DANBURY -- Boxing fans around the world will most certainly rise to their feet and cheer when Danbury's Delvin Rodriguez steps into the ring June 2 in Carson, Calif., to fight Austin Trout for the World Boxing Association junior middleweight world championship.
Delvin's mother, however, will neither be standing nor cheering -- at least, while the fight is in progress. Instead, Maria Rodriguez will be kneeling and praying -- as much for her son's safety as for his success -- while he risks his life and chases his dream.
Every so often, Maria will take a quick, worrisome glance at the television to see how her son is doing. She can hardly even bear to watch her son fight on TV, let alone sit ringside and witness the brutality up close.
For the rest of the world, Delvin is the talented, fearless boxer with the lightning-quick hands, the razor-sharp skills and the heart of a warrior.
But for Maria, he will always be her little boy, the child for whom she struggled so mightily and sacrificed so much in order to provide a better life in America.
He is the young man who grew up to be a leader when he and his family moved from their native Dominican Republic to the United States, the same young man who became a role model to his siblings while Maria worked around the clock trying to make ends meet.
A mother's job -- the nurturing, the caring, the worrying -- never ends, of course. Even when your son is 32 years old and one of the top-ranked boxers in the world.
"As soon as he tells her a fight is coming up, she begins to get nervous and anxious. But she believes in him, and that's what keeps her believing that he can do it and he's going to come out well from it," Maria said Thursday night through interpreters Evelyn Medina and Eliette Matos.
"Does she like it? No. What mother wants to see her child fighting? But she supports him because that's what he chose to do. She's always worried, as a mother, but she believes in him. She has faith in God, and from that faith, she believes that everything will come out good for him and he'll be successful."
It has been said that behind every successful man is a successful woman. In Delvin's case, that strong, hard-working, courageous woman is his mother.
Maria, 52, recently became an American citizen, one of the proudest moments of her life. But years earlier, in the mid-1980s, Maria took a tremendous risk when she left the Dominican Republic to start building a new life in the United States.
She left behind the impoverished farming villages of the Dominican. Her children -- Delvin and his older sister, Marilyn -- stayed with their grandparents.
Maria spent five years in Danbury, working whenever and wherever she could -- cleaning houses and toiling in factories, among other paths to a paycheck -- just to save enough money to bring her children to America.
She missed Delvin and Marilyn terribly. But every time she went back to the Dominican Republic to visit them for any prolonged period of time, she lost whatever jobs she had in the United States.
"She didn't care what she had to do," Maria said through the interpreters. "Whatever she needed to do, she did. She had to provide for her family. That was her main priority."
After five, long years of this lifestyle, Maria was finally able to bring her children to America to live with her. The family settled in the Mill Ridge section of Danbury off Lake Avenue.
Although she was now reunited with her children in the United States, Maria's American dream -- the same dream that's inspired millions of immigrants for generations, the bold decision to leave everything behind in search of a new life, a better life -- was far from realized.
"She didn't speak the language," Delvin said. "She barely knew how to write her name because she came from a very poor family where the kids worked on the farm instead of going to school. It was very tough."
Maria studied English at the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury for a short time, but stopped going because of her hectic work schedule. She either walked, took the bus or asked for rides from friends to get around town.
"It was basically me, her, my sister and my younger brother," Delvin said. "She was everything. She was the father, the mother. She was working two different jobs. It was very tough. I admire her so much and I'd give my life for her. She's done everything for me."
Leaving the Dominican Republic was hard, Maria knew, but staying there and watching her kids grow up in poverty would have been harder.
"She knew that, over there, there was no future for us," Delvin said. "She forgot about herself and she thought about us. She stayed in the United States, struggled, worked two jobs just to send us to school and stuff like that."
Like Maria, Delvin also struggled to find his way in his new surroundings. He was only 9 years old when he came to America, and he didn't speak English. As a young man, he fought hard to resist the lure of the streets.
"When I first arrived back in the early '90s, Danbury was tough, man," Delvin said. "I lived on The Ridge, where there were drugs, shootouts, a lot of gangs at the time. I saw friends, one after the other, go down the wrong path."
Watching his mother's tireless devotion to her family made a lasting impression on the young Delvin.
"I thank her and I thank God that I picked up on that as a kid and I grew up with that," Delvin said. "Because there were many times as a kid where I could have gone the wrong way.
"It was almost impossible for her to look upon us when she was working two jobs. We could've just done whatever we wanted to do. She would've never known and we could've gotten in so much trouble. Thank God I followed that path where I stayed straight. I kept going to the gym and tried to do well in school.
"Without her, I would have been maybe locked up somewhere or deported back to the island, or dead," Delvin said. "She didn't speak the language. She didn't know how to write and read, but she knew what was right and what was wrong. She always kept on top of us."
Not long after arriving in Danbury, Delvin developed a passion for boxing. The gym quickly became a place of refuge for a boy who felt out of place everywhere he went.
It didn't matter what language he spoke because his determination spoke for itself.
Delvin fought his first amateur bout when he was 10 years old at the Danbury War Memorial and won by knockout. The rest, as they say, is history. He graduated from Danbury High School in 1998 and turned professional the following year.
About a year ago, Delvin helped his mother become a U.S. citizen, thus completing a journey that started more than 20 years ago.
It was a proud moment and a tremendous accomplishment for a mother who had put herself second -- and her kids first -- for so many years.
"They weren't the richest, but she gave them everything she could and she feels like they got out of her all the values, which are more important than all the materialistic things you could give a child," Maria said through the interpreters.
And in Delvin, who will take those gifts to California on June 2 for all to see, she instilled the spirit of a fighter.