When an athlete wins in the U.S. Olympic Trials, it is usually a story of triumph. For Jordan Fuentes, his tale of success has been laced with tragedy.

One of the greatest achievements of Fuentes’ amateur career was eclipsed by the disappearance of his sister.

On Oct. 10, 2022, the body of Jolissa Fuentes, 22, was found in a ravine near Pine Flat Lake, 60 miles east of Fresno, California. The discovery ended a 65-day search for Fuentes, who left home one evening last August and never returned.

The grief for the Fuentes family has been inescapable. The Fuenteses obtained footage of Jolissa leaving an AM/PM and heading away from town rather than toward it – which they say would have been unusual – and originally believed she had been abducted. Adventures With Purpose were called, and the family began a search for Jolissa.

Norma Nunez, Jolissa and Jordan’s mother, recalled the hardship as one of her life’s worst ordeals.

“The whole time, I thought she was alive,” Nunez told BoxingScene. “We would go into the country and search all those little roads – literally all of them – looking for her, looking for signs.”

But they found nothing. Jolissa had vanished, and Jordan stopped training.

Adding to the Fuentes family’s frustrations were called-in “tips” that were unhelpful or antagonistic. Calls were made about the location of Jolissa’s body, with either false information or foul accounts of unthinkable things. The family was in a state of shock, and Jordan’s boxing was firmly on the backburner.

“What really hurt was her being missing,” Jordan said. “It is just a different type of pain. You don’t know where they are at, whether they are alive or dead.”

The sorrow weighed heavily.

“We were just following any and every clue that there was,” Nunez said. “For two weeks, Jordan didn’t train. He just was looking for his sister and trying to find her.”

Eventually, a call came from Rudy Alcaraz, chief of the Selma (California) Police Department, who swore to the family that he would find Jolissa and bring her back.

“He saw tire tracks going off the mountain [at Pine Flat Lake],” said Nunez, choking back tears.

Alcaraz called in a special unit to fly drones as part of the search and magnified the images, which revealed a hubcap. Jolissa’s car was spotted and, finally, her body. Officials called it a single-car accident and said a team had to be sent more than 400 feet below the cliff face for recovery.

“So after that comes the heartache of grief, the heartache and loss of losing a sister and losing a daughter,” Nunez said. “Jordan started training really hard again, saying, ‘I am going to win for her, mom.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”

Since Fuentes returned to boxing, things have changed. He points to his chest tattoo with his sister’s name after each win.

“The first national [boxing tournament] back after the tragedy, I lost because I wasn’t really focused,” Fuentes said. “Then I started training hard again and I won the Last Chance Qualifier, the Olympic Trials and the National in New Mexico after that.”

Fuentes wasn’t just back and winning – he was beating some of the best in the country.

Fuentes won the qualifiers, defeating Cornellio Phipps in the finals. Then, in December, he won the Olympic Trials, defeating recent Top Rank signee Steven Navarro in the finals – something that even Fuentes knew would be a tall order.

“Fighting against Steven Navarro, I was a little nervous at first,” he said. “I talked with my coaches and I knew we could get him, and we did – and we won the trials.”

Yet because of shadowy qualifying standards, Fuentes would not have been a sure thing to participate in the Paris 2024 Olympics, which prompted his decision to turn pro. A seven-time national champion, Fuentes is now ready to voyage the new frontier of professional boxing, where he can no longer simply sign up for a tournament and fight.

“So from now,” Nunez said, smiling, “I always tell him, ‘Baby, you just go out there and fight – and you fight for what you love – and your sister is going to be right there with you.’”

Fuentes will be in attendance at the SaveMart Center in Fresno on Saturday to watch one of his idols, Jose Ramirez, of nearby Avenal, who will be headlining against Rances Barthelemy in his “home” arena. That’s something Fuentes hopes to do one day, as well.

“Jose is inspirational,” Fuentes said. “For him to come from such a small town and to be packing arenas, it makes me want to do that myself.”

Central Valley fight broker Rick Mirigian, who serves as Fuentes’ manager, expects that time to come in the not-too-distant future – perhaps against a hot prospect such as Curmel Moton.

“Jordan promised his sister he would be a world champion and help the family,” Mirigian said. “Well, after she died, he went on blaze, winning every tournament in sight and doing what only Jose Ramirez has done prior, and won the Olympic trials recently in dominating fashion. You can take his word to the bank, as that young man is on a mission.”

Now comes the waiting game for Fuentes’ pro debut. After the interminable wait to learn about his sister’s fate, the fighter can be patient for this new career beginning.

“A lot of people would have gotten broke by this, but you just have to stay strong with God,”  Fuentes said.

Since the tragedy, the Fuentes family has turned often to a particular Bible verse: Philippians 4:11–13. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” the passage reads. It’s a reflection of the Herculean strength that has been required of Jordan and his loved already – but also a reminder of the resilience they will need on the road ahead.

Lucas Ketelle is a proud member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and author of ‘Inside The Ropes of Boxing’ (available on Amazon). Contact him on X @LukieBoxing.

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