Emerging boxer Alexis Rocha told Insider his life story.
As a kid who battled child obesity, and flirted with wannabe SoCal gangsters, boxing saved his life.
The 25-year-old is one of Golden Boy's next big things and he returns to the ring Saturday on DAZN.
SANTA ANA — Police chased teenagers into a youth club on South Center Street in Santa Ana, California, after reports of gunfire in broad daylight weeks before Insider met emerging boxing contender Alexis Rocha, 25, at his home gym.
"That kid has been shot, he's been shot, and him too," coach Hector Lopez told Insider, pointing at various students, as his star pupil 'Lex' sweated buckets in the ring.
A photograph of a younger Rocha is pinned to the turnbuckle. It's there as motivation — a reason to fight.
Rocha once battled childhood obesity. He remembers finishing his lunch at school one day, turning to the girl at his side, and asking if he could finish her food. "No," she told him. "Why not?" He said. "Because you're fat," she said.
At his heaviest, Rocha said he weighed 205-pounds as a 5-foot-4, 12-year-old kid. He was bullied. He's never forgotten how he felt when that girl at lunch called him fat.
"Kids are cruel nowadays," Rocha told us.
'Lex' then made friends with the wrong crowd. "Cholos," he said, were rife in his hood. He hung out and drank with wannabe gangsters who got into fights. Before long, he was fighting, too.
Being called a fatass was beginning to sting. And he saw older "Cholos" graduate into fully-fledged thugs before dying at 17 or 18 years old.
There were two paths he could have gone down and he didn't like either. "I've got to get my shit together," he said to himself before he even turned 13.
Rocha didn't know it at that time but boxing was about to save his life.
'Lex' was a natural ass-kicker
Rocha didn't have to look far to get his shit together as he had two older brothers who were boxing fanatics.
Ronny Rios was already a pro fighter in his own right, little more than a decade away from challenging for world championship belts.
His other brother Salvador Rios "would always go travel and fight," Rocha told Insider. "I was forced to see them box. I used to hate it because I was bored out of my mind."
Hate, though, gradually turned to love.
Through his brothers, he met boxing coach Hector Lopez who runs the TKO Boxing Club in Santa Ana as a non-profit.
Rocha knew what it was like inside a fighting gym, and saw how fit and strong some of the fighters there were, including Ronny and Sal. So he went to Lopez's TKO gym himself, looking to lose the weight he had piled on through inactivity, video games, and eating for fun.
"My intentions were never to box — just to strictly lose weight," Rocha said.
Lex's father was rarely there for Rocha when he was growing up, and his mother worked double shifts cleaning houses during the day, going home to cook for the kids, before starting an evening shift cleaning office blocks.
With nobody to take him to the gym, he'd run the 2.5-mile distance there, do his workout, and run back home.
Few were more interested in Rocha's progress than Lopez, who had been astutely watching Lex lose 45-pounds in a matter of months.
"Hey," Lopez took Rocha aside one day, when he was shy of his 13th birthday. "You're gonna spar."
Rocha got stunned pretty bad in the third round of his first session. He got cracked with a hard shot that snapped his head back, and though he didn't drop to the floor, everything went black. He eventually recovered and beat the kid up pretty good.
Knowing Rocha could handle himself at a young age, Lopez started pushing Lex harder. The coach got his young fighters to huddle together, told them they've got a boxing event coming up, and said they should get ready to compete.
"Lex, we're gonna fight in two weeks," Lopez told Rocha. "You have to weigh 145-pounds."
Rocha's eyes widened. He only ever wanted to box to lose weight and be around his brothers. He contemplated telling Lopez that fighting wasn't for him. "But something in my heart told me, 'Damn, I'm going to stick to it'."
So Rocha dropped to 144-pounds — the lightest he'd been for years — and made his amateur debut against an opponent who had already had five bouts, weighed 151-pounds, and was 16 years old.
The fight went even better than his first spar as a 13-year-old Rocha won in style, enraging the opponent's team, and prompting cheers from his family and friends at ringside.
"I remember when I had my hand raised, I told myself that if I stick to boxing, I could possibly go places," Rocha said.
Within six months he was going places — winning district titles, progressing to the national stage, and winning a title thereafter only eight fights.
All of a sudden the bullying stopped.
Lopez became a father figure to Lex
A young Rocha was yearning for an older male figure — something he didn't get from his dad.
"He didn't want to know," Lopez told Insider.
Rocha would send his father tickets to see his fights early on but his dad never showed up on the night. "It hurt," Lex told us. "It hit me pretty hard."
He said: "I was kind of addicted to working out, losing weight, and fighting. Maybe it was a little bit of my fault if I pushed him away. I love my dad no matter what but he's never been consistently supportive of me like my mom has, or Hector has."
When Rocha signed with Golden Boy Promotions, he begged his dad to turn up for his pro debut. "Please show up," he told him, handing his father a ticket. But he never did.
Rocha has gotten closer to his father through the years. His dad finally saw him box in front of a big, pro-Lex crowd in 2021. "He told me he never felt so proud of me when people were cheering my name."
But in Lopez, he found someone who was always there.
"He's definitely a father figure, a good mentor," Rocha said. "He's someone that I've looked up to, you know, for pretty much my whole life. He treated me like a son, gave me good advice about being strict with money, and investing."
Golden Boy has high hopes for Rocha
From the outside looking in at Golden Boy Promotions, it might be easy to assume that the company's future success rests on the exploits of young studs like Ryan Garcia, Vergil Ortiz Jr., and Jaime Munguia.
But from the inside looking out, having spoken to founder Oscar de la Hoya, company president Eric Gomez, and renowned matchmaker Roberto Diaz, Insider understands they're also putting great stock in Rocha.
It is something Rocha knows himself. That, really, there's an awesome, young, foursome ready to burst onto the world title scene from Golden Boy HQ. Rocha regards himself on par with his three other young and hungry stablemates.
"I know I can fight, and that's the thing that's gonna really make you advance," he said.
Rocha is on a run, and is riding the high of saving a Golden Boy show earlier this year when he and Blair Cobbs stepped up to headline the show after Ortiz was forced to withdraw citing injury.
Thousands of fans screamed for Rocha and he delivered with a thumping finish of Cobbs.
In July, he outpointed Luis Alberto Veron at the Crypto.com Arena — LA's marquee venue — and he now fights Jesus Camps on Saturday at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego on DAZN.
Though Rocha is no longer hanging around with the wannabe gangsters and has lost more weight than he ever needed to, he's still motivated to dedicate his life to boxing, he said.
"I try to be the best role model and gentleman that I possibly can be," Rocha told us. "Especially to these kids," he said, gesturing to his coach's other students.
"A lot of these kids look up to me because they have the same backstory I had, coming from a broken home, or when I was chubby" or around that "Cholo" life in Santa Ana. "So I just try to give them the best advice I possibly can."
Rocha's stock meanwhile continues to rise. He's no longer the chubby kid but a tough, strong, warrior gunning for Campos, and yearning for a bout against Golden Boy stablemate Ortiz — one of the biggest bouts DAZN can broadcast; a true SoCal spectacle.
To get to that stage, with what he hopes would be world championships on the line, he has to do one thing.
"I have to just keep going in there and breaking these guys' souls."
Judging from the way he's been fighting recently, few should bet against him doing precisely that.
Read the original article on Insider