By Lem Satterfield
WBA “regular” 126-pound champion Jesus Rojas has persevered over the course of his past six fights, comprised of four knockouts, a loss to an overweight rival and a disputed draw which, in his opinion, resulted from an unfair stoppage due to his opponents’ cuts.
But the experiences have turned the hammer-fisted Rojas (26-2-2, 19 KOs) into a battle-tested veteran entering the Puerto Rican’s January 26 defense against China's Can Xu (15-2, 2 KOs) on the DAZN undercard of a WBA 154-pound title defense by Jamie Mungia (31-0, 26 KOs) against Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7 KOs) at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Rojas is among four reigning Puerto Rican champions along with WBO 108-pound titlist Angel Acosta, IBF 118-pound titleholder Emmanuel Rodriguez and WBA “regular” 130-pound champion Alberto Muchado. Rojas, Acosta and Muchado are promoted by Golden Boy.
“Can Xu is a big fighter and it’s going to be a war, but I want to get a great victory for Puerto Rico,” said Rojas, who retained his title despite losing his last fight in August by unanimous decision to title challenger Joseph Diaz, who was overweight and unable to win the crown.
“I learned a lot from the Diaz fight, and I’m ready to show my head movement and an improve game plan. Right now, we’re looking for are unification fights against the best fighters at 126 pounds. So after about six rounds, I predict that [I will] end this fight by knockout.”
Rojas was building momentum in September 2015 when he battled to a six-round technical draw (57-57 three times) with then-unbeaten Jorge Lara, a fight called before the seventh due to the Mexican’s impaired vision from a cut over his left eye caused by a third-round clash of heads.
“That fight with Lara was very controversial. Lara told his team that he didn’t wanna fight,” said Rojas. “And then out of nowhere, the doctor stopped it because of a cut? That’s why I feel that it was a TKO, because the fighter himself didn’t want to fight anymore.”
Rojas responded by going on a tear, stopping Kiun Evans (March 2016) in the first round, Jesus A Valdez Barrayan (September 2016) in the fifth, and scoring three knockdowns during an eighth-round TKO of Abraham Lopez (May 2017), who entered at 22-0-1 with 15 KOs.
“I brought a lot of hunger in to that fight because I knew that could present me with an opportunity to fight for a title if I won,” said Rojas. “I also knew that if I couldn’t beat someone like him then there will be no title shot, so I was happy to win impressively to set up my next fight.”
Rojas’ crowning achievement was his next fight in September 2017– a seventh-round stoppage that dethroned southpaw Claudio Marrero off a wicked left hook. Ahead on the cards with Rojas pinned in a corner, “The Matrix” had begun clowning yet paid for his attempt at mugging his opponent.
Marrero’s run of eight straight wins (five KOs) was ended by Rojas, his first loss since falling by a hard-fought unanimous decision to Jesus Cuellar in an interim championship bout in August 2013.
“When you win that impressively against someone like Claudio Marrero, that opens eyes and doors because Claudio was considered among the best at 126,” said Rojas of Marrero, whose very next fight was a 33-second stoppage of Lara in April.
“Now I’m ready to show that I’m one of the best as well by defending my title against Xu. He’s a hungry lion who wants to be champion, but I want to continue winning for Puerto Rico."