Justin Rolfe knows what can happen as he continues his boxing career. He knows, because it’s already happened. A concussion kept Rolfe out of the sport for a year. He doesn’t want that to happen again, although he knows it’s possible. Rolfe, 25, also knows that possibility won’t prevent him from competing in the sport he adores.

“I love the sport so much. Some day, when my fighting time’s done, I’ll be a coach. Nothing will keep me away from boxing,” Rolfe, of Fairfield, said. “The whole time, I was itching to go back. I was going down to the gym to work with Glenn, work with some of the new guys. It just kept getting to me. I wanted to be back. I finally got cleared. I feel great.”

When Rolfe talks about how boxing saved his life, it’s not hyperbole. Before he started boxing, Rolfe was 300 pounds. In 2012, Rolfe was sentenced to 30 days in Somerset County Jail for unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs. By his own admission, Rolfe was not in a good place. Since he took up boxing, Rolfe said, he hasn’t even had a speeding ticket.

“Before I started boxing, I can tell you I was really self-conscious. I didn’t really have a lot of confidence in myself. Words people say could really bring me down easily,” Rolfe said. “You see improvements and you realize you can do this if you put your mind to it. You learn a lot of self control, to stay calm under pressure. You’ve got to think about a situation.”

When Rolfe considers that alternative, the path on which he could have continued, and the risk of another concussion, it’s not really a choice.

“Every time you step in the ring, you know you’re taking a chance. For some reason, there’s nothing I’d rather do,” Rolfe said, and he laughed.

In the ring, Rolfe is Wreck It Rolfe, a nickname that born from the movie “Wreck It Ralph.” At 5-foot-11 and approximately 215 pounds, the barrel-chested Rolfe is compact for a superheavyweight.

“He’s always the little guy in the ring. He’s 5-10, 5-11, fighting guys 6-8,” Glenn Cugno, Rolfe’s trainer, said.

Being the little guy may have been a contributing factor in Rolfe’s concussion. While Rolfe was a successful fighter before his injury, winning five consecutive fights, including the New England novice title in 2013, he wasn’t yet a boxer.

“Two years ago, I was more of a brawler. I’d come straight forward. I’d take five to give you one good one if I have to,” Rolfe said. “We’ve developed my skills. I’m moving my head better. I’m making people completely miss me. My defense is great. I’m just so much faster now. I watched a lot of videos. In a weird way, I want to say this might’ve helped me in the long run. I realize I’m not invincible. Now I’m a boxer rather than a brawler.”

That damn the torpedoes, jump right in and out punch the opponent style may have worked, but it wasn’t good. Rolfe ignored the increasing headaches and kept going.

“I don’t listen to my body very well. Glenn kept asking me if I’m all right, how I’m feeling. I’d say ‘Great.’ Everything built up and once. One good fight, or sparring, and I started to notice anxiety, problems like that. That was when I finally went and got checked out,” Rolfe said. “I’m more in tune with my body now. After a fight, I go home, I’m making sure I pay attention to how my body feels.”

When he couldn’t get in the ring for months, Rolfe worked with Cugno training his teammates in Cugno’s Lewiston gym. When doctors, whom Rolfe still maintains regular contact, cleared Rolfe to resume training, Cugno made sure to look for warning signs, too. The risk never goes away, but Cugno and Rolfe know they can do a better job managing it.

“We have good communication now. We talk a lot about how he feels. When he couldn’t train, I had him train (fighters) with me, to keep him in it. Our intent is not to get anybody hurt. It was a good lesson for all of us,” Cugno said.

Rolfe’s comeback is going well. Earlier this year, he won the Northern New England Superheavyweight championship at the Golden Gloves in Burlington, Vermont. The unanimous decision win over Sebastian Taft of St. Albans, Vermont was a showcase of his new skills.

“The guy, he wanted to make it a fight. He was staring at me pretty intently. I kept my cool. I beat him by points. I made him miss a lot. Like any time, I could’ve done better, but it was a unanimous decision. It was a one-sided fight the whole time. I felt like I controlled the fight,” Rolfe said.

Rolfe lost a decision to Victor Lobov of Malden, Massachusetts in the Tournament of Champions in Lowell, Massachusetts. Just over a week ago, he lost a split decision to Stephen Moss in a fight Rolfe and Cugno say he dominated. Some judges told them after the fight he was robbed, Rolfe said.

“The guy maybe hit me, and I’m giving him credit, maybe 10 to 15 times the whole entire fight. My punch numbers were way up,” Rolfe said.

That’s part of learning, Rolfe added. Learning how to box. Learning how to handle adversity. Learning how to avoid the blows that caused the first concussion and preventing another. Rolfe wants to go pro within the next year or so.

“It’s turned my life around so much. It helps being around good, positive people,” Rolfe said.

Rolfe’s next fight is scheduled for Lewiston on May 13. The reward outweighs the risk, and Rolfe climbs back in the ring.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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