artwork by Graeme Kennedy
“When you’re in the ring fighting you don’t feel pain. You could get cut, break your nose, have your jaw broken; you keep fighting…You’ll feel it the next day though!”
Humble. Polite. Honest.
These may not typically be the characteristics one associates with individuals who make a living off professional fighting , but they perfectly describe Robert Garcia.
Robert Garcia is a man whose entire life has revolved around the sport of boxing.
His father, Eduardo Garcia, was an amateur fighter, and more notably a boxing trainer of many champions including Fernando Vargas. His younger brother, Mikey Angel Garcia is an undefeated featheweight boxer. His other brother, Danny Garcia, is a boxing trainer who currently trains one of the biggest fighters in the sport: Victor Ortiz.
With this lineage it is no surprise that Robert himself began a career in the sport.
Following a successful amateur career, which saw him fight the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Robert turned Pro in 1992, and went on to accumulate a record of (34-3) with 25 knockouts.
Along the way, he was able to capture the IBF featherweight World Championship by beating American fighter Harold Warren in 1998.
|Robert (right) trains with Antonio Margarito|
By the age of 26 Robert lost the desire to fight, and switched his energy to training. Although many believed he was quitting too young – many fighters are only reaching their potential by that age – he knew he had lost the fire needed to succeed on such a high level. Since making this decision ten years ago, Robert has transitioned himself into one of the most respected, and acclaimed trainers in the sport.
From his own personal gym – The Robert Garcia Boxing Academy – in Oxnard, California Robert has under his wing several of the best fighters in boxing. They include: Nonito Donaire Jr, Antonio Margarito, and Brandon Rios.
I’ve been a big fan of boxing for about four years now. My interest in the sport can be traced back to one reason in particular: HBO’s reality series 24/7 with Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton. After I caught the first episode of this four part series I was determined to watch the fight. I don’t know if it was that Ricky Hatton trained almost exclusively to Oasis, or that Floyd Mayweather talked the most smack I had ever seen, but I was drawn to that fight. After that, I began to slowly immerse myself in the sport, and the rest is history.
It’s fitting that my first exposure to Robert Garcia would also happen because of HBO’s 24/7. In the lead up to Antonio Margarito’s fight with pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao in November of 2010, I was first introduced to Robert. Below is a sample of two clips from the show that give you a great glimpse into Garcia and his gym.
Since that fight, I have followed Robert and his fighters closely. So, it was quite the honor to be able to speak with Robert on the phone, from his home in Oxnard. He was very gracious and spoke with me in length, and once and for all allowed me to delve into the world of boxing with someone with a rare amount of experience and knowledge.
There is much I wanna know about boxing, and Robert Garcia helped me tremendously.
From pissing blood after a fight, to the supremacy of Manny Pacquiao, to the Shawshank Redemption, we cover it all.
Ryan Kohls: What do you say to people who think boxing is just a sport of violence and brutality?
Robert Garcia: Once they become part of boxing they will realize they are wrong. My boxing gym has over 100 kids who come to the gym every night to train and compete. The parents are always telling me, “If it wasn’t for boxing my kids would be on the street.” They also say their kids grades have improved since coming to the gym. They learn discipline. A lot of people think boxing is a brutal sport, and shouldn’t even be called a sport, but it helps out with the kids.
|Garcia outside his gym in Oxnard|
RK: What does it take to be a professional fighter?
RG: Well, with my fighters the main qualities are conditioning, punching power, and having a good heart. There are a few things that I look into that are necessary in the sport. You don’t have to have them all, but it’s necessary to have several of them.
RK: I’ve often heard that punching power is something you’re born with, and that it can’t really be taught. Is there any truth to that?
RG: I believe that too. You are born with it just as well as you are born with a good chin. Some fighter’s have it, some don’t. You can always teach a fighter how to throw his punches and turn his body to hit harder, but you either have it or you don’t.
RK: Boxing seems to have declined in its mainstream popularity. Why do you think that is, and what can be done to elevate its status?
