PENDLETON — The first time Rosalee Ruiz got hit in the face and beat up in the boxing ring, she cried. But not until she got home.
The Walla Walla High School junior has come a long way since that day.
Now, the 5-foot-5 Ruiz dishes out as much, if not more, punishment than she gets.
“I like to train, but I like to fight more,” she said.
Ruiz’s hard work the past 2½ years has paid off. She is ranked No. 6 in the nation at 119 pounds in the junior division. She is 6-4 in her 10 fights, including one TKO.
“She puts in the work,” said Michael Blanc, Ruiz’s trainer. “If she hit me, I’m going down. I don’t think there is any 119-pounder her age in the Northwest that can beat her now.”
Ruiz, 16, will put her skills to the test this weekend at the Northwest Invitational at Sunridge Middle School. She is scheduled to fight Sarah Garrison of Wyoming on Saturday.
The event, which will feature fighters from 12 states and Canada, runs Saturday and Sunday. Action begins at 11 a.m. each day. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students.
Putting in the work
It was a case of bullying that had Ruiz looking for an activity after school.
“My self-confidence wasn’t that good,” Ruiz said. “There was a girl who used to chase me. I told my mom, and she said I need to find something to do.”
That something happened to be boxing.
Ruiz found herself at a couple of different gyms when she first started working out, but she did not feel like she was getting what she needed.
She met Blanc at an MMA gym in Walla Walla, and they have been training together since.
“When I first started, I wasn’t getting a lot of one-on-one time,” Ruiz said. “I met Michael, and he showed me a lot of stuff.”
Blanc was impressed by the fact that Ruiz wanted to compete.
“She wanted to fight, and the other gym wasn’t getting that for her,” he said.
Now, Ruiz makes the trip to Pendleton several times a week to train with Blanc at Blanc’s Boxing Gym.
“She is so driven,” said Ruiz’s mom, Adrienne Gonzales. “I’m happy she has goals and she has found something she likes. This has given her a lot of confidence. She has changed a lot. Her grades have improved and she gets along with her teachers. High school is a hard thing to go through.”
Gonzales drives Ruiz to practice, and at times to other gyms to spar against boxers her age and size. And to her fights.
“I like going to the fights,” Gonzales said.
Ruiz’s last bout was June 15 against a fighter from Canada. She lost a split decision in Spokane.
When Ruiz isn’t training in Pendleton, she runs and works out at the YMCA in Walla Walla.
Ruiz recently spent a week in New Mexico training with other fighters — including a couple who are nationally ranked.
In New Mexico, Ruiz stayed with Ariana Carrasco and her family. Carrasco, 15, is ranked No. 1 at 125 pounds.
“I learned I need a lot more training,” Ruiz said.
Though boxing isn’t a common sport for high school girls, Ruiz said she has a fan base, and no one bullies her any more.
“No one gives me crap,” she said. “My friends and teachers support me.”
But they aren’t going to join her in the ring.
“Most of my friends play soccer and softball,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz has a couple of belts and trophies, and is hoping to add to her collection.
She is working toward the USA Boxing Nationals in December in Salt Lake City. The winner will be part of the U.S. contingent that will travel internationally. This year, the team is going to Poland.
“That’s my goal,” Ruiz said.