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Jesse James Leija Interview
Boxer talks Fight Night, Gatti, and the Zone

Jon Robinson

Jesse James Leija screenshot from EA Sports Fight Night 2004.

(EA Sports Fight Night 2004/

MARCH 8, 2004 - Talk boxing legends with Jesse James Leija, and he quickly quips "I'm a legend in my own mind."

Leija is as sharp with his words as he is with his jabs, as the man dubbed The Texas Tornado is one of the few boxers with over 50 fights who remains both articulate in his interviews and accurate with his fists.

Jesse James is bringing his skills into an all new arena this April, though, as the pugilist transforms into polygons for his video game debut in EA Sports Fight Night 2004.

IGN Sports sat down Leija recently to talk boxing, Fight Night, and what it's like to be in the zone.

IGN Sports: I hear when you walk down the streets of San Antonio, you're more popular than the mayor.

Jesse James Leija:
I'm way more popular than the mayor. [laughs] But that's not hard, because he's not one of our most popular mayors. He's a good guy, though. I helped him out on his campaign, but he's just not an outgoing person, he kind of stays in his shell all the time, which is unusual for a mayor. But yeah, I'm one of the most popular people in the city. I'd say it's between me, Tim Duncan, and David Robinson.

IGN Sports: So what you're saying is that you're bigger than Tony Parker.

Jesse James Leija:
I'm not as big as he is, but I'm probably more well known. I'm a hometown fighter. I'm from San Antonio, man, these guys are inbreds. [laughs]

IGN Sports: You're now taking that popularity with you into the new game, Fight Night. Are you a big gamer?

Jesse James Leija:
I love video games. Whenever it strikes me, I go out and buy some new games. Both of my boys are huge sports fans and they're always beating me all the time at games like Madden and FIFA soccer. I don't get to spend as much time as they do breaking down the plays, but I still love playing. We have just about every sports game that has come out lately.

IGN Sports: Is it true that besides video games, your biggest hobby is reading?

Jesse James Leija:
I read so many books, I just love reading. I think that is something that I has contributed to my success as a boxer. I've always read books on positive thinking, books that are motivational, and it really has helped me throughout my career. Not only that, being a boxer, always reading has enabled me to maintain my mind. It's enabled me to always stay sharp. Of course, in boxing, all you're doing is killing brain cells, but as you read and learn, you're creating new brain cells. I think that's what has helped me. I'm still able to speak well, I do so many speaking engagements, and I owe that all to reading. It's like learning has balanced out my brain from all the punches I've received.

IGN Sports: Your kids have to be pretty excited for a chance to beat you up in Fight Night.

Jesse James Leija:
They never stop asking me when I'm going to get the game. Now the trial version finally came in, and they're so pumped up to play, I've never seen them like this for a game.

IGN Sports: What's the most important aspect about your persona or boxing style that you'd like to see represented in the game?

Jesse James Leija:
I'm a technician, I do the right things. I may not be the type of fighter that does anything extraordinary, but everything I do is the right way of doing it. I just get the job done. I'm one of these people, I'm a blue-collar type fighter. I start from the bottom and I work hard until I move up the ranks and get the job done.

IGN Sports: Now that you've finally gotten a chance to play Fight Night, what do you think?

Jesse James Leija:
It's amazing. Let me tell you something, in real life, I get cut in my fights all the time, and playing this game, I could've sworn I came away with a red mark under my eye that I never had before. [laughs] I think it's from the game, it's so realistic I almost came away with a new cut. I really like using the control stick to punch a lot better than just pressing the buttons. It's easier to control the types of punches that you want to throw. People are really going to enjoy this game when it comes out.

IGN Sports: One of the most important aspects of the game is training your fighter. You might be one of the only guys out there who is going to play the game who not only trained as a fighter, but trains other fighters as well.

Jesse James Leija:
I have five professional fighters and two or three amateur fighters that I train. What's great about this game is that the novice fight fan can learn some movements of boxing just going through the training mode. You can actually learn how to fight a little bit without having to take any punches.

IGN Sports: So are you going to give this game to some of your fighters to help them train?

Jesse James Leija:
They need to look at this game to make sure they are fighting the right way. And you know what, people don't realize that when you train your fingers you are actually training your fist and all of the muscles in your hand to get stronger. So playing games is actually a good workout for all boxers because they're strengthening their hands by pressing buttons and moving the joystick around.

IGN Sports: Make sure they don't take a punch that makes their knees buckle like the game.

Jesse James Leija:
That's probably one of the things that they've exaggerated for the game, the knees buckling like that, but hey, I've fought some guys whose knees have buckled worse. [laughs]

IGN Sports: When you're training for a fight in real life, what's your daily routine like?

