JJ Mariano in a boxing ring. The rising boxer hopes to use his win against William Flenoy to build his boxing career.

Editor’s note: This story previously appeared in Tahoe Onstage.

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, California, as the undercard. 

The Sparks/Reno, native didn’t disappoint. Mariano displayed patience in the four-round bout 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 amount of people that 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 blow of the match. Mariano used the higher Reno elevation to his advantage for the next three rounds, landing key strikes to the body. 

Flenoy looked fatigued by the third round and couldn’t adjust to the increased altitude so Mariano 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, 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.” 

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.” 

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, Mariano is teaching his employees as a manager at the Reno FedEx Shipping Center. 

Throughout the week, he works a daily nine-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 matches of the week before falling to Victor Aranda via decision. 

Although he missed out on the trials, Mariano gained 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.” 

Noted as one of South Dakota’s greatest boxers, Marino’s trainer Jefferson accumulated a 249-24 amateur record over his 16-year career from 1965-80. The itch to stay around boxing stayed with him deep into his retirement.

Jefferson stumbled upon Mariano when he was six 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 will help him build towards his dream gym and much more. Several promoters and management teams filled the arena to scout and potentially sign the area’s local talent.

Mariano 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 I’m even in this position.”