website statistics

Leija finally calls it quits

Joe Alexander


Leija speaks at Municipal Auditorium where he announced his retirement.

(Joe Alexander/

SAN ANTONIO, TX - Jesse James Leija talked with great emotion about his family and friends.

He talked with equal enthusiasm about his future plans.

When the former world boxing champion was done, however, it was clear he forgot one important detail.

At Thursday's news conference to announce his retirement, he forgot to say he was retiring.

When reminded of that, he quipped, "One more fight."

Leija then did make it official that he was calling it quits after 17 years as a professional in which he won two world titles and had nine world title fights. He defeated 15 world contenders and three Olympians. He had a record of 47-7-2 with 19 knockouts.

The announcement was made at Municipal Auditorium, where his father had fought in the 1960s.

"People come up to me and say, 'Now that you're retired ... '" Leija said. "I look at them in amazement because it hasn't sunk in yet.

"It's official. I am retired."

The 38-year-old boxer took up the sport at age 19, much to the concern of his mother. He broke his nose early on and his mother told him to give up the sport.

Instead, he started out as an amateur, competing in the Golden Gloves. He went on to a 17-year professional career.

"When you look at 'Jesse' James Leija, he overcame every challenge in front of him not only in boxing, but in life," said Lester Bedford, Leija's manager throughout his pro career. "And he faced them with courage and determination.

"He dared to be great. There's not many fighters who do that. He fought all the great fighters. He beat most of them."

Leija earned $600 for his first professional fight. His career ended Saturday in a loss to Arturo Gatti in a world title fight. Leija was the No. 4 contender in his weight class at the time and earned $600,000 for the fight.

"We all know I fought the best guys in the world," Leija said. "I not only beat some of them, but I became friends with a lot of them. They brought out the best in me."

Leija is already turning his attention to life after boxing. He hopes to someday open a boxing gym/fitness center. He is endorsing a line of sausage and chorizo that is expected to be out in the spring. He is also endorsing a line of fitness products that includes knee and ankle braces.

One of the projects he seems proudest to be involved with is called the Miracle League. The program allows handicapped children to play baseball.

"The biggest change is I don't have to worry about my weight anymore," said Leija, who fought his last fight at 140 pounds. "My goal is to get to 250 pounds."

Joe Alexander

Web Posted: 02/03/2005