RG: A lot of people think boxing is dying right now, but I don’t see it that way. We have all these guys fighting on HBO and making a lot of money. I think boxing is up there right now. I think it’s at its prime with the Mayweather’s and Pacquiao’s. A week ago Bernard Hopkins was fighting and breaking records for the oldest champion; that was great for boxing.
Look at Amir Khan. They’ve been trying to find him a fight, and Erik Morales turned down 1.4 million to fight him. If boxing was dying I don’t think that kind of money would be out there for those kinds of fights.
RK: To me boxing seems very political, and some of the best fights never seem to get put together. From an insider’s perspective, why do you think this is?
|Garcia with legendary promoter Bob Arum, and fighter Nonito Donaire
RG: When you have different promoters’ they will have their own fighter’s and want to do their own events. I don’t blame them. That’s the way the business works. But there is often two fighters’ from two different promoters who the fans want to see, but it doesn’t happen because they don’t work together.
I don’t blame Bob Arum for trying to do all his fights in house. Why share some of Manny Pacquiao’s money when he could have it all to himself? He does Pacquiao-Cotto, Pacquiao-Mosley, and Pacquiao-Margarito. He keeps all that money by promoting both fighters.
RK: Is it possible that fights are ever staged/setup in this day and age?
RG: I don’t know man. In the big fight’s I don’t think so. I remember hearing about some of the opponent’s that were fighting Butterbean back in the day. They were getting two to three thousands dollars extra to make sure they didn’t win.
In the big fight’s, I don’t think the fighter’s are willing to do that. A lot of fighter’s will fight for free if they have the chance. Many fighters just do it for pride. So, I don’t believe in that.
RK: I don’t know if you saw Pacquiao-Clottey, but I felt that Clottey could have beaten Pacquiao, and it led me to believe that perhaps it was staged to ensure Pacquiao remained in line for bigger fights.
RG: You know what, I believed that too. My Dad and I talked about it, and we also felt that it was set up to get the bigger fights.
But, then I went in there with Margarito, and the same thing happened. We just couldn’t get off. Margarito trained so hard for that fight, but Pacquiao freezes his opponent. It’s his speed or power, something in him just leaves his opponents not being able to do anything.
Some of those fight’s might seem like they are set up, but when you’re in there and you want it so bad and just can’t do it, then you realize he’s just amazing, and someone out of this world.
RK: Turning to your career in boxing. It seems that you and I share something in common: our nicknames. My girlfriend calls me Grandpa because I love going to bed early. Where did you get the name Grandpa? It doesn’t seem like your typical boxing moniker.
|Robert Garcia: the champion|
RG: (laughs) I’m 36, but I’ve been called Grandpa since I was 12. It’s a nickname I got in the gym. I’ve been going to the gym since I was 5. A lot of neighborhood kids would come and go, then return years later and I would always be there. I had been in the gym for so many years’ they just started calling me grandpa.
RK: What would you say was the highlight of your career?
RG: A lot of people would think it was winning the title, but it was probably my first defense of my title. That fight really made me feel like a world champion.
Winning the title wasn’t that hard: I won nearly every round. I wanted to win by knock out.
In my first title defense I fought Ramon Ledon, who was an undefeated Cuban fighter. He dropped me in the second round, and I was pretty hurt. I came back to knock him out in the 5th round. That was a big moment for me.
Also, beating someone like John John Molina, who I grew up watching. He was a two or three time world champion.
RK: I’ve always been interested in the pain aspect of boxing. Can you explain to me what it’s like to get hit by a professional fighter?
RG: When you’re in the ring fighting you don’t feel pain. You could get cut, break your nose, have your jaw broken; you keep fighting. If you’re Brandon Rios then you love getting hit. That’s what motivates him.
There are some fighter’s that have good defense, and they move around a lot. But when you’re in the ring you don’t feel it. You feel it the next day though!
RK: That was actually where I was headed next, what is it like the morning after a big fight?
RG: Well, if you’ve had an easy fight you can go be with your family and enjoy the weekend. But if you go through a war you get cut, and beat up. Even if you win, it’s not pretty. There’s a lot of pain. You often have to stay in bed for a few days, and get stitched up, and take care of the swelling.
