The Big Six Boxing Academy will once again be well represented Friday at CES Boxing’s Summer Splash event at Ballys Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort with three up-and-coming fighters on the undercard looking to remain unbeaten.
Lightweight prospect Alejandro Paulino of New London, CT; super welterweight James Maner of Providence, RI; and Stoughton, MA, heavyweight Sean Bey compete in separate bouts at Summer Splash as the legendary boxing academy – home to former U.S. Olympian and heavyweight contender Jason “Big Six” Estrada, among others – continues to produce top-flight talent straight off the assembly line. Summer Splash begins 7 pm ET Friday and streams live on BXNG TV, a new, dynamic platform showcasing emerging boxing prospects to a global audience.
Owned and operated by the Jason and his father, Roland Estrada – the longtime trainer and optometrist known affectionally throughout the region as “Doc,” or sometimes “Pops” – Big Six travels anywhere and everyone to keep its fighters busy, even pulling double or triple duty now and then with boxers appearing on shows in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island on the same night.
As Roland, who turns 60 next week, begins what he says might be his final run as a full-time trainer, he remains a key figure in the lives of his fighters, passing down the same lessons he taught Jason – the oldest of his four sons – about being a professional in and out of the ring. The fighters competing at Summer Splash are part of a close-knit group of nine pros currently boxing out of Big Six. They represent the “new generation” of fighters that keep Roland as excited and energized about the future of the sport as he was more than 30 years ago when Jason first put on a pair of gloves.
“They’re the ones giving me 100 percent,” said Roland, who has operated Big Six out of its Douglas Avenue location in Providence since 2011. “Some guys are lazy and some guys are ready to work.”
Roland has worked with everyone from his own son, Jason, who competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and won 20 fights as a pro, to world-title challenger Matt Godfrey, WBA and WBO female world champion Kali Reis, and lightweight Michael Valentin, to name a few, and even his own grandson, Jason’s son Lennox, who fought at a recent CES pro-am event. His close relationship with CES president and CEO Jimmy Burchfield Sr. has been instrumental in launching the careers of several Rhode Island-based fighters, including the ones mentioned above. Estrada and Godfrey, specifically, were fixtures on CES fight cards during the first decade of the new millennium and major selling points during the early success of pro boxing at Ballys.
To train at Big Six, one must have a thick skin; Roland admits “we talk a lot of shit” behind closed doors, but there’s a method to the madness. Roland’s no-nonsense approach – everything from making sure his fighters show up on time to train to handling their responsibilities outside of the ring – is what prepares them for any and all challenges on fight night.
When talking recently with a fighter from another gym, Roland was shocked – and equally proud – to learn that other fighters didn’t want to come to Big Six to spar because his guys “work too hard.”
“That’s a good thing,” Roland said, “but apparently a bad thing around here.
“We teach guys how to be professional. When you fight, there is a lot of adversity,” he continued. “I lot of people want to see you lose. You’re going to have people in the crowd calling you all kinds of names and trying to get in your head. In the gym, we have the mentality that if you can’t last in here, you won’t last in a fight.”
Roland also sets an example for his fighters through his own work ethic. He works full-time as an optometrist during the week – five, six days to be exact – and bounces between various locations in Providence and East Greenwich, RI. Then, after a full day of work, he heads to Big Six to unlock the doors and work with his fighters well past 8 or 9 pm on most nights. The years of holding mitts and doing pad work have certainly taken their toll on his body, specifically his hands and elbows, so he relies mostly on Jason and others, including Godfrey and trainer Ernest “Tuna” Shelton (whose own sons Dahvon, Rameil, and Nasaiah “Bubba” Shelton have all boxed out of Big Six) to handle the bulk of the work in the ring.
Last winter, Roland and his four sons – Jason, Eric (a firefighter), Roland (a police officer), and Cameron (a mailman) – finally pulled the trigger on an idea they had for years and launched their own weekly podcast, Four Brothas, to discuss boxing, sports, and pop culture, among other topics. To produce the podcast, Roland bought a custom-made shed for his back yard from Lancaster, PA; insulated it with sheet rock; soundproofed it; installed seating, cameras, and monitors; and officially launched in December. Since then, Four Brothas has produced nearly 30 episodes featuring musicians, trainers, and past and present New England fighters, including Paulino, Godfrey, Shelly Vincent, “Sucra” Ray Oliveira, and Greg Townes.
Roland pumped nearly $17,000 of his own money into launching Four Brothas, which has become an important tool in generating interest in regional boxing by allowing former fighters to share their knowledge of the sport and providing a platform for young up-and-comers to promote their brand. The laid-back, conversational approach of Roland’s sons puts guests at ease and helps them connect with the listeners. Weekly episodes are available on Spotify, Apple, and YouTube.
“The podcast has really been beneficial for some of the fighters who aren’t as good or just aren’t as experienced at public speaking,” Roland says. “Twenty minutes in, and they’re comfortable.”
No matter what the future holds beyond 2022, there’s no denying the influence Big Six has had on New England boxing. Attend any show in the region and you’re likely to see a Big Six fighter on the card. This Friday at Ballys, you’ll see three more, all of whom figure to be household names for years to come. That’s the Big Six way: Work hard and you’ll never have to worry about who’s in your corner.
Summer Splash details are available online. For more information, follow CES Boxing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @CESBOXING.