Golden dreams: ‘La Bombita’ fights to become an Olympic medalist
16 national and state championship belts cover his grandparents’ south San Antonio dining room wall. RJ Fernandez said the wins and belts motivate him. There’s more space on the wall to fill.
Published: 10:43 PM CST February 12, 2018
Updated: 8:10 PM CDT June 16, 2019
SAN ANTONIO-Richard ‘RJ’ Fernandez Jr tested boxing before it tested him.
“One day, they were all like you wanna try it out?” he said. “I was like yeah. And then I ended up liking it.”
Far from an organized match, it was RJ vs. his cousin with family as spectators. His grandfather, Gilbert Elizondo, was the announcer and one of the family referees. Elizondo saw a spark in his grandson.
“A little bomb. A little bomb that comes in the air,” Elizondo recalled. “A little bomb is coming. I said, ‘you know what? You’re like a little bombita.'”
‘La Bombita’ stuck. The nickname became the competitive identity for a San Antonio kid who wanted to box because he saw his uncle Gabriel Elizondo slug his way to a respectable level of amateur boxing success. Gabriel is a ringside observer to his nephew’s talent.
“RJ is the one who stood out and said, ‘I want to be like my uncle,'” Gabriel remembered.
The young fighter started training to fight with the Ramos Boxing Team at eight years old. His first match was in Austin.
“I lost but it was an interesting experience,” RJ said.
The experiences got more challenging. RJ lost his next two fights. Defeat didn’t deter his determination.
“He didn’t like the feeling. So the coaches here and myself told him you gotta work hard,” Richard Fernandez said.
Fernandez said his son’s hard work started to pay off. According to his father, ‘La Bombita’ went on a 30 or 40 match winning streak.
“When the bell rings, I just go out there and try to win,” RJ said. “I just do whatever it takes to win.”
His trainer and former boxer Arturo Ramos said the first words that come to mind about the teenage boxer are hard worker and determined.
“Every time he steps in the ring he gives it 101 percent,” Ramos said.
‘La Bombita’ is ranked number one in the country in his weight class. He’s held that honor four years in a row. Hardly infallible, the 5’0” 100 lbs teen has a record of 74-6.
16 national and state championship belts cover his grandparents’ south San Antonio dining room wall. RJ said the wins and belts motivate him. There’s more space on the wall to fill.
“I think he can be a world champion the way he’s fighting—with the help of the man upstairs—he can make it,” Elizondo said.
RJ doesn’t compete in local bouts called “smokers.” He dedicates his energy to tournaments because of the prestige and pool of competitors. The young boxer has to travel outside of San Antonio to fight.
“It’s hard to get fights because I’m experienced,” RJ said. “People know about me, I guess.”
He’s been as far away as Utah to compete. His next big trip is Ireland. He’ll head there to fight this summer.
“The journey has not stopped yet,” His father said.
RJ hopes his path eventually leads him to the Olympics. It’s his family’s hope. It’s his dream.
“I actually see Olympic talent in him, ” his uncle said.
The Ramos Boxing Team said they started working with RJ at age seven. His trainers said he’s done well in the ring. Ramos believes the humble boxer’s future is bright.
“Him being an Olympian would be a realistic goal for him,” Ramos said. “He’s made a name for himself—not just here locally…nationwide.”
Boxing isn’t plan A for RJ. He wants to attend the University of Texas at Austin. The 14-year-old is working toward his goal at Holy Cross of San Antonio.
He’s on the school’s basketball team. The freshman is thinking about going out for baseball and soccer.
His family support is strong. There is no pressure to make him focus solely on boxing.
“Glad to say he’s my son,” Fernandez said.
RJ’s mother Melissa and sister Alyssa who also boxes are in his corner. His bond with his father is special. The teen said dad is his best friend.
Fernandez cultivates his son’s talent, helps the boxer realize the sacrifice of no recreation or friends sometimes and spends up to 15 hours with RJ on a given day.
“In 10 years from now I hope to see him on pay-per-view,” Fernandez said.
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