RK: I don’t want this to sound vulgar, but my Dad once told me that he heard some fighter’s piss blood after fights. Is there any truth to that?
RG: Yes. That is true! It never happened to me, but I know it does happen. It’s part of the sport.
RK: Can you describe to me what it feels like to walk out for a big fight?
RG: That’s probably the best emotion you could have. Walking out to the ring hearing people cheering your name, it motivates you. You have to live it to feel it, but it’s a really great feeling. Whether the people are cheering for you, or booing it’s still great.
As a trainer it’s the same thing. When we went to Cowboy Stadium there were 70,000 people. Not many people can say they’ve experienced that, and went up against Pacquiao, but I’m one of them.
|Robert trains with brother Mikey|
RK: What led you to become a boxing trainer?
RG: Well, growing up my Dad was always training fighters. He trained Fernando Vargas throughout most of his career. I just grew up in boxing, and my brother Danny is also a trainer; he trains Victor Ortiz. It’s just been a boxing family. We love it, and enjoy every moment of it.
RK: In light of Roy Jones Jr. career coming to a crashing halt, when is it time to hang up the gloves, and what do you tell your fighters?
RG: My last fight was when I was 26. A lot of people told me, and still tell me “Why did you quit, why don’t you make a comeback?” I could have done it, but when you don’t have the desire to get up in the morning and jog you shouldn’t be doing it anymore. You don’t want your trainer to have to be waking you up telling you to train. My Dad was doing that before I retired. That means your body shouldn’t be doing it anymore. That’s when I said it was over.
I had a great career, and became a world champion. At 31 and 32 there were a few great fighter’s that I could have faced that were my age, and in my weight class – Morales, Marquez, Barrera, even Pacquiao – but I didn’t care about making a pay day if I knew I wouldn’t do well, and could get hurt. Why even take a chance?
RK: Do people stay in boxing past when they should for the money? Or, are there other factors like finding it too hard to let go of the spotlight?
RG: It is often for the money. In Roy Jones case it may have been the spotlight. He’s done a lot of great work so it’s not for the money. Sometimes you just can’t let go. When you were a superstar at some point and everyone knew who you were, and then that that’s not happening anymore you want to get back into the ring, you want to fight.
RK: What emotions do you go through watching your fighters from ringside?
RG: Well, all my fighter’s are very close to me. It’s like having somebody in my family fighting. I know that when we’re in the ring, we are not friends; I’m there to coach them, help them to get the victory, and also to protect them. I do love all my fighters, but I can’t feel sorry for them. I have to go in there and do my job.
RK: There have been many tragedies in boxing in the last few years: Arturo Gatti, Diego Corrales, and now Edwin Valero. What did you know about Valero and how good was he?
|Venezuelan fighter Edwin Valero
killed himself and his wife in 2010
RG: I know Valero was a tremendous puncher. I had some of my fighters spar with him a few times. They always told me that Valero could punch. This guy had a big future in the sport, it’s too bad his life ended in tragedy.
When money is involved families start getting greedy, the wives start getting attention and want the success more than the fighter. It’s greed. That’s my guess with Valero.
RK: How did you rate Pacquiao’s last fight against Mosley?
RG: I thought it had all the potential of being a great fight, but once it started it was just a payday for Mosley. He played it smart, and didn’t want to get hurt. He’s 38, and got a 5 million dollar payday; I don’t blame him. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend so he definitely wants to take care of himself and enjoy her and his kids.
RK: Is it wrong for me to think that his reluctance to fight was a slap in the face to boxing fans?
|Garcia speaks at press conference.
To his right: Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao
RG: I could say that, but it’s not his fault. It’s the promoter’s fault. Bob Arum put that fight together, and they knew he was 38. Yeah, it was disappointing for the boxing fans. But like I said, I don’t blame Mosley, he did what he had to do, and now he’s enjoying the payday.
RK: What are your thoughts on Pacquiao-Marquez 3, which will be happening in November?
