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Leija lends a hand

John Whisler

His boxing career is over, but that hasn't stopped "Jesse" James Leija from making new fans.

All it took was a simple act of kindness. And a phone call.

The Texas National Guard unit serving in "Operation Enduring Freedom" at Fort Stewart, Ga., may never get over it.

With Leija's help, the unit was able to conduct its first "Cinco de Mayo Fight Night." The card was a huge boost for morale at the base, said Staff Sgt. Nate Canales of San Antonio, who organized the event.

"We've been away from home since Jan. 10, 2004," Canales said. "We work a lot of long shifts, so there's a lot of stress. It truly was a night to remember. Out of 17 bouts, we only had one broken nose."

A big boxing fan, Canales said he has been boxing off and on in the Army for six years, three of those as part of the Fort Hood boxing team.

But Canales had never organized a boxing card. That's when Canales turned to Leija, whom he had met a few years ago, for help. Then one day out of the blue, he phoned Leija, asking the former world champion for advice.

Not only did Leija help Canales organize the event, he made the phone call that put the show over the top. One of Leija's longtime sponsors, Everlast, is a leading manufacturer of boxing equipment and ended up sending eight sets of headgear and 12 sets of gloves to Fort Stewart.

"It's easy to go a day without not really thinking about what our troops are doing for us," Leija said. "I was just happy to be able to help out."

More than 400 soldiers attended the event. It made Canales an instant hero on the base.

"I got a lot of credit for what happened," he said. "But I couldn't have done it without James."

John Whisler

Web Posted: 05/12/2005