Freddy Rojas Jr. celebrates after defeating Charlie Willson of Panama at the 2017 Continental Championships on June 15, 2017 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Freudis Rojas-Londres sounds like the name of someone who could be a nurse.
“Freddy” Rojas Jr. sounds like a nasty boxer.
They’re both one in the same.
“Freddy” Rojas Jr. — aka Freudis Rojas-Londres — is one of six boxers representing Team USA at the AIBA Men’s World Championships, which run Aug. 25-Sept. 2 in Hamburg, Germany.
And he’s also pursuing a degree in nursing.
Rojas, 19, became the first U.S. boxer to qualify for this year’s world championships earlier this summer when he earned a decision over Panama’s Charlie Willson in the light welterweight quarterfinals of the 2017 Continental Championships.
Not bad for a young man whose father tricked him into his very first boxing lesson.
“One day when I was 11, my dad asked me and my brother Enmanuel if we wanted to go to the grocery store with him,” Rojas remembers. “We were like, ‘Yeah,’ because usually that meant getting a piece of candy or a bag of chips when we went.
“We passed one grocery store, and then another, and another, and finally he pulls in front of this old boxing gym and drops us off with a guy named Rafael Ramirez, and he comes back three hours later.”
That old boxing gym was Johnny Tocco’s, a legendary Las Vegas mecca in the boxing world where fighters like Sonny Liston, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather once honed their skills.
The family moved to Fallon, Nevada, about 45 minutes outside Reno, when Rojas was 13. With no boxing gyms close by, Freddy’s dad, Freudis Rojas, stuffed pillowcases with sand to make punching bags, tying them to a tree for speed bag and heavy bag drills.
They ran laps around a local park for road work, and sometimes, “to make it fun,” Rojas says, they’d run in the desert. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they’d make their way to a gym in Reno for sparring.
Freddy’s dad, himself a former professional boxer, sought enough work to pay for training for Freddy and Enmanuel, and briefly sisters Stephanie, 15, and Carina, 14, but mom Laurel put an end to the girls boxing.
“He had to pay for the tournaments, the hotels, the drives, plane tickets,” Rojas remembers. “I’d wake up at 5 a.m. and see him leave for work, and not come home until 10 at night, exhausted just trying to provide us food, a place to live and boxing.”
Success started to click when Freddy turned 14. He was training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2014 and earned a silver medal in a tournament.
“I realized boxing is for me,” he said. “I could be competing with the highest level kids, kids I could never compete with before.”
Rojas is known as a strong counterpuncher with a good jab to create distance and avoid getting hit. He and Delante “Tiger” Johnson of Cleveland are often called twins because they were born on the same day and are similar in style, but Rojas is the only lefty on the U.S. team.
“It’s an advantage because not everyone knows how to fight a southpaw,” he said. “Orthodox boxers aren’t used to fighting left-handed people, so when they fight me, it throws them off a bit.”
As he prepares for his first match after finishing with a bronze medal at the Continental Championships, Rojas knows he has a lot to prove. After making a big name for himself in 2016, he lost a tough match on the opening day of the 2016 AIBA Youth Men’s World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia. Instead of burying his head, he attacked with new fury.
“I worked on more stuff like my jab, keeping my distance, head movement,” he said. “We went home and a week later they had elite nationals. I wasn’t planning to box, just to go and watch, and then I decided to fight. It was my first time going for elites. It was something very new to me, and there were no kids around my age.”
Fighting in a weight class that included grown men up to age 40, Rojas topped them all. He won the first fight by TKO, then 5-0, 4-2, and finally a 3-2 decision in the finals to qualify for Team USA.
“That was the best thing ever for me,” he says fondly. “Winning that tournament was a big step for me. I was super happy.”
Rojas will be even happier if he stands atop the podium at worlds. No U.S. boxer has ever won a world light welterweight title in the amateur ranks, and no U.S. boxer has even stepped onto the podium at worlds since Frankie Gomez earned a silver medal in 2009.