyms, so my dad started training us at home,” said Jousce, who was then only 7 years old. They eventually found a nearby gym and spent so much time there that even Jajaira went along when there was no one to babysit her at home.
Jose wanted Jajaira to box, but she resisted. When a boy at the gym told her, “Girls don’t know how to fight,” she said, “That made me mad.”
She got in the ring with him and taught him that girls do know how to fight, even those who haven’t yet been trained.
After that, Jajaira said, “I just kind of stuck with it.”
Mother, Sofia, however, initially was not on board with being matriarch of the First Family of Fighting in Glendora, California.
“My wife was worried right in the beginning,” Jose said, but she eventually was won over even if she doesn’t like to attend the fights.
Jose said some people tell him he’s pushing his children too much.
“If they do 10 sit-ups, I say, ‘Give me 15,’” he said. “Sometimes they’re not happy, but I do it for a reason because I want to make them stronger. I don’t want them to get tired. I want them to be prepared for anybody.”
Jose said his youngest child, Jason, 12, would also love to box, but can’t because he was born with cerebral palsy. He supports his siblings in his own way.
“He tells them, ‘Hey, you’re going to win,’ and they win,” Jose said. “He predicts. Whatever he says, it comes true.”
So what did Jason predict for the family in Memphis? “He said, ‘Both sister and brother, they’re going to win the gold medal,’” Jose said. “That’s what he predicted. I’m expecting that.”