TASTY TIDBITS North Bergen’s budding boxing champion Also: Turf removed at Caven; Mocco’s game effort in Beijing

When Julian Rodriguez returns to his eighth grade classroom at North Bergen’s Horace Mann School this week, he’s going to have a lot to talk about with his fellow classmates.

That’s because Rodriguez, a budding boxing superstar, now has three more national championship belts to add to his burgeoning collection.

The 13-year-old Rodriguez has now captured a total of 10 national titles since he began his amateur boxing career five years ago.

In a span of a month, Rodriguez won the Desert Showdown in Coachella, Calif., then took the 106-pound belt at the National Junior Golden Gloves in Mesquite, Nevada and followed with the biggest prize, the championship at the World Ringside Tournament held earlier this month in Kansas City, with more than 1,500 amateur fighters competing for national crowns.

“It’s the biggest amateur boxing tournament in the world,” said Alex Devia, Rodriguez’s father and trainer. “There were 14 fighters in Julian’s weight class alone.”

Rodriguez’s weight class was 106 pounds, strictly for boxers ages 13 and 14. But he maneuvered his way through the tough weight class that featured seven former national champions and won the title in convincing fashion.

“Julian had won this title twice before, but this one was very hard to get,” Devia said. “He had to fight three national champions in his first four fights. But he did his best to win again.”

Julian Rodriguez is a dedicated boxer. He trains five days a week, for perhaps two and a half hours per trip, at the Bergen County PAL in Hackensack.

Devia, who is a full-time employee with the North Bergen Department of Public Works, brings a stable of local boxers, like Isaiah Castenon of North Bergen and Jimmy and Isaac Cuellar of Union City (they’re cousins) to Hackensack to train as well with his son.

“We just load up the car and go,” Devia said. “Julian is the one who has been boxing the longest. He has been in the ring since he was 8 years old.”

Julian Rodriguez said that he tried other sports when he was younger, but he decided to concentrate on boxing.

“I tried baseball one year, but I wasn’t very good,” Rodriguez said. “I gave up baseball and went right back into the gym.”

Needless to say, it gets pretty expensive to take your child to top-flight boxing tournaments all over the country.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” Devia said. “It’s either the training or the new gloves or uniforms. But it’s really worth it, because you can see how he’s developing as a fighter. He has a bright future. He just needed a hobby. He came with me to the gym one day and liked boxing right away and has stuck with it. You could see right away that he had good boxing skills. He’s tenacious and goes right after his opponent.”

Rodriguez said that he has earned a fine reputation among the boxing circles.

“They see me come into the gym and they say, ‘Hey, that’s the kid from New Jersey,'” Rodriguez said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people from different states and I’m getting a lot of respect. I like that.”

After the victories over the summer, young Julian has an impressive amateur boxing record of 77-7. He’s 17-1 this season, with his lone loss coming in the finals of the National Golden Gloves, after having already won the New Jersey state and Northeast Region title.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Rodriguez said.

Even with all the championships and belts, Rodriguez is still shooting for loftier plateaus.

“I still haven’t reached my goal,” Rodriguez said. “My goal is the Olympics in 2012 in London. That’s the goal. These wins just get me a step closer. Getting to the Olympics motivates me.”

So that’s why Rodriguez got up at all hours of the night to watch the boxing events in the recently completed Olympic Games in Beijing. While the United States only earned one medal this year, Rodriguez is determined to bring home a boxing medal one day.

For now, he will just be your average eighth grader, who likes attending school.

“I like math a lot,” Rodriguez said. “It’s probably my favorite subject. I can’t wait to get back to school.”

It’s safe to say that Rodriguez will be a popular kid when school starts.

“I guess my friends will see the paper and my teachers will say something,” Rodriguez said. “There are other kids who want to be around me.”

But that’s fine with North Bergen’s budding boxing superstar. He’s taking a few weeks off now from active training, but will be climbing back into the ring very shortly.

“I never feel any pressure to win,” Rodriguez said. “I just have a strong will to win. I know that if I have a tough opponent, I just pick up my game. I’m more determined than my opponent. That’s what carries me. I just have to keep moving in the right direction.”

Seems like he’s well on his way…

Speaking of local boxing, Pound for Pound Promotions out of Union City has announced its plans to hold another night of boxing at North Bergen’s Schuetzen Park on Thursday, Oct. 16, called “October Fist.”

The specifics of the card have not been ironed out, but promoter John Lynch is excited to secure Schuetzen Park as its location once again. The promotion group had a highly successful card July 31 in North Bergen.

“The last event at Schuetzen Park was such a huge success that we are looking forward to a return engagement,” Lynch said…

Work has begun at Caven Point’s Cochrane Stadium. Crews were at the location last week bringing up the old artificial turf surface with the hope of putting down the new FieldTurf playing surface in the coming weeks. The plan is to have the field ready for action by the end of September, but that remains to be seen. But the work has officially begun, so that’s a step in the right direction…

While North Bergen’s Steven Mocco failed in his attempt to win a medal at the Olympics, he did manage to win two matches and lost a tough match to the eventual gold medal winner from Russia.

Mocco can hold his head up high, despite receiving some harsh and unfounded criticism from the American media. You can rest assured that Mocco will grow from this experience and will be more determined for the 2012 Olympics in London… – Jim Hague

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