Jessie Magdaleno comes from a fighting family. His older brother Diego, 33, and his younger brother Marcos are also professional boxers.
The Magdaleno family — which also includes three older sisters — was originally based in Los Angeles. Jesus, the father of six, worked for years at the iconic Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers on the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Rampart Boulevard. “We were the Mexican ‘Brady Bunch’,” Diego says with a laugh.
Looking for better employment opportunities, the father moved the family to Las Vegas in 1996, where he landed a job managing 7-Eleven convenience stores. With all their furniture in the back of a loaned pick-up truck, Diego recalls driving down Las Vegas Boulevard. “We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies,” he says.
“We stayed with our uncle for eight months, until my dad got on his feet,” Diego says. “We moved into a house — a four-bedroom house, two bathrooms, it was the first time I ever lived in a house. I always grew up in an apartment. I was like, ‘Wow… we’re rich, we’ve made it!’ We had a backyard, we had a front yard, we had a guest bedroom, it was crazy. It was just amazing.”
At that time, Jessie was just a toddler with boxing glory not even a glimmer in his mind. Today he’s 27-1 and a former WBO junior featherweight titlist. He returns to the ring on June 11 to face Yenifel Vicente. It’s the continuation of a journey since his 11th-round KO loss to Isaac Dogboe in 2018. He rebounded with two wins in 2019 against Rico Ramos and Rafael Rivera, and on Thursday, in front of no fans in Las Vegas, his focus will be on staying on track with a win over Vicente.
But Jessie’s focus wasn’t always on the sport, and it was his brother who pushed him in that direction. In many ways, Diego (32-3, 13 KOs) raised Jessie as a boxer. They’ve spent a lot of time in the gym since they were kids, they’ve sparred together, and during the days when they were both promoted by Top Rank, Diego and Jessie even boxed on the same cards.
It’s said that nobody knows you quite as well as your siblings, and that seems especially so when professional lives are intermingled. With that in mind, we asked Diego to share some stories about his brother that only he could tell.
Editor’s note: Content has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Jessie wasn’t interested in boxing as a kid
He was always an entertaining kid, but Jessie was never really interested in boxing. In the beginning he’d just go to the gym and clown around, never taking it seriously. He did like soccer, so my dad put him in soccer. But when I was in the boxing gym, [my dad] brought Jessie with him.
Jessie kind of did what he wanted, and as he got older, all he really wanted to do in the beginning was just spar. ‘I don’t want to work out, I don’t want to do anything — all I want to do is spar,’ he’d say. So when he got around 13, we really saw him go crazy for the sport. You saw that spark in Jessie. The same attitude, but he had a purpose now. He was winning trophies, he was happy, he was making the traveling teams. It started opening up doors for him.
Any toppings with that?
One day, Jessie and my sister Veronica, who’s two years older than me, tried to gang up on me. They were chasing me throughout the house, trying to throw food at me. My sister climbed up the wall, and locked the bedroom door. So there was only one way to go — over the wall where she was.
When Jessie tried to come around the wall to try to sandwich me in, I dodged and she nailed him in the face with a pizza.
No cuts at the cafeteria
When I was in sixth grade, Jessie was in the first grade. He was getting into trouble with the bigger kids at school all the time. Jessie happened to find some trouble with fifth graders, and they were chasing him from school every day. I said, ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to pick you up’, and I said, ‘Wait for me, right here.’
Before I could leave the house, I could see someone in the distance [running]. I said, ‘Is that Jessie?!’ It was four fifth graders on bikes, two on each bike, one riding on the pegs. They were like, ‘Oh, this guy, he’s messing with us, he keeps talking to us, we’re going to whoop his ass.’
