Leading up to the United Combat Association (UCA)’s Battle of the Badges event at the Visalia Convention Center on April 15, several PORAC members dedicated their limited free time to training multiple times a week, maintaining strict diets and pushing their bodies to the limit so that they could have a chance at having their hands raised.
The UCA is a ranking, sanctioning boxing organization that brings peace officers, firefighters and military personnel together to give our country’s heroes a healthy and competitive outlet away from the job while also putting on thrilling, hard-fought bouts that benefit charities.
PORAC was proud to have many fighters representing the Association. Three of the winners shared with us how they prepared for the big event, their post-fight thoughts and much more.
Jennifer Lawrence (South Gate POA)
While most fighters know months in advance when their upcoming fight is, South Gate Police Department Officer Jennifer Lawrence had just four weeks to prepare for her amateur boxing debut against the women’s super-welterweight champion.
“Although I had been boxing on and off for approximately five years, I have never been in a real amateur fight or training camp,” Lawrence says. “I knew that I only had four weeks to train as hard and as fast as possible and face one of the top fighters and the current super welterweight champion. It was such a meaningful and life-changing experience.”
Before duking it out in the ring, Lawrence put her body through the wringer in those four weeks to ensure she was as ready as possible for her big debut fight.
“I didn’t have one sip of alcohol, and there were no parties, distractions, eating out and, sometimes, even no family gatherings,” she says. “Also, I had no carbs except in the morning. There were many times when my body had so many aches and pains, but I had to keep going. In four weeks, I was able to lose almost 21 pounds. It sounds extreme, but I managed to do it with a strict diet.”
Training out of Forj Fitness in Los Angeles, Lawrence says the gym became her second home leading up to the contest. “I trained twice a day, four to five days a week,” she says. “Because of the short amount of time, I basically went straight into sparring. It was a painful but fun experience — I got hit in the face a ton, but I learned faster than ever. I spared with upcoming champions and very talented boxers, who also helped me get to the next level.”
The hard work and dedication paid off for Lawrence, who captured the well-earned victory.
“I devoted all my heart and soul, and that’s exactly the outcome we got — I knew that the only option was to take the belt home!” she says. “I’m very happy with my performance but am still hungry for more. I have an amazing team inside and outside of the ring, and I’m curious to see what we can do with a full fight camp instead of just four weeks.”
Lawrence will now have the opportunity to find out how much of a difference more training will make. Her next fight is already set for October 15, when she’ll compete at the Battle in the Desert event.
Armando Franco (Tulare POA)
A police officer with the Tulare Police Department for the last four years, Armando Franco says boxing is a big reason he wears the badge today.
“I was part of a boxing program growing up in Visalia that kept me out of trouble,” he shares. “The program gave me a good foundation for who I later became as a man and person. The adults I was surrounded by thought differently than the people in the neighborhood I grew up in, and I am very grateful for those I was exposed to.”
Franco’s passion for the sport never left, and for the last decade, he’s volunteered at the Visalia PAL boxing program, mentoring and coaching the next generation of boxers. After taking part in several bouts over the years, Franco said it was a “no-brainer” for him to fight at UCA’s Battle of the Badges event.
In his UCA debut last year, Franco captured the welterweight championship, winning a hard-fought decision victory. In April, Franco became just the sixth UCA fighter to become a two-division champion when he dropped down a weight class and won the junior welterweight title against a Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer.
“Training for this last fight went as well as it could with balancing work, overtime, mandatory training, court appearances and being there for my family as a husband and father,” Franco says. “I was getting myself ready since mid-January, but with the unpredictable work we do, some weeks I was at the gym two times a week, and sometimes not at all.”
While Franco believes there were some moments during the fight when he could have done better, the two-division champion says he had a blast in the ring.
“I should have fought a little smarter so I didn’t get hit as much as I did, and I let my foot off the gas in certain spots, but that’s nothing to hang my head about because I had a really fun time during the event, and overall, I am happy with my performance,” he says.
Franco adds that whether it’s “boxing, softball, basketball or running, extracurricular activities are important and beneficial for officers and first responders alike because it’s another outlet from the stressors of the job,” he says. “Being around other people in an element you enjoy, where you can just be a part of something else that doesn’t have to be so serious, or being a mentor to some youth where you’re changing a life and not even knowing, the benefits speak for themselves.”
Juan Hernandez (Tulare County DSA)
Needing to lose 40 pounds before his super-cruiserweight fight, Juan Hernandez rightfully felt “accomplished because I had lost the weight and still felt strong” heading into his first UCA bout.
The cherry on top for Hernandez was being crowned the victor after a back-and-forth slugfest against fellow PORAC member Ruben Llamas of the Kings County Detention Deputy Association.
“It took me two and a half months to prepare for this fight — two and a half long and painful months — but I would do it all over again!” he says. “I was working on strength and conditioning in the mornings and boxing in the evenings. I have to give a shout-out to the Bodybuilder Gym and Valera’s Boxing Academy for making this happen.”
Hernandez says he was inspired to take part in the Battle of the Badges after watching his sergeant participate in the event previously. “I saw his fight and immediately wanted to do it the following year,” Hernandez says. “This was my first event and definitely not my last! I did this for all my co-workers, who come to work day in and day out.”
A PORAC member since 2017, Hernandez advises those looking to take part in Battle of the Badges to “do it and have fun!” he says. “It’s a great experience. and the feedback from your co-workers is amazing, as they will support you every step of the way.”