COOLIDGE — Silence is golden, but gloves are silver.
Shy, quiet 10-year-old Nevaeh Rodriguez of Florence is now a national champion after winning her finals match at the recent Silver Gloves tournament in Independence, Missouri.
According to her coach, Randy Robles, who’s known her since she was an infant, Rodriguez came into her own during the event, making friends, gaining confidence and ultimately winning her fight.
“She was out there like a firecracker,” Robles said. “I just loved watching her perform.”
Robles, who trains both amateur and professional boxers at his gym in Coolidge, accompanied Rodriguez to Missouri, the first time she had ever been on a plane.
A host of family and friends in Coolidge and Florence watched and cheered her on via the online feed as she defeated Lavendar Nelson, who was ranked no. 1 in her weight and age group in 2019.
It was only Rodriguez’s second fight. Her first came two years ago, and according to Robles, despite winning, Rodriguez was so overwhelmed the first time that she started crying during the match.
Rodriguez ran into her original opponent at the Silver Gloves tournament, and the two snapped a friendly photo together.
“She won’t look you in the eye normally,” Robles said, “But now she’s made friends from all around the country, so she’s really flourished. She really grew, and that’s what boxing is all about.”
During the Silver Gloves tournament, in which hundreds of kids from across the country participated, Rodriguez trained every day and watched as many fights as she could, befriending other girls in between and talking about their matches or school.
Although Robles is excited about Rodriguez’s boxing future, he said that for his younger trainees, he and his coaches, including wife Julie Robles, focus on having fun and taking pride in their hard work and dedication.
Robles said that he tried to teach Rodriguez the value of independence while in Independence, having her check into their hotel and order food for herself. Robles said they also went “gator fishing”- it was just a turtle — in a nearby lake, although he mostly watched as he’s been dealing with on-and-off health issues since a difficult surgery over the winter.
Robles himself won the Silver Gloves when he was a youth growing up in Florence.
“I went to San Diego with three other kids from here,” Robles said of his first trip. “The other kids didn’t believe the Pacific Ocean went all the way to Japan, they thought I was lying when I told them.”
Sometimes it is a challenge to line up younger fighters, and Rodriguez actually got a bye for her first scheduled match after her opponent had to bow out. Robles said that the final match was tough and hard-fought.
“You couldn’t see it on the video feed, but in the ring you could hear the punches landing,” Robles said. “She’s 10 years old, I gotta keep reminding myself. A lot of boxers fold in the spotlight, but she just rose to the occasion.”
While Rodriguez’s mom, Olivia, watched her win on a live stream video, Rodriguez’s fifth grade classmates made a video of themselves cheering her on and celebrating her victory.
Olivia Rodriguez said she got “butterflies” watching her daughter fight but said it was “amazing” to watch her win.
“We are so proud of her,” Olivia Rodriguez said.
The younger Rodriguez actually got into boxing because of her mother, who had tried out the Robles’ boot camp in Florence.
“I just did it to be supportive,” Olivia Rodriguez said. “I decided I can’t do it, but Nevaeh said ‘Mom, I want to try’ and it just took off from there.”
Olivia Rodriguez said the Robles’ are like family to them.
“I’ve known Randy for a long time,” she said. “We have some years under our belt.”
The rest of Rodriguez’s family reception was equally effusive.
“When I got home I walked in the door and my brother lifted me up and gave me a big old bear hug,” Nevaeh Rodriguez said. “They called me ‘the champ’.”
Robles said Nevaeh Rodriguez will probably now get a national ranking, based on weight and age, which will also qualify her for more events, such as an all-girls championship in California next year.
Robles also noted that several of his amateur boxers were potentially training for the Olympics, which would be an exciting first for the local boxing champion-turned-coach. Robles said he’s trained boxers in the past who qualified for the Olympics but then got hurt.
“We have fun with the kids, amateur boxing is very safe, but with the pros who train here, it’s serious,” Robles said. “You can get hurt and there are millions of dollars at stake for them.”
At least 10 of the amateur boxers who train at Robles’ gym will be participating in another “Cooltown Throwdown” event at the Coolidge Youth Center on Saturday, Sept. 25.
Those interested in learning more about the event can contact the gym at 520-723-6765.