INSIDE THE RING: Pandemic forces Leija to make changes

“Jesse” James Leija shuts door, opens another to meet client demand

"Jesse" James Leija works with a client at his new gym on Broadway. (Mark Mendez, Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – If you ever had the chance to visit ChampionFit Gym on San Pedro, the gym opened and operated by “Jesse” James Leija for almost 20 years, you appreciated the intimacy the small place brought as a real home to boxing. It was a place to work, improve yourself and admire the poster covered walls, each displaying some of the biggest fights in boxing and Leija’s career.

The gym was home to young boxers training be world champions themselves one day, professionals preparing to fight in the Alamodome or the AT&T Center, and people just enjoying the sport and staying in shape.

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Thanks to the pandemic, the gym has hosted its last client.

Three week’s ago, Leija decided to close the doors.

ChampionFit Boxing Gym is no more. Say hello to Leija Boxing and Fitness, located near the intersection of Loop 410 and Broadway. The new home to Leija and his sons has a bigger layout, including two floors for training, and more importantly, plenty of space to keep customers distant while protecting themselves from the possible spread of COVID-19.

“It’s strange being here, it’s like being in someone else’s house,” Leija said last week to KSAT 12 Sports. “We were (located) on San Pedro for 17 years and that became home. People were familiar with it and people didn’t want to move. Some people hate change. We had to make the move, it’s a bigger place, we can spread people out more. Plus, it’s a new start for me and my boys.”

The Leija family had started another gym closer to downtown recently but that too has closed it’s doors, forcing the family business to one new location.

“We closed that other gym to focus on this new one,” Leija explained. “The first few days of being open, people have really liked the atmosphere and the new equipment. We have clients of all ages coming here, even up to their 70′s; they’re all great clients. This is a home for everyone.”

Besides seeing some professional boxers training at the new location, like Kendo Castaneda, Leija believes his new gym is a place that everyone can visit, train and work out a number of matters.

“Boxing gives you so much more than fitness,” said Leija. “It’s a way to work out mental stress from work, home or school. Kids that get bullied at school, they can get in here, gain confidence and learn to protective themselves. People with depression or anxiety, boxing can help. It may not cure it but it can help get you through those moments. Boxing does so much for so many people.”

Daniel P. Villanueva has worked with KSAT 12 Sports for over 17 years and is an award-winning sports producer. To submit story ideas, email

About the Authors

Daniel P. Villanueva has been with KSAT 12 since 2003 and is the producer of our weekly sports show, "Instant Replay." Villanueva is a graduate of St. Mary's University and is a TAPB and Lone Star Emmy award winner.

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