I said, ‘No, no, this is my little brother, and there’s four of you and only one of him. I don’t know what he did to start trouble with you guys, but it ends right there.’ Well, this one dude got real tough and jumped off his bike and came around me, circled us. And since there were four of them, they made a big circle around us. So I looked at Jessie and said, ‘Jessie, on the count of three, I need you to run.’ So I counted to three and he ran in one direction, and I popped two of the guys and I dropped them on the floor. The third guy came at me and I kicked him, and then I started booking it towards my brother.
They got on their bikes and went the opposite way and we started running and we were like, ‘What? That was it?!’ So I looked at him and said, ‘What are you doing, Jessie? Why are they chasing you?’ He said, ‘Because they cut in front of me in line at the lunchroom.’ I said, ‘Really? And you didn’t let them?’ He goes, ‘All four of them, none of them were going in front of me.’
I said, “You must’ve been hungry.”
Breakfast in ‘head’
At one point it was me, Jessie and Marco, all in one camp with Joel Diaz. We were staying at the camp house, and there was nothing going on. We were bored out of our minds. We just had to entertain each other.
On Thursdays in camp, we’d take the day off because on Fridays we’d spar — it was a hard day. I wake up one morning, I was just sitting there drinking my coffee and watching TV. These guys were still sleeping and I couldn’t believe it. So I said to myself, ‘You know, I think I’m going to make them breakfast.’ I posted on Instagram and Facebook that I was going to serve them breakfast.
I went to each one of their rooms and I cracked an egg right over their heads. They woke up and they were furious. I said, ‘Yeah, you guys had eggs for breakfast this morning.’ They were mad, at that point Marco had long, curly hair and it was just all over, he had yolk running down his face, and Jessie was just mad.
There were a lot of things like that we did to keep us going, keep us motivated and have fun at the same time.
Candy canes and … hockey?
“We had each other’s back — him and I are five years [apart]. He always wanted to hang out with me and my friends. That was one thing. I always left him behind, but as he got older we got real, real close. We never really fought each other, I was always the big brother looking out for him.
We did have a lot of fun together — we got in trouble, we messed around. We’d throw powder on the kitchen floor and use my mom’s candy canes she had for Christmas decorations and we’d play hockey. Now Las Vegas has a hockey team, maybe we should’ve kept that up, we’d be on the Golden Knights.
Lucky number 13
The Nonito Donaire fight where Jessie won his title was very intense. I was at the edge of my seat in every round. It was a great battle throughout the fight and I clearly remember the moment they called his name as the victor. We all jumped in excitement.
Once he arrived in the dressing room, the doctor gave him 13 stitches. As we rode together in the ambulance we rejoiced the victory and went over the very last moments before the big announcement. He said he knew he was winning the whole fight and remembered Donaire getting so frustrated.
Sparring each other
It was actually [trainer] Pat Berry who put us in to spar. I think I was 19, 20, Jessie was just in his teens, and he put us in there to spar. I didn’t throw that hard with force — a left hand — but I nailed Jessie and he went down. After that I was afraid because I pretty much knocked him out. He got back up, but I was afraid. I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to spar’. Years later, we both went to camp with Diaz, and he put us in the ring together to spar.
And I had to play with him in the ring and keep it as a joke. If I made it serious I was afraid I was going to hurt him. But Jesse was a lot older, he took it. Jessie was game, and Jessie fired back. I was like, ‘Oh OK, now I can see the benefit of this.’ At that point, our young brother Marcos got in the ring with us to spar.
We’ve all been in the ring with each other. And it’s a little bit different because we don’t get too much southpaw sparring, and all three of us are southpaws.
Training? We’re talking about training?
Just the fact he’d train half-ass… He’d go to these fights and school everybody in there. He was taking these guys out, and him always being the smaller guy. I can relate to that, being short and everyone in the amateurs was taller and had the reach advantage on me. But I knew I was getting ready, I knew I was training.
Jessie would go to the gym with boxing boots on, get in the ring and spar. Me, I needed my head gear, my special mouthpiece, I needed all my things I always had with me to get in there. But Jessie, on the other hand, would get in there with no mouthpiece, ‘I just want to spar.’
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