Boxing is often unforgiving to a young prospect that loses their undefeated record. It’s even harder for a fighter to reclaim the spotlight without a showboat personality or a non-stop barrage of self-aggrandization. Fortunately for the charming but unusually humble and soft spoken Alexis Rocha, perseverance and talent have him on the verge of a championship opportunity.
A major step-up fight at age 23 against Rashidi Ellis didn’t go his way, leaving Rocha (22-1, 14 KO) with the first, and so far only, loss of his career. But, Rocha learned from the experience, rebuilt his reputation with a string of victories, and climbed his way back up the welterweight ladder. His tenacity is paying off, most recently with him headlining a DAZN main event that ended with Rocha knocking out late replacement opponent George Ashie in devastating fashion.
Now, Rocha’s dedication and six fight winning streak have him in prime position for a mandatory title shot against welterweight champion Terence Crawford. With WBO #1 contender Vergil Ortiz signed to fight Eimantas Stanionis for a secondary WBA title and #2 contender Keith Thurman waiting on a fight date with Errol Spence after a mandatory order for the WBC title, #3 ranked Rocha is the top contender for Crawford’s WBO belt.
Rocha caught up with Bad Left Hook a few days after the George Ashie fight to talk about what it’s like to headline a televised show, that potential title fight against Terence Crawford, and being honored by his hometown of Santa Ana, California.
Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
BAD LEFT HOOK: You just won a DAZN main event show out in California. It was your second time headlining a show, but the first time was as a late replacement when you and Blair Cobbs stepped in for an injured Vergil Ortiz. Did it feel any different this time out, knowing that everyone who bought a ticket knew they were coming to see an Alexis Rocha fight?
ALEXIS ROCHA: Yeah, man! And I thank God for opportunities like this. Golden Boy, the whole team around me. It feels so good having that attention, the spotlight, the cameras on you. It feels amazing.
What’s the reaction from your promoters? It sounded like the crowd was loud and in your corner. Have the people at Golden Boy said anything about how happy they were with the event?
Yeah, we had a great turnout. Definitely a lot of fans turned out to support me. And I’m very grateful to have people buying those tickets to come and see me live. It really means the world to me.
It’s different in the main event compared to fighting on an undercard. The media attention, the responsibility you have for publicity, knowing exactly when you’re stepping on the scale or the timing for when you’ll be walking out to the ring… How has it felt for you graduating to where you’re the face on the poster and in the fight all the cameras are there for?
It’s definitely different. In the co-main event, yeah, you’re on the poster, and you’re the second-to-last to weigh in. But the attention now that I’m the main event, part of the chief attraction? It feels good. Different, but it’s what I want.
Let’s talk about the Terence Crawford situation. You’re the highest ranked guy for his belt that isn’t already booked or mandatory for a different title fight. You called for the opportunity against Crawford in the ring after your win, Golden Boy has all but confirmed it, obviously they’re working hard to make that fight happen.
But, you’re still just 25 years old. What makes you want to take a step up like that against a guy with Terence Crawford’s reputation at this stage of your career?
You know, when I started this sport, it was to fight the best. In the amateurs, I was fighting the best. I went to national tournaments, where you have to keep fighting, keep winning, keep advancing and fighting the best in your division.
In the pros, it’s no different. You climb that ladder, you get ranked. You get ranked higher by whatever sanctioning body it is, and you’re working to fight that champion. And I feel like I’m ready for those risks, for those challenges. I have a great promoter behind me, and I’m going to let them sit down and see what we can do.
You’re not the sort of fighter that takes shots at people, so I’m not asking this to try and stir up anything. But, how do you evaluate or rank yourself compared to the other competition Crawford has faced at welterweight?
I’m right there. I feel like with my skills and my abilities? I’ve been going out and improving with every fight, and I’m right there with the other guys he’s fought. I’m next up in line to try to dethrone the champ.
