EL PASO — Her swollen eyes gaze at her bloody opponent sitting in the opposite corner of the ring as her coach shouts out demands for the last round of the bout.
Heavy hands hang on the ropes as she inhales and exhales trying to catch her breath while the mostly male crowd howls.
Just as the bell sounds, she forces her body to her feet and moves guardedly to the center of the ring. She taps gloves with her opponent and the round begins.
Jasmine Rodriguez, 20, a junior at the University of Texas at El Paso, entered the ring at the Sports and Health Expo held here in April to fight in one of the day’s only two women’s boxing matches. Rodriguez, out of Ben and Joe’s Youth Gym, defeated her opponent from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Although she claimed her victory easily in this fight, her record is anything but perfect. She faces struggles particular to women boxers that hinder her from an easy climb to the top of the women’s boxing world.
Unlike most boxers who start as young as eight years old, she began training at the age of 20 at her uncle’s non-profit gym, Ben and Joe’s Youth Gym.
A soccer player most of her life, Rodriguez had a rude awakening when she decided to dedicate herself to one of the most brutal contact sports around. “Boxing seems really easy when you are training, but when you actually get into the ring and have someone swinging at you, you realize just how hard it is, especially as a woman,” said Rodriguez.
After training for a couple of months, Rodriguez lost her first fight to the same woman from Las Cruces. Following that loss, she was defeated again for an 0-2 record.
But her losing streak just made her more determined to make her third fight her first win. However, there are not many women in the boxing world ready and willing to throw themselves into the ring, especially in Rodriguez’ 103-pound class.
Unable to get a match, Rodriguez dealt with the pressure of keeping herself in shape while she impatiently waited for another opponent. “With every 10 men in boxing matches, there is only one women’s match making it. Seems impossible to find a fight sometimes,” said Rodriguez.
Although she has to endure the pressure of being a woman in a male-dominated sport, the way she trains is no different. As the only woman among many boxers at Ben and Joe’s Youth gym, Rodriguez trains just like the men. “There isn’t a difference between the sexes at our gym,” said Rodriguez, “we are all considered equal boxers with the same potential.”
Ben and Joe’s Youth Gym’s founder and coach, Ben Rodriguez who has been a boxer most of his life, said he saw something inside her that could potentially make her a women’s boxing champion. “There is a fighter deep down inside her petite exterior that wants to become the best,” says Ben Rodriguez. “Being a woman does not affect her potential.”
While facing the obstacles that come along with being a woman in boxing, Rodriguez counts on the constant support from her family. “Every time I fight, my whole family is there, from my parents to my cousins to my baby sisters,” says Rodriguez. “They like that I am in boxing because I have always been athletic.”
In her corner from the beginning of her interest in the grueling sport, her coach remains one of her biggest supporters, “As her coach I don’t get nervous seeing her step into the ring because she is a woman, only as her uncle do I get nervous,” said Ben Rodriguez.
Along with the support of her family, Rodriguez feeds off of the drive and determination within herself. “Boxing is something I am so passionate about,” says Rodriguez, “instead of placing myself in the victim category as a woman, I accept the challenges thrown at me and I will succeed.”
Rodriguez has high hopes of women becoming equal with men in the boxing world, but she is not blind to the obvious male domination. “Unfortunately women will not be as big in the boxing world as guys will,” says Rodriguez, “in our society it is not accepted and lady like for woman to be physically aggressive in a contact sport.”
However, this does not stop how hard women boxers strive to someday outshine the men. “Women’s boxing matches are more exciting because we fight harder than the guys,” says Rodriguez, “more of our emotions step into the ring with us.”
Rodriguez, who does not have a fight scheduled in the near future, is still training and staying in shape should a match come her way.