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Richard Lopez is a boxing coach but he has a little bit of DJ in him, too.

When Jonathan Rubio walked into Double Punches Boxing Club in Santa Rosa eight years ago, Lopez noticed his footwork and body movement right away. The kid had style right out of the gate.

“At nine, he’s jumping around and tossing jabs; it wasn’t the normal stuff,” Lopez said. “He is either copying some pro guy or this is him. It was the dance; he had the dance down. The footwork, I noticed it and you don’t notice a little 9-year-old kid doing that footwork. It’s not normal; they don’t do that.”

It turns out, Rubio did do that. Still, Lopez wanted to give Rubio’s feet some direction, to sync them up with his hands. He wanted the kid to really dance. So he started having him work out to music. And not just any old music.

“I started playing music, techno and freestyle. I had him get his hands moving,” Lopez said. “Sometimes I’ll play jazz when I want him to be calm.”

Lopez would play freestyle “when he would shadowbox and he would move a little smoother, but when I would put him in to spar, I’d put on techno.”

Lopez’s skills at the stereo are paying dividends for Rubio in the ring.

Rubio, a 17-year-old Elsie Allen High junior, is the California Golden Gloves champ at 132 pounds and Saturday will fly to Lafayette, La. to compete in the national Golden Gloves tournament next week.

Sanctioned by USA Boxing, Golden Gloves is a single-elimination tournament. He could either be one and done or be fighting for the next week. But that’s the kind of pressure Rubio likes.

“It’s like you can’t have a second shot in life,” he said. “You only get one chance to do it. You have to show everyone you are the better fighter, right then and there.”

Rubio, who plays football for Elsie Allen and played basketball before taking this season off to focus on boxing, has been proving himself the better fighter since he walked into the gym as a 9-year-old. He’s 34-11 and his dad Jovanni Rubio, a former pro boxer, said that most of the losses Rubio has endured have come deep into competitive tournaments.

“He hasn’t lost a regular match,” the elder Rubio said. “He only loses when he gets to the championship.”

Rubio said he has natural advantages — he’s a lefty and he’s fast.

“Most of the guys I fight are orthodox, so they are right-handed,” he said. “They walk right into my left, then I get out of the way.”

Rubio said he protects himself from the ravages of the sport by being defensive minded.

“My offense comes off my defense,” he said.

But Rubio is no plodder.

“He was a certain swagger when he competes,” Lopez said. “He trains hard but he has his own style. He’s a southpaw; it’s hard to compete with a lefty. Their left hand is unpredictable — you don’t know when they are going to unload.”

Early on, Rubio let his swagger get in the way of his skill set. Video of a fight just two years ago shows a 15-year-old Rubio dancing around the ring, letting his left hand flop around below his waist. Clearly the better skilled of the two competitors, Rubio still looks like he’s stirring a pot on the stove.

When I told him I saw that fight, he smiled.

“That was one of my faults, keeping my hands up,” he said.

He said he’s working on it and taking direction from his dad and Lopez. It’s not criticism, it’s a way forward.

“I take it as a way to get to the next level,” he said. “I take it as a way to get better and better.”

Lopez said Rubio’s swagger in the ring is increasingly tempered by his work ethic in training.

“You’ve got to embrace humility,” he said. “Here in the gym, he is good. He trains with some of the adults. He out-powers them. He’s really good. I can’t take that away from him. Sometimes I have to keep on him — I have to push him to the next level.”

The next level for Rubio is a place he has never been. Literally. This is the deepest Rubio has made it in the Golden Gloves program. It also marks the farthest he’s ever been from his Santa Rosa home.

“Kansas is the farthest I’ve ever been,” he said. He went there to box.

But Rubio, who said he is looking forward to trying some Louisiana gumbo, has his sights set on a ring farther than Kansas and farther than Louisiana. He wants to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I just love competing and showing people what I’m made of; showing all of my dedication, showing that hard work pays off when you put your mind to it,” he said.

That’s the kind of showing off his coaches can get behind.

You can reach columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.