There’s a saying that nothing really prepares you for fighting a champion until you’re actually in a championship fight…
Oh yeah, exactly.
…A Crawford fight would be your first for a major belt, but your brother [Ronny Rios] has two title fights on his resume [against Rey Vargas and Murodjon Akhmadaliev]. Has he talked to you at all about his experience, or given you any advice on what’s in your future?
He hasn’t given me advice just yet. My promoter and my team are working on that, and I’ll leave the rest up to them. My job is to fight, so just let them negotiate whatever has to be negotiated. If everything happens, God willing, everything goes good.
And if it isn’t the next fight [for whatever reason]; if it’s the next fight after that? Crawford down the line? I feel like Ronny will give me that advice [then]. He’s fought twice for world titles. He’s fought for a unified title, too. So, I know he’ll sit me down and give me the best advice he can possibly give me.
You were quite young when you fought Rashidi Ellis, and you’ve talked a lot about how you committed yourself and came back from that setback. Here you are now, knocking on the door of a championship fight, and you’re still a very young guy.
We see so many people in the sport who seem reluctant to take early risks, and you didn’t do that. It set you back a little, but here you are at 25, just now old enough to rent a car on your own, and you’ve already got yourself back in a position for a mandatory title shot.
Well, life in general is about taking risks. If you want to keep moving forward, if you want to be challenged, and if you want a big reward? There’s always that risk factor. And that’s what life’s about. Taking those risks.
That’s why I fought Rashidi when I was 23, still young. Rashidi did his thing, and he beat me, fair and square. Life goes on. You keep moving forward. Sometimes, losses don’t hurt you. They may set you back a little bit, but mentally, they make you move forward.
You mentioned rewards a second ago, and I wanted to ask you about one neat reward that may be coming your way. Your hometown of Santa Ana, California is working on honoring you, possibly with a key to the city. How did all of that come together, and any word on when exactly that might happen?
No word just yet. But, my city is very important to me. They’re very proud, and they support me 100%. I’m very grateful for that, and for them to even consider giving me a key to the city and having an Alexis Rocha Day? It means everything to me. I try to represent my city as high as I can, and spread positivity every time I step into that ring to represent them and shout them out.
You told me before about how you started out in boxing because kids teased you about being overweight. When your 10 year high school reunion rolls around, any chance you’ll hang that key to the city on a chain and just wear it around all night to show people what’s up now?
[Laughs] No, I’ll go around and greet everyone the same way I did in high school. Say, “What’s up?” And be respectful and humble.
That’s not a very exciting answer, but it is honest and in character for you.
I’ll kill them with kindness, how about that? Maybe I’ll pull up in a car that makes them say, “Oh, who is that?” But, still kill them with kindness. That’s all I can do.
Unfortunately, those keys to the city don’t really open anything. But, I wanted to ask…
…if you could open up whatever you wanted in your hometown, is there anything or any place you as an adult, or from back when you were a little kid, would want to use it for? Where would you let yourself into?
I don’t even know… That’s a good question.
Maybe a restaurant? We have them all here. All the great restaurants we have here. We have a great program, the TKO Boxing Club that’s my home gym, the boxing gym where I came up from and where I go work out. Other than that, I don’t know what I’d use those keys for.
I suspect they’ll let you in your home boxing gym whenever you want. But, don’t you want to maybe go into City Hall whenever just to sit on the Mayor’s throne? Or, maybe let yourself into the science museum to climb up in that rocket they have?
Hey, man! You know something about that museum, huh?
I did a little research for this.
A little research?
Yeah, a little bit.
Man, that would be cool. That’s a good idea.
Any other thoughts you want to share?
Just expect big things this year. I’m barely scratching the surface right now. The sky’s the limit, my confidence is at an all-time high, and I’m going to keep working on my goals. I want to make some interesting fights this year. I’m ready for whatever challenge presents itself, and I’m grateful to my fans and everyone that supports me.