Reno boxer JJ Mariano savors first pro win, eyes more

Tahoe Onstage

Reno’s JJ Mariano is victorious by TKO in his first professional fight on June 8.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage photos

Following his first professional win in his debut, Reno boxer JJ Mariano may need a change of digits.

“All kinds of friends and family just constantly blew up my phone,” he chuckled. “I had hundreds of missed calls and texts, but it was great seeing so many people reach out to me. I may need to turn off my phone next time, though.”

Hundreds of friends and family packed the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on June 8 to watch Mariano’s highly anticipated debut against William Flenoy of Fresno.

The Sparks-Reno native didn’t disappoint. Mariano displayed patience in the four-round fight, scoring a knockdown before pouncing on the gassed-out Flenoy. He scored a technical knockout 45 seconds into the fourth round.

“It was a little overwhelming,” he said. “The number of people who filled the stadium for me added some pressure. But that’s what this game is, and I paced myself very well. I didn’t expend a lot of energy and moved around the ring. I thought I used my jabs and strikes well to throw him off.”

A 25-year-old super lightweight, Mariano didn’t alter his approach much in the ring.

Flenoy landed the first solid blows of the match. Mariano used the hometown, higher Reno elevation to his advantage for the next three rounds, landing key strikes to the body.

He took full advantage with an overhand right hook knockdown before his TKO in the fourth.

“I boxed at a slower pace in the opening rounds,” he said. “Coming up in elevation (324 feet in Fresno to 4,400 feet in Reno), he wasn’t going to be used to the altitude here so I wanted to gas him out. I was moving around well and I stuck my jab out there to initiate the attack.”

Trainer Pat Jefferson has worked with Mariano since he was 6 years old.

Heading back to his corner, Mariano received some crucial advice from trainer Pat Jefferson.

“He told me to just enjoy it,” he said. “This is my time, the moment I’ve trained and worked so hard for is here. It’s bringing me one step closer.”

Once Mariano’s arm was raised in victory, the young lightweight made sure to savor the moment. His name in the boxing scene has spread rather quickly throughout his hometown, dating back to his success with the University of Nevada, Reno .

“I had a whole week of soaking it up,” he chuckled. “The recognition from everybody in my workplace to people getting to know me from different cities it was really special. That means the world to me. I didn’t just snap back into reality immediately I wanted to enjoy it.”

Let’s Get It On Boxing promoter Terry Lane was impressed.

“He really exceeded my expectations,” Lane said. “Rounds 1 and 3 were really impressive. We put him in with a guy with a lot of experience. Flenoy came to fight. He had 78 wins in a 90 fight amateur career. Most guys want to fight a tomato can. JJ took a risk and he came out of it wonderfully.”

Mariano is back to his daily routine. His schedule is jam-packed, but he always finds time for improving his strengths as a boxer. When he’s not training in the ring, he is manager and trainer at the Reno FedEx Shipping Center.

Throughout the  week, he works a 9-hour shift before heading to the UNR Boxing Club. After a few rounds of sparring, Mariano takes his workout to the next level with personal clients at Elite Training and CrossFit.

“It’s a lot to handle sometimes,” he said. “I only sleep four to five hours for the most part. But I’m doing this right now when I’m young and I know I can handle it. I don’t have the time for anything. If I squeeze something into my schedule, it’s really worth it.”

Before his pro debut, Mariano was a combined 38-6-4 between his collegiate and amateur fights. He won a national championship as a member of the Wolf Pack boxing club in 2015.

Mariano competed in the 2019 Western Elite Qualifier Grand Sierra Resort in early March. The top two finishers in each division weight class qualified for the Olympic Boxing Trials. He won his first three bouts of the week before falling to Victor Aranda by decision.

Although he missed out on the trials, Mariano built the much-needed experience toward a professional boxing career.

“He’s going through the wire of what it takes to be a pro,” Jefferson said. “Every match for him is helping him take the next step in his development.”

Jefferson accumulated a 249-24 amateur record in South Dakota in a 16-year career from 1965-80. The itch to stay around boxing stayed with him deep into his retirement.

Jefferson met Mariano when he was 6 years old. He’s groomed the young boxer over his 48 amateur matches and first professional win.

“I’ve trained him every fight he’s ever fought,” Jefferson said.  “I’m so excited for him. I just want to see him soak it all in. He’s a really special kid and he’s going places.”

Mariano balanced his dream of boxing and school during his tenure at the university. He was three years into a mechanical engineering degree, but subsequently switched to business management in hopes of building his own training facility.

“My last semester I focused on business management to open my own boxing gym someday,” he said. “It’s a dream of mine. I need to make a name for myself, but I can always go back to school. With boxing, time is of the essence.”

His first professional win can help with his dream gym and much more. Several promoters and management teams watched Mariano’s successful debut. However, his next fight has not yet been scheduled.

Lane said he hopes to bring another fight card to Reno in the fall.

“The response to the last one was really positive and the TV ratings were good,” he said. “We’d like to work with Top Rank again or another promoter. When we do, of course JJ will be slated to fight on it.”

The rising boxer thinks he made a positive first impression.

“I thought I displayed my overall talents out there,” he said. “I could’ve boxed better, but it’s those little things they pay attention to that I do so well. I moved my feet well and my jab was hitting. But no matter what happens, I’m grateful that so many people helped me and that I’m even in this position.”

 — Isaiah Burrows

Tahoe Onstage

JJ Mariano lands a jab against William Flenoy

About Isaiah Burrows

Tahoe Onstage sportswriter Isaiah Burrows also is a general assignment reporter for CarsonNow.org, an online news source in Carson City. He is a journalism major at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he writes sports for the Sagebrush student newspaper. He is the Reno Aces beat writer for Tahoe Onstage.

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