Jesse James Leija:
It's a little bit of everything. Every day I run in the morning, then I go into the gym for fifteen minutes of straight shadowboxing. From there I do either the mitts or heavy bag, or both, and that will go about six rounds of mitts and then about three rounds of heavy bag. I'm with Everlast, so I use their 200-pound heavy bag. Then I go to the crazy bag and finish up with about fifteen minutes of jump rope and then my abs and pushups and things like that.

IGN Sports: How did you get the name The Texas Tornado?

Jesse James Leija:
You know what, I have no idea how that came about. I was on the USA network and the announcer just said The Texas Tornado, and I was like, hey, that sounds pretty good. It has stuck ever since. I usually just go by Jesse James Leija. James being my real first name, while my dad, grandfather, and brother are all Jesse. So my manager uses Jesse James as a marketing tool, but I do it in honor of my family, in honor of my dad. People remember the name Jesse James, they won't necessarily remember James Leija.

IGN Sports: With all of the people you've been in the ring with, who would you say is the hardest hitter?

Jesse James Leija:
The hardest hitter I've ever fought is Oscar De La Hoya. Probably the fastest fighter I ever fought was Sugar Shane Mosley. I've fought the best fighters in the world, from Mickey Ward to Camacho Jr.

IGN Sports: Is there a fight you'd like to do-over in the video game?

Jesse James Leija:
I want to fight Ali, because he's a hero of mine. I'll probably let him win, though, just so I can say that I got beat by Muhammad Ali. The one I want to keep fighting in the game, because I don't think he'll fight me in real life is Arturo Gatti. We've been trying to get that fight for years, but it looks like the closest we'll get to making that happen is through the game.

IGN Sports: Is Gatti your most sought-after opponent right now?

Jesse James Leija:
Right now, that's the guy I want. I've wanted him for years, but it has just never materialized. There's a chance I could fight Mayweather in May if the Gatti fight doesn't happen, but we'll just have to see what happens.

IGN Sports: How many more fights would you like have in your career?

Jesse James Leija:
I signed a four fight deal with Oscar De La Hoya and I've already had one fight, so I have three left under contract. I don't have to do them all, but I want to. I want to fulfill my contract and finish out my last three fights, then I'm done. I have 54 fights already, so the end is near. I remember my Azumah Nelson fights the best, we fought 42 rounds. I think I was the only fighter to drop him besides Salvador Sanchez. I dropped him when I beat him for the world title in 1994.

IGN Sports: Do you still remember what it was like when you came to the ring for your first fight?

Jesse James Leija:
Yes I do. The reason is that it was at the Convention Center Arena in San Antonio, and it was incredible to go out there in front of so many people. I knocked the guy out in the first round. My most memorable fight, though, was when I fought Azumah Nelson in the Alamo Dome in front of 63,000 people. I'm telling you, when you walk out and head toward the ring, the electricity goes right through your body. You get pumped. It's a feeling you can't explain.

IGN Sports: What's the best thing about boxing in a video game rather than boxing in real life?

Jesse James Leija:
Especially with Fight Night, like I told you, I swear when I played it I walked away with a new cut under my eye. The way the punches are simulated, it's better than any boxing game that I've ever seen before. People can fight all of the champs, all of the greatest fighters in the world, and not actually take the beating themselves. That's the best part about it. It's like actually stepping into the ring against some of the best fighters of all time without having to actually take a punch.

IGN Sports: Vice versa, what's the best thing about boxing in real life that they'll never be able to capture in a video game?

Jesse James Leija:
Actually hearing the crowd cheering for you. They chant "Jesse, Jesse, Jesse!" and you hear them throughout the fight, but it's on and off. You don't hear everything. It's like you're in silent mode, then you hit the guy, then you hear the cheers, then you get back to business and you don't hear anything anymore. It's almost like you're underwater at times, everything gets so quiet. You hear him breathing, you hear him whimper a little when you hit him in the body, and you hear so many different things, but you only hear the crowd for spurts, for seconds at a time, then it's back to the silence of fighting. I remember when I fought Azumah Nelson at the MGM Grand, everything was in slow motion. I could see every punch he threw, everything he did was in slow motion, and it was like being in a zone.

IGN Sports: In Fight Night, when a boxer is in trouble, that silence takes over. It's eerie.

Jesse James Leija:
I don't know who they talked to, but that's how it is in boxing. Especially when you're really into it, you don't hear anything but the punches you're throwing. They got it exactly right.

Jon Robinson

Web Posted: 03/08/2004