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'Finest' in the ring

Nisa Rodriguez, an NYPD officer, won her pro boxing debut earlier this year


Growing up in the South Bronx, Nisa Rodriguez could easily have fallen victim to the perilous streets on which she was raised. She was constantly getting into fights, dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and became a mother at 17. Not knowing how to manage her unbridled anger, her mother urged her father to take her to a local boxing gym. It was there that she learned to control her emotions and unleash her aggression in a suitable manner.  

“I was rambunctious and short-fused but realized right away that boxing required complete concentration,” explained Rodriguez. “You can’t be thinking of anything else, or you are going to get hurt.”  

Rodriguez took her lumps from her mostly male counterparts, who grew to respect her steadfast commitment to such a tough sport. The circuitous path that followed led her to international acclaim as an amateur boxer, as well as her being appointed to the NYPD as a police officer in 2021. Rodriguez made her professional boxing debut at Madison Square Garden on March 15, winning a four-round decision.  

“It was a thrill to make my professional debut at MSG, where I had so much amateur success,” said the 33-year-old Rodriguez. “I felt like I was fighting at home.”  

Rodriguez returns to MSG on June 8 on promoter Top Rank’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend extravaganza. Rodriguez will put her 1-0 record on the line against the more experienced Jordanne Garcia of Albuquerque, a veteran of 10 pro bouts.  

“That will be especially exciting,” said Rodriguez. “One of my boxing heroes is Miguel Cotto, who fought many times at MSG on the parade weekend. Following in his footsteps and having so many police officers in attendance will not make me nervous. It will only give me more motivation.”  

To say that Rodriguez is driven to succeed would be an understatement. She credits boxing with being the primary force behind her many accomplishments. She endured a hardscrabble upbringing where she did not always have a positive relationship with her parents. Her father was at his core a good man, but a drinking problem created an unstable home environment.  

Like so many other disenfranchised youngsters, Rodriguez found truth, meaning and safety in the unlikely environment of a boxing gym. Over the years, she battled through numerous physical ailments, such as a detached retina, a collapsed lung due to a blood clot and a dislocated ankle to win 70 of 83 amateur bouts.  

Along the way, she won eight NYC Golden Gloves titles and three national championships. Competing internationally, she earned gold medals at the Central America and Caribbean Games in 2018. Rodriguez qualified for the 2020 Puerto Rican Olympic Team but was unable to compete because of injuries sustained in a training camp in Colombia.  

“That was a tough blow,” said Rodriguez. “But my mother always taught me that everything happens for a reason, so I guess it was meant to be.”  

What was also meant to be was Rodriguez utilizing her steely determination to garner success in so many arenas. She earned her GED, graduated from Monroe College and worked for eight years as a teacher at a Harlem middle school where she lost several students to street and gang violence.  

“As a teacher I was frustrated by the limitations in how much I could help my students in their personal lives,” said Rodriguez. “I know how easy it is for them to embrace toxic generational cycles, and I wanted to apply the necessary resources to help them and their families in breaking the cycles of dysfunction.” 

Rodriguez spoke with Pat Russo, a retired NYPD sergeant who runs the lauded Cops and Kids boxing program, where Rodriguez has trained for years. The program has resulted in four boxers achieving Olympic glory and has led countless others to embark on a positive path.  

Nisa Rodriguez, an NYPD officer, landing an uppercut. Rodriguez, a Bronx native, won her pro boxing debut March 15. Photo: Spencer Tucker, NYPD
Nisa Rodriguez, an NYPD officer, landing an uppercut. Rodriguez, a Bronx native, won her pro boxing debut March 15. Photo: Spencer Tucker, NYPD

‘A champion by any measure’

Russo urged Rodriguez to join the NYPD, where she could use resources that were unavailable within the bureaucracy of the educational system. Rodriguez always attached a stigma to police work but getting to know Russo and seeing and experiencing the success of Cops and Kids altered her cynical perspective.  

“Parents are working hard to make ends meet and they cannot always give their kids the attention they need,” explained Rodriguez. “If you go to a high-crime area and give kids something positive to do, only good can come of that. Cops and Kids has saved so many young people.” 

Rodriguez is passionate about giving back to the community that she feels has given so much to her. She and her husband, Wilson Hernandez, a building manager, and their three children are all involved in altruistic endeavors.  

“All of my kids do some form of community outreach,” said Rodriguez. “It is a lifestyle for us. What we do in our personal lives are achievements, but what we do to positively impact others are blessings.”   

Now assigned to the Citywide Rapid Response Unit, Rodriguez could not be happier with where she is in life, as well as the road ahead.  

“I loved being a teacher and I love being a cop,” she said. “Doing either job does not feel like work to me. I would do them for free.” 

It is that attitude that attracted boxing manager Keith Sullivan, an attorney whose father is a retired NYPD sergeant.  

“Nisa is the personification of the American dream,” said Sullivan. “She had a tough childhood but through discipline, hard work and genuine caring for others she has achieved so much. It is hard to find a better example of how to live one’s life. Whatever happens in boxing, Nisa has already ascended to the top and is a champion by any standard of measure.”  

Robert Mladinich is a retired NYPD detective and author or co-author of four true crime books. He was inducted into the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame as a journalist in 2023.  


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