When Noe Mendoza Jr. created the UTRGV boxing club, he did so with the intention of bringing attention to the sport he loved in the RGV while giving local athletes a chance to showcase their talents.

The club’s growth, however, has exceeded expectations beyond what anyone imagined.

In just less than three years, the UTRGV boxing club has evolved into a perennial powerhouse among collegiate boxing programs, crowning four national champions since its inception.

The program’s national success has been almost instant, with Mendoza and Henry “Mac” McFarland claiming national titles during the club’s first year.

Mendoza defeated Air Force’s Zackary Phillips by split decision during the 2021 USA Summer Boxing Festival to claim the 141-pound division title, and McFarland defeated Washington’s Jesse Greening by first-round referee stoppage to win the 201-plus weight division crown.

Omar Cortez, the club’s president, became UTRGV boxing’s third national champion during the 2022 United State Intercollegiate Boxing Association’s national tournament, capturing the 154-pound novice title.

Last month, the club produced its fourth national champion, with club vice president Alejandro Huerta defeating Cornell’s MarQuon Frederick for the 168-pound belt.

“It was a great feeling the moment I had my hands lifted,” Huerta said. “There was a bunch of months, weeks, days and hours of hard work. I would miss time with my family and events just to train. After training at UTRGV, I would still go do work on my own because the only option for me was to win. When I won the belt, I felt great. But this belt isn’t just mine. It is the coaches’ and the teammates’. I have the belt in my room, but it doesn’t feel like it is just mine.”

The club’s success extends outside of the ring as well, earning all-academic program honors during the 2022 season.

Cortez also was one of four recipients of the Ira Mitzner Memorial Scholarship, awarded to student-athletes who show a dedication to boxing and the classroom.

UTRGV’s Omar Cortez poses in the ring after being awarded the Ira Mitzner Memorial Scholarship during the 2023 USIBA national championships. (Courtesy Photo)

“Honestly, it is a lot,” Cortez said. “Being the club president, I have to lead by example and that is what I did. I tried to lead by example by taking on the best challengers I could face, while staying on my academics. Winning that scholarship, I’m trying to set the foundation where we could be able to fight but also show we’re smart as well. That is what pushes me a lot. Our coaches and teammates, we all help each other not just in the ring, but outside of it as well.”

UTRGV boxing’s rising tide has set high standards for the program, which is looking to add more national champions.

While founder and former club president Noe Mendoza is set to move on to the next chapter of his life, pursuing his law degree next fall, the club hopes to continue to grow what he helped build.

“My mission from the start of this was to inspire the next group of leaders,” Mendoza said. “When I graduated, I knew I couldn’t compete anymore. Everything we’re trying to do now, we’re trying to make history. We have a small trophy case at the UREC, and they’re going to continue building that trophy case and building our history.”

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