In or about May, 1902, Hall of Famer Joe Gans left his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, to do battle with Lightweight king Franke Erne in Canada.
On Monday, Maryland’s own Lamont Roach Jr. (16-0, 6 KOs) arrived in Puerto Rico for his role in the main event of Golden Boy Promotions‘ latest installment on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, fighting opposite of former title challenger Orlando Cruz (25-6-1, 13 KOs) on April 19.
Gans was forced to weigh-in ringside the day of the fight, coming in at 132 pounds, before crushing Erne in 100 seconds to become America’s first black champion. Fighting out of the same state as Gans, Roach Jr. also tips the scales in the same neighborhood, competing at the super featherweight limit of 130 pounds.
The Washington D.C. product’s return to the ring against Cruz will be his first of the year. Though he went 4-0 in 2017, his undefeated campaign was defined not by wins, but who he lost.
Last October, Roach Jr.’s cousin and head coach, Bernard Roach, suffered a heart attack.
“My cousin passed away,” Roach Jr. told Round By Round Boxing. “He was my trainer for my whole career. He taught me a lot of things in and outside of the ring.”
Lamont, 22, had been previously under Bernard’s reigns since he was nine years old.
Roach Jr.’s father, Lamont Sr., took over head coaching duty.
“My dad stepped up,” said Roach Jr. “We have a tight, close-knit boxing relationship. I think he’s doing a wonderful job.”
Four months ago, the pair were victorious when Roach Jr. decisioned Rey Perez as part of another headliner on ESPN2 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
From Lightweight legend Joe Gans to Heavyweight champion Hasim “The Rock” Rahman, Maryland has been a hotbed for fistic talent for some time now.
The state’s tradition is carried on today by homegrown titleholders Gary Russell Jr., Gervonta Davis and Jarrett Hurd.
Roach Jr., who was born in Upper Marlboro, MD, and now training under his father in Capitol Heights, became acquainted with the three titlists on his climb up the professional ranks.
“I know them very well,” said Roach Jr., regarding Russell Jr., Davis and Hurd. “It’s always a good time when I see them. We talk, we chat, we have a good time. I’m a little closer to Jarrett Hurd—Jarrett’s my man.”
Roach Jr. has developed a close friendship with Hurd, the recently unified Junior Middleweight champion. Along with playing online video games together, the two have also sparred in training camp.
No matter a fighter’s size, color or creed, Roach Jr. is eager to learn from them. He mentioned how much he’s learned watching the sport’s elite like Vasyl Lomachenko, Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez and Mikey Garcia.
“I try to learn from any boxer I can,” said Roach Jr. “Any boxers on TV or at the top level. I like watching and learning from boxers with good timing and who have good speed and implementing them into my game.”
Roach Jr. recognizes the brand of equality only found in the ring. Fight fans will be reminded of that when Roach Jr. faces off with Cruz, boxing’s first openly gay fighter.
“Boxing brings everybody together,” said Roach Jr. “Different backgrounds, different ethnicity, boxing gives them a common interest within the crowds and within the ropes. I think that’s great. I’m for anyone being who they are. There’s no dislike for any certain skin color, ethnicity, background or anything like that.”
Roach Jr. will be exactly four years into his professional career on April 19, turning pro with a points win over Victor Galindo in 2014, the year after winning the National Golden Gloves.
Cruz counts as Roach Jr.’s most accomplished opponent to date. The Puerto Rican has competed for belts in two separate divisions and will have home field advantage in the country’s capital of San Juan.
Partisan crowds don’t bother the 22-year-old Roach Jr.
“Whenever, I’m in the ring I feel like I’m home,” said Roach Jr. “Wherever I go, I try to make it my own. The square is where I’ve been my whole career. Enemy territory is not really on my mind.”
Last year, Roach Jr. met up with another former title challenger in Alejandro Valdez. Though the DC prospect is more known for the speed of his hands than the power they possess, he ended Valdez’s night in 101 seconds with a right hand to the solar plexus.
The knockout earned Roach Jr. a WBC Silver trinket, but he is entirely focused on eventually lifting real gold.
“I work too hard not to be champ,” said Roach Jr. “I think my skill and my will, combined, should prevail over anyone. There’s no way someone is coming in front of me on my way to getting a title.”
The road to glory is beset with adversity and Roach Jr.’s walk has been perhaps tougher than most.
Still, Roach Jr. fights. For those friends, family and fighters who paved the way.
“Boxing has done a lot for me,” said Roach Jr. “I appreciate the sport. So I’m going to keep it going. Not only for myself, but for my legacy, my family and my cousin.”
Photos by Mikey Williams/Team Roach
Andre Berto enthusiast | Bylines at Bleacher Report and Today's Knockout | Follow me on Twitter for live boxing streams