Leija Says Against Mena, "I will get cut!!"

13.11.03 - Interview by Carlos "Stiff-jab" Kalinchuk: This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of boxings greatest ambassadors, former Two-Time World Champion, "Jesse" James Leija 44-6-2 of San Antonio, Texas. He's scheduled to fight a very tough opponent in Fernando Mena 17-6-1 of Durango Mexico this Saturday night at the Alamodome as part of the "Clash Of The Titans" show promoted by (his) promoter Oscar DelaHoya. Because of the re-play of Roy Jones Jr.'s fight with Antonio Tarver his fight with Mena will not be televised. Although I have spoken and interviewed James on numerous occasions, this is the most inspired I have seen him in quite some time. With the addition of his former trainer Ronnie Shields he's got a lot to be excited about.

Eastside Boxing: First off, how is the weight coming along. You have 6 days until the big day. How are you doing?

James Leija: I have always struggled to make weight but in 15 years, I've never not made the weight so I expect that even though I'm over right now, I'll be fine. I've always known in my career when to move to the next division so I'll make the weight but it'll be tough. I'm not fat, but I just have big bones and I carry a lot of weight in this little body. I just have to deal with it .

Eastside Boxing: How has this training camp been different than others?

James Leija: Well, as you saw, I was thinking too much. Just when I got used to Ronnie 13 years ago, he had to go ahead and change the routine (laughs)! I was like, man, you didn't used to do this back then (smiles/laughs) and I just got used to it!

Eastside Boxing: What else has been different?

James Leija: I left home for this camp and I haven't done that since 96'. I just saw other boxers and how being away from home in different parts of the world was hurting their marriages and breaking up their families and I didn't want that for my family so I decided to always keep my training at home near my wife and kids. But now my kids are more grown up so I made the commitment to come down here to Houston and work with Ronnie Shields again.

Eastside Boxing: How has working with Ronnie been different this go around?

James Leija: Besides the routine, he saw a bunch of things that I had gotten out of and he's taught me some new things. I was also doing some things wrong and he's working with me on correcting them. My father has always been part of my training team but since I've had other trainers over the past 13 years come and go since Ronnie, I was doing all sorts of different things.

Eastside Boxing: Like what?

James Leija: When I was working out at home, I did my routine and then when I thought I did everything, I would stop and that's it. I went home. With Ronnie, he's like, "You just started!" So that is a big difference (smiles). With Ronnie I'm only half way finished from where I used to be so I'm working a lot harder.

Eastside Boxing: Looking at Fernando Mena, he's a tough guy and he gave Eleazar Contreras two really tough fights. What do you expect from him? And what do you know about him?

James Leija: A tough fighter. At this stage in my career, I need fighters who don't run and he doesn't. He comes forward a lot and I won't have to go looking for him so that's good. I know he'll be there to be hit but he is tough. I saw fight Hutchinson in Laredo and I know he's tough and I know I'm going to get cut because I expect to get butted. Also he's not going to just roll over.

Eastside Boxing: Are you still using Joe Souza as your cut-man?

James Leija: Yes, but he's getting old. I have to be careful where he puts the Vaseline and make sure he's putting Vaseline on me instead of Ronnie (Big laughs).

Eastside Boxing: Yeah or under your armpits right?

James Leija: Yeah or in my nose or ears (laughs).

Eastside Boxing: Not looking too far ahead in this fight but what do you hope to accomplish from this fight?

James Leija: I want to be Champion again. I want to fight the best and I want to win a World Title and this gets me one step closer.

Eastside Boxing: Do you think it hurts the sport when fighters like Kostya Tszyu fight so infrequent? I mean he's barely fought one fight per year since he became Champion.

James Leija: He's doing what Azumah Nelson used to do. He would only fight once a year too. Well, fortunately he's not the only good 140 lb fighter out there.

Eastside Boxing: It seems like this is your last fight this year. Who do you hope to fight in 2004?

James Leija: There's been talk between Oscar and myself about getting Gatti in 2004. I would definitely want that fight. Who wouldn't? That would be a great fight.

Eastside Boxing: I agree. That would be awesome. In closing, what do you want to tell the fans? What do you want to say to the public?

James Leija: I want to say that I have had some real low times in boxing but I've also had some real great times in boxing. I've been Champion twice and I just want people to know that I thank them for their support and to watch me on the 15th or come to the fight because I'm towards the end of my career but I have enough left in me to still fight for a world title.

Eastside Boxing: What was your lowest time?

James Leija: When I fought Camacho Jr. because I worked hard to get back to that level but that guy Weiss really kind of retired him so…

Eastside Boxing: What goes around comes around?

James Leija: Right.

Eastside Boxing: Thanks a lot champ.

James Leija: You're welcome.

Carlos "Stiff-jab" Kalinchuk
Contributing Writer and Photographer

Article posted on 13.11.2003

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