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Ahead Of Andy Ruiz's Rematch, Young Fighters In Imperial Valley Aim For Boxing Greatness

Alex Guillen steps into the ring while sparring in Calexico, California on December 5th, 2019
Matthew Bowler
Alex Guillen steps into the ring while sparring in Calexico, California on December 5th, 2019
Six months ago, Imperial Valley boxer Andy Ruiz shocked the world when he became the heavyweight champion, upsetting the heavily favored Anthony Joshua. Now, on the eve of their rematch, young boxers in Calexico are looking to follow in his footsteps.

After school every weekday, 14-year-old Genesis Garcia comes to a converted warehouse a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico.

There’s a ring, a few punching bags, and lots of jump ropes.

The Baja Boxing Club is where Garcia’s own title-quest begins.

“I like, once you’re in the ring — the adrenaline when you start fighting,” Garcia said.

She was watching six months ago when Imperial Valley boxer Andy Ruiz shocked the world becoming the heavyweight champion and upsetting the heavily favored Anthony Joshua.

Their rematch is set for this weekend, and Garcia will be watching when it airs from Saudi Arabia. She didn’t know what to expect before the first fight

Video: Ahead Of Andy Ruiz's Rematch, Young Fighters In Imperial Valley Aim For Boxing Greatness

but was immediately energized after Ruiz won.

“It felt great. It put the city on the spot,” she said.

RELATED: Imperial Welcomes Home World-Champion Boxer Andy Ruiz Jr. With Parade, Ceremony

Garcia is already the national champion for her age group and weight class and regularly spars with boys her own age and much older girls.

“If you don’t get punched, you’re not gonna have the motivation to punch back, you know? You’re gonna look bad if you don’t punch back,” she said.

Like the two dozen other boxers in the gym on Thursday night, ranging in age from 5 to the early 20s, Garcia looks up to the 30-year-old heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz, who like them, learned to fight on both sides of the border.

Garcia spars with Alex Guillen and seems to smile a little every time she gets punched, before immediately recovering and punching back.

The 15-year-old Guillen, slightly bloody after a flurry of punches from Garcia, is preparing to fight in Mexicali on Saturday, just hours before Ruiz fights across the world in Saudi Arabia.

Ruiz’s rise helped propel Guillen in the ring.

“It motivates you to become a champion one day, being from the Imperial Valley,” Guillen said.

Boxing remains popular in the Imperial Valley, even as the sport has lost popularity nationwide.

Still, many boxers here feel the region is overlooked, even as its punched well above its weight for years.

RELATED: Imperial Valley Celebrates Hometown Hero And Heavyweight Boxing Champ Andy Ruiz Jr.

Raul Lao has run the Baja Boxing Club for over ten years. Like everyone else who grew up around boxing on the California-Mexico border, he knew Ruiz from his earliest fights.

“Ruiz showed the fighters that you can do anything,” he said in Spanish. “Nothing is impossible in life. He believed that he could be champion and now he is. It’s entirely possible that another champion could come out of the valley.

Sarahi Sanchez, 31, first came to the gym with her older brother over a year ago. She describes her style of boxing as “fatadora.”

“You throw a lot of punches, you go forward, you move forward a lot, you keep on going,” she explains.

Sanchez also has a big fight set for this Saturday. Her words of advice for Andy Ruiz?

“Good luck. Try your best. You can do it!” she said, laughing.

The bell rings after two hours of training, as the young boxers set off into the desert night. Some were heading across the border to Mexicali for another training session, others have homework.

On Saturday, their eyes will turn to a match across the globe, as the first-ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion tries to defend his title, and prove to the world that the road to boxing greatness now runs through the Imperial Valley.