Where are they now? James Leija

By Brad Cooney


Where are they now? James Leija

Boxingtalk caught up with former junior lightweight champion, “Jesse” James Leija and got an update on what he's been up to since his retirement from boxing in 2005.  Leija is involved in many community activities, and has recently opened up a state-of-the-art boxing gym located in San Antonio, Texas.  He also is involved in the Miracle League, a charitable organization that allows disabled kids to play baseball.

BC – You are currently managing Golden Johnson. He is beginning to make some noise.

JL – Well, we are in a little dilemma with him, he wants to fight for a world title.  We have had some offers for Golden, but the names they are offering, and the money, has changed.  The money isn't out there for the fighters anymore.  When I was fighting on ESPN I was getting up to 50,000 dollars, now they are offering like 10 or 15 thousand.  The fighters are taking a huge sacrifice for no money.  

BC – Boxing has changed, the money is not there like it was, so what do you think can be done about it?

JL – Well we'll have to take a risk, but it will be a calculated risk. Golden is ranked in the top ten, and he's a free agent.  We are on the right track, but we need to get him a fight.  If we keep doing the right things, the right moment will come.  Hard work will pay off, and I believe good things will happen for Golden.

BC – Golden beat Oscar Diaz, that was a good win for him.

JL – It was a great win for him. We just didn't get to capitalize on that win after the fight.  The fights that were being offered, were tough fights for very little money.  Major league baseball, and any other sport, you're in it for the money.  Now its a big risk for a small reward, when I was fighting you took a big risk and you wanted to get paid for it, it is a business.  

BC – Are you looking for a promoter for Golden, and if so what are you looking for in a promoter?

JL – We are looking for a promoter that can move him, and get him to a world title.  We are looking for someone who already has a Zab Judah, or a Miguel Cotto.  You have to have a promoter that makes sense.  We are looking for someone that we can make a significant fight out of.  The promoter has to have a significant 147-pound fighter, it has to make sense. We will sit down and listen to promoters, and see what they can offer us.  I think it's time for people to notice how good Golden Johnson is, we are looking for big things to happen for Golden.

BC – Let's move on and talk about you.  How has life been after retiring, and do you miss boxing?

JL – Yes, everyday I miss it.  I am inside the gym and inside the ring every day, but I miss fighting every day.  I still spar with my clients to get that itch out of me, I get in there, but it's not the same as it is actually fighting.

BC – What is it about boxing that you miss the most?

JL – I think the one thing I miss the most is the one-on-one competition, me against my opponent.  I do miss the training. I don't miss the dieting.  I miss being in the spotlight, but every time I am in the ring in the gym getting my guys ready, I enjoy that.

BC – What kind of gym have you opened, and is it strictly boxing?

JL – No it's not just for people who want to box, I have all kinds of people that come into the gym.  I have a lot of the NBA players (Spurs), Antonio Daniels, Pop, Tim Duncan, and I have kids, older women, it's a little of everything.  I was telling one of my clients today, don't be intimidated by looking at others in here, we take baby steps, and in a couple of months when you see a new person on their first day, you will know how they feel.

BC – You were involved with The Miracle League, how is that going?

JL – We have raised $350,000.00 dollars so far, it's a baseball league for special need kids.  The kids are from 4 years old to 19 years old.  We need another $ 500,000.00 to get where we need to be with it.  This Miracle League is for kids that want to play baseball, on their own field, their own league.  We have 3 additional acres that we will use for adults with disabilities, that want to play rugby, or football, and basketball.  We are knocking on doors hoping to get some big corporate sponsors.  

BC – How can people donate money to this noble cause?

JL – They can go to www.miracleleagueofsanantonio.com there is a link that will inform them on how to make a donation, and how to get involved.

BC – What is it about James Leija that makes him give back so much?  You have done nothing but give back to the community for your entire career, and after your career.

JL – Growing up, we didn't have much at all, and I would see my parents giving my toys away to other kids.  I didn't understand the reason why back then, but I learned as I got older that it was the right thing to do.  I judge a person by how he treats other people, and not on how he treats himself.  When I was a kid I noticed one day that my mom had a box with my skateboards, and my basketball in it.  I asked my mom what was going on, and she told me that she was going to give it away to another kid in the neighborhood.  I didn't understand why, I cried when it happened.  But it was the best thing for me, because a couple days later I learned that my mom gave it to a family that needed it more than I did.  I think that the main thing is to try and make a difference, and I am trying to do my part here in San Antonio.

BC – When you look back at your career, which part of it impacted you the most?

JL – A few days ago my son asked me if I ever fought big names in boxing.  I told him that I did, I fought the best names in the world.  He realizes now that I fought the best pound for pound fighters in the world back then.  I fought Azumah Nelson four times, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Arturo Gatti, and more.   I fought Nelson 42 rounds, we were one win, one loss, and one draw, and then I broke the tie and won the fourth one.  Nelson was a great fighter and a great person, I am honored to have fought him four times.

BC – What went through your mind when you won your first world title?

JL – I didn't sleep that night, we were in Vegas.  I came home and I was in heaven, to fight all those years, and have the WBC belt with me was incredible.  What was funny is when I got home, I was walking around with my belt, and my wife told me “Don't forget to take the trash out”  (laughs).  She grounded me really fast (laughs).

BC – You have a lot of fans out there still, do you have anything that you would like to say to them in closing?

JL – I want to thank them, I want to thank them for continuing to be boxing fans.  We need good boxing fans out there to keep the sport going.  Keep reading Boxingtalk, and keep listening to Boxingtalk!