Noe Mendoza Jr., a Weslaco native and current UTRGV graduate student, has become a pioneer in the college boxing world since his days at Weslaco East High School.
Mendoza received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M in College Station, where he spent most of his time not studying at the recreation center hitting heavy bags. He built connections and eventually founded Texas A&M Boxing, a club which became recognized as a recreational sport at A&M and introduced the state to Intercollegiate Boxing with the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association (USIBA).
Five years later, Mendoza is pursuing his master’s degree in communications at UTRGV, where he launched the UTRGV Boxing Club earlier this year. The club is also a member of USIBA.
His dedication to the sport resulted in winning the first USA Boxing Collegiate National Championship at 141 pounds last week in Lubbock at the 2021 USA Boxing Summer Festival.
“It’s something you work at and work at, and every little moment amounts up to something. This is the mountain of a moment, and I’m really thankful for all the recognition and support I’ve been receiving from the University and the community, as well,” the 27-year-old Mendoza said.
After two years without nationals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USA Boxing held its first Summer Boxing Festival, which pitted the nation’s two collegiate organizations — the East coast based USIBA and the West coast based National College Boxing Association (NCBA) — against each other.
The NCBA sent their top boxer in each weight class, as did the USIBA, which set up a national championship fight in the 141-pound weight class between UTRGV’s Mendoza and Zackary Phillips of the United States Air Force Academy.
Despite not fighting since graduating from Texas A&M in 2016, Mendoza emerged victorious by way of a 3-2 split decision, making him USA Boxing’s first National Collegiate Champion at 141 pounds.
“Days leading up to the fight with the five-year layoff, I felt the jitters and the anxiousness that comes with the rust and the self-inflicted doubts of am I still capable of what I used to be. Leading up to the fight, I knew I had a tough opponent ahead of me coming out of a military academy,” he said. “I just relaxed, put my faith in the Lord and everything we’ve been doing as far as working and in my abilities. I went out there knowing what was on the line. I had a big responsibility to deliver and to perform. Given that pressure, I feel that brought the best out of me.”
Mendoza landed the more convincing blows throughout the fight and avoided significant damage by using lateral movement and technique to outbox Phillips.
“I knew I did what I had to do. It was a great experience and to take nothing away from the academy, but the RGV came out and fought a little bit smarter, and in doing so, came out and scored the split decision,” he said.
After growing up boxing and learning from his father, Noe Mendoza, who was an amateur boxer during the 1970s and 80s, the younger Mendoza witnessed the importance of creating opportunities for others. He watched his father run Las Brisas Boxing Club, a gym named after their neighborhood which provides free boxing lessons to local kids in exchange for good grades on their report cards.
Now, one year away from receiving his master’s degree in communications from UTRGV with plans to attend law school, Mendoza is hopeful boxing can create opportunities for high school students in the Rio Grande Valley the same way other college sports, such as football and basketball, do.
“I want to set the foundation for future generations to benefit from the club. I’m the first of many to come through this program, and one day I’ll be able to give back by hopefully establishing a scholarship program through USA Boxing to help fund their education,” he said.
Mendoza plans to compete for UTRGV next year at the USIBA Nationals in Las Vegas. After boxing, he plans to take the fighting into the courtroom as a litigation lawyer.
Whatever the future may hold, Mendoza has inserted himself into the conversation of great boxers to come out of Weslaco.
“We come from Weslaco, and Weslaco itself is a big fighting town with a big boxing background. If I’ve done anything that seems fabulous, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of my predecessors; the giants that Weslaco has — the Figueroas, Golden Glove national champion Pablo Ramirez and former Team USA representative Christian Roman,” he said. “The city itself has produced a lot of champions and it’s something that I’m proud to be a part of, the legacy and the culture of Weslaco.”