COOLIDGE — Relentless. Fierce. Ten years old.
Florence fourth-grader Nevaeh Ann Rodriguez plays a lot of sports, but she says boxing is her favorite, and at the end of this month, she’ll have a chance to become a national champion at the Silver Gloves boxing tournament in Independence, Missouri.
It won’t be her first fight, but it will be her first time on an airplane.
“It gets her out of the house,” joked coach Randy Robles, owner of Robles Boxing & Fitness Gym in Coolidge. Robles is Rodriguez’s “uncle” — she’s called him that since she was a baby, as Robles is good friends with her mother, Olivia Rodriguez — and started training her three years ago when he was still based out of Florence.
“We started out there in the field with one bag, she was one of 80 kids. If you see her fight, she’s vicious. She’s tall has a great reach, and a great jab.”
Robles said that a combination of age, weight and experience determines how opponents are matched with one another. Rodriguez got a free pass into the Silver Gloves at the regional qualifier because Robles said her one potential opponent, a “YouTube star” according to Robles, didn’t want to box against her.
Rodriguez said she’s had “a bunch of fights” in Phoenix and Tucson and has done plenty of sparring at the gym, including against high school juniors and even her one-year-old cousin Roman Robles, who Rodriguez says will playfully spar or mimic their workouts.
“I was punching the bags, and then Roman started doing burpees with me,” Rodriguez said. “He holds the mitts for me, too.”
She said she plays other sports, including volleyball and football with friends, but boxing is her favorite.
“Whenever I’m on computers I like to look up famous boxers,” Rodriguez said. “I haven’t met any, but I read about them. I like to watch other boxers fight, too.”
Robles will be the only member of the Robles boxing contingent to travel with Rodriguez; for Robles, this is his second nationals event in August, after going to the Golden Gloves championship in Oklahoma with Conner Goade. Like Goade, Rodriguez is from Florence and goes to school in that district.
Robles won the Silver Gloves tournament in 1979.
With Rodriguez, Robles says he plays the role of boxing coach and tutor, a role he’s much more nervous about.
Robles said it’s normal to travel for him, and that he’s attended multiple championships before as a coach, including in 2012 where he coached boxers at three runner-up events and one national championship, including one boxer who qualified for the Olympics. But Robles said this year was a little different.
“This is really good because they are all new boxers,” Robles said of Rodriguez and Goade, among others vying for nationals titles this year. “They’re getting up there a lot quicker.”
August also marks the one-year anniversary of the Robles Boxing Gym; Robles and his wife, Julie, had been training kids in Florence, at the community center and sometimes in a pecan orchard. Robles had been working at a Speedway before they moved into the Coolidge location.
Many of Robles’ boxers come from Florence. Robles jokes that “I’m pretty much related to everybody in Florence. I couldn’t even date anybody there.”
But their gym in Coolidge has been steadily gaining members, and Robles said he thinks they may outgrow the gym eventually. Robles mentioned there is the possibility of building out the existing gym at a later point as well.
On Aug. 18 and 19, the Pita Patio Grill hosted a fundraiser for Rodriguez, donating 20% of daily sales both days, to help pay for her trip.
The Silver Gloves championship will take place Aug. 30-Sept. 3, in Independence, Missouri.