Former boxing champion trades gloves for clippers to get by during pandemic

Former world titlist Mario Rodriguez charges about $2 for a haircut. Courtesy of Mario Rodriguez

The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of people out of work. Many have looked for alternative ways to put food on the table and that situation is no different for former world titleholder Mario Rodriguez. After the gym in which he worked was closed because of the pandemic, Rodriguez decided to open a barbershop in his native Guasave, Sinaloa, in northwest Mexico.

"I was world champion, but, you know, lightweights in boxing don't earn much money, and I took some out to get by right now," says Rodriguez, who won the IBF strawweight world title in 2012 with a seventh-round KO victory over Nkosinathi Joyi, then lost the belt seven months later in his first defense against Katsunari Takayama.

Rodriguez, 31, retired last June following the shooting death of his trainer, Jacinto Antonio Diaz, who was in Rodriguez's corner when he became a world champ.

"After retirement I started training boxers with Diaz's son Agapito," Rodriguez says. "But they shut down the gym we were training at because of the coronavirus. I've been out of work for a few days and you have to have enough to eat, so that's why I opened up a place to cut hair."

Last Saturday, Agapito Diaz posted a photo on social media of Rodriguez inviting potential customers over for a haircut, at a cost of 50 pesos (about $2).

By midweek, "Dragoncito" Rodriguez had seven paying customers.

"For years I've been cutting my own hair, first with a razor and then with scissors," Rodriguez says. "Then I bought myself some clippers and I was just playing around with it. So I learned and started to cut the hair of some local residents. I told them that I'd cut their hair for free so I could learn, and I never really gave anyone a bad haircut. They say I've got a knack for it."

In Mexico, the federal government recently announced Phase 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included the extension until May 30 of the "Jornada Nacional de Sana Distancia," a program created to mitigate the spread and transmission of the virus in communities by the suspension of non-essential activities, stay home and social distancing measures, among other things.

Rodriguez trains between 50-80 kids free of charge at the gym, as long as they bring their own handwraps. He also trains pro fighters like Miguel "Explosivo" Madueño, Jesus Madueño, Jesus "Chapo" Barajas and Oscar "Bazooka" Mora, and four amateur fighters.

Rodriguez, who went 23-18-5 with 15 knockouts in his pro career, says his trainer's death was the main reason he decided to end his career inside the ring.

"I didn't want to fight anymore because I always thought loyalty should come first, and I always said I'd be with my trainer until we both decided otherwise," Rodriguez says. "After he died, I said to myself, I'm done as a boxer. But I started to become a trainer, since I used to help him out before. Hopefully we'll have a world champion soon. In the meantime, I'll cut the hair of anyone who needs it."