Jonathan “La Roca” Lopez is just 20 years old, but he’s well into his professional boxing career. He has 14 fights already, all wins, and 10 of them by knockout. Born in Pennsylvania and living in Florida, Lopez turned pro at 17 and spent the first few years of his career fighting in Mexico. Now, he’s come back to America. His last two fights have been in the States, as will be his next bout, an eight-round featherweight contest against Edgar Ortega on the Emanuel Navarrete-Denys Berinchyk undercard.

“Boxing is my family tradition,” Lopez told BoxingScene. “My aunts did boxing, my father did boxing, and it’s just a family tradition. So I’m keeping it going.”

As a child, Lopez watched his aunts fight at amateur level, absorbing the sport from afar. He started himself at kindergarten age. 

BoxingScene asked Lopez what his first memory of boxing was. He pointed to his YouTube channel, “geolaroca,” on which there is a video of his first-ever sparring session. He was six years old. 

The clip is cute at first, two little kids throwing frenetic arm-punch combinations and waddling around the ring, before it sets in that these young children are trying to hurt each other. That aside, though, the main impression is that Lopez, wearing the white singlet, has visible boxing skill even at six. When on the ropes, he turns his opponent, and when he doesn’t want to engage, he skips side-to-side rather than simply run away as most kids might. 

After the first round, his corner – presumably his father, who trained him early in his career – tells the young “La Roca” to attack the body when his opponent is covering up. Lopez listens, throwing a right hook to the body when his opponent shelled up under a high guard. That ability to heed advice while under duress might prove as big an asset to Lopez’s career as anything else.

There are easier ways of life for a six year old than sparring in the ring, to say the least. But Lopez never sought another path. “I love everything about [boxing],” he said. “I love the blood, the smell, the gloves, I love punching the bag, I love the sweat, I love losing the weight, winning, everything.” If Lopez relishes even cutting weight, one of the most grueling aspects of pugilistic pursuits, it’s likely he’ll be around the sport for a very long time. 

Lopez remains a gym rat, citing sparring while wearing a sauna suit and ankle weights as one of the toughest parts of training. “[It’s] probably like running underwater, or in an oven,” Lopez says in an attempt to translate the workout to terms relatable to the layperson. “Running in a hot-ass oven.”

While some other fighters, even very successful ones, have ballooned up between fights and boiled back down during hard training camps, Lopez maintains a steadily high work rate. “I’m always in camp,” he said. “I don’t really like to call it ‘camp,’ – it’s like a lifestyle for me. I don’t really have to get ready, I’m always ready.”

“La Roca” is trained by Eddy Reynoso, a longtime fixture in the corner of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Not only does Lopez speak about lessons of dedication and motivation from Reynoso, he has some contact with boxing’s golden boy himself. 

“Yeah, I see him, he knows me,” Lopez says with a small grin. “Face of boxing, man. Doesn’t get any better than that. To see him in the gym and learn from him as well, telling me things, is just amazing.” 

As for what he’s heard from Canelo? Lopez doesn’t divulge any trade secrets, but shares a couple of Spanish soundbites. “He’ll say a lot of motivating things.”

Lopez’s biggest claim to fame so far, perhaps, might be his association with another of boxing’s superstars: Naoya Inoue. In the past few months, Lopez was a frequent sparring partner for the arguable pound-for-pound king. 

The million-dollar question: what does Inoue’s power feel like?

Lopez laughed. “Look, the man is two-time undisputed for a reason!

“He gave me my props as well. He told me that I was a really great fighter as well, and that I have a high IQ. It was a great experience, man. We went, like, 50 rounds, five weeks, and it was just back and forth. It was just an amazing experience.”

Imagining a 20-year-old going up against one of the two best fighters in the world in intense sparring sessions invokes sympathy for the kid, but Lopez had no horror stories or complaints. “I like all that,” he said. “I like challenging myself, taking it to the next level, and improving.”

Lopez is immensely confident, honed by a lifetime dedicated to the fight game. “I’m a true champion,” he said. “I’m not gonna hold back in this sport. I’m coming for it all. I will be a household name. Mark my words. I will be a household name.”

In the hopes of an answer that readers who will never box could understand, like how Lopez described sparring in a sauna suit, BoxingScene asked Lopez how he deals with getting hurt in the ring. “If you got it, you got it,” Lopez said simply. “That’s about as simple as it gets. If you got that mental strength to bite down, then you got it.

“Can’t really explain it. That’s why there’s only a few of them. Not everybody is like that.” 

Perhaps watching fighters survive adversity is as close to understanding as fans can get.

Lopez has high aspirations for not just his career, but the impact he wants his career to have. “I want to be world champion, that’s my first goal. And I want to be the people’s champion. I want to help a lot of people around the world. People that are in need of help… just be that champion that people can look up to.”

For now, he’s content to pursue a win over Ortega on May 18th. 

“I come for one thing only,” Lopez said, “and that’s to whup ass.”

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