Steve August 20, 2020

At 83, Houston boxing coach Hector Rocha finally met his match — outside the ring.

After a six-week battle with COVID-19, Rocha lost the fight and died on Aug. 15.

“Dad would open his big arms to anyone who had a willingness to learn,” said Hector Rocha Jr., Rocha’s son. Rocha Sr. is survived by Rocha Jr., two daughters from his second marriage, Yvonne Rocha-Contreras and Zamieleth Villasana, and his wife, Maria Elena Aviles.

Rocha Sr. owned Rocha’s Boxing Gym, on the north side of Houston, where hundreds of kids learned how to throw and dodge punches for over 40 years.

“Boxing runs in the family. It’s in our blood,” his son said.

The ability to throw a left hook was one of the few things Rocha brought with him when he immigrated from Monterrey Mexico to Houston in the 1970s.

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“He started out as a pro fighter with his brother before transitioning to coaching,” Rocha Jr. said. Coaching allowed Rocha to mentor young people, particularly those who grew up in underserved communities.

“He wanted to be that point person for kids without direction,” his son said.

Even as an octogenarian he was still doing what he loved most: mentoring, coaching and being in the ring. A tough but kind spirit, his father always made his family and the gym his priority, Rocha Jr. said.

Hector Rocha with Muhammed Ali in 1994.Courtesy Hector Rocha Jr.

After experiencing symptoms that worsened over the course of a week in June, he was admitted to St. Luke’s Vintage Hospital in Houston on June 30. He would not set foot in his gym again.

With his death, Houston lost a local boxing legend, and his students and family lost a man they adored. He was a doting father, grandfather and father figure to many in the boxing community.

“He was always active, healthy and in good shape,” Rocha Jr. said. “No one saw this coming.”

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His son said he was focussing on keeping his father’s legacy alive by hosting a fundraiser to keep his gym open.

A funeral service is scheduled for Aug. 28.

“My dad embodied the lessons he took from boxing — the many fights you endure in life and how to tackle challenges head-on, without fear or hesitation,” Rocha Jr. said. “That’s who he was.”

Wilson Wong

Wilson Wong is a news associate at NBC News.

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