RG: That’s a helluva fight. Who else is out there that could mean something for Pacquiao, or for the fans? I think it’s the only fight out there that could say something. They’ve fought twice, and both times they been very controversial. The fight makes sense.
RK: This will only be Marquez’s second fight past 135, whereas Pacquiao has been fighting as a welterweight for years. Will the weight issue be a big factor?
RG: It might be a problem for Marquez. He’s a solid lightweight, and his body is small. Pacquiao has grown his body into a solid welterweight. I think it is going to make a big difference, and I think Pacquiao will win by knockout.
RK: How is Antonio Margarito doing, and what’s next for him?
RG: Margarito won’t be fighting in July or September. He just had surgery in his eye, and it was a success. The doctor gave him the OK to fight again. He still wants to take some time off. He wants to heal properly, and doesn’t want to come back anytime soon. I think he might fight next year.
|Margarito took a massive beating from Pacquiao|
RK: Brandon Rios is one of your best up and coming fighters right now. He’ll be fighting Urbano Antillion in July. How do you think that fight will turn out?
|Garcia with Brandon Rios, and Fernando Vargas|
RG: It’s gonna be a war. That’s what people are waiting for. Brandon can’t wait to get in the ring with Antillion. That’s what he loves. We all know it’s going to be an exciting fight.
Brandon can go as far as he wants. Right now, he’s very dedicated, and has been training very hard. He’s thinking the way a real champion should be. Bob Arum is talking about him fighting Barrera next. If he beats Antillion, who knows where he’ll go. Maybe he’ll move up to 140 and meet some of the champions in that division like Marcos Maidana. I can’t wait.
RK: You’re training one of the best fighter’s in the world right now, Nonito Donaire Jr. What’s it been like watching his rise to the upper echelons of the sport?
RG: Nonito is, if not the best, second to the best after Pacquiao. We have to give Pacquiao his credits. But if we talk about skills and talent he’s probably just as good. His time will come. He’s very dedicated, and we can’t wait to get him in the ring again. He’ll be making a lot of noise in the future.
RK: Who would you rank as the top 3 fighters right now?
RG: We gotta say Pacquiao. Of course, my fighter Donaire is up there. And, of course Sergio Martinez. Those three fighters’ are the best in the world right now.
|Floyd “Money” Mayweather|
RK: What are your impressions of Mayweather?
RG: I don’t think he wants to lose. He’s smart. He’s got a chance to beat all the guys. His skills are just incredible, but he just doesn’t want to take a chance, and lose a fight.
RK: Based on Mayweather’s choice of competition in his career, can you really rank him as one of the best ever?
RG: That’s why I don’t really like him. He’s not fighting, and not fighting the best out there. Why should we rank him up there?
RK: What else do you want to accomplish in the sport of boxing?
RG: I became champion, which few can say. In the ten years since I last fought I’ve trained 4 world champions. I have accomplished a lot more than many trainers will in their life.
I just want to keep doing this. I want to keep producing champions. I don’t have a limit as a trainer. I could be doing this until I’m 60.
RK: You spend a lot of time in the gym, what do you do for fun when you’re not surrounded by boxing?
RG: Well, I’m in boxing every week. When I’m not with my Pro’s I’m with my amateurs and we travel a lot. I’m in boxing 100 percent.
Whenever I get a chance I love to watch movies. I have my room where I have my 3D TV and surround sound. I lock myself in there on the weekends, and watch movies. When I travel I watch a bunch of movies on the road.
|Robert and I’s favorite movie.|
RK: What’s your favorite movie of all time?
RG: My favorite movie is the Shawshank Redemption.
RK: No way. That’s my favorite movie as well.
RG: It’s a great movie, a helluva movie. Second to that is Men of Honor.
RK: What’s life like in Oxnard, California?
RG: It’s a small town. When you do anything, everybody finds out, especially in the boxing circles. It’s nice though. There’s a lot of agriculture, and strawberry fields. Many families grow up on those fields.
RK: Who are your favorite musical artists?
RG: I love Mexican music. Mariachi. I love it.
RK: Is it good music to train too?
RG: Oh yeah, it’s great. We always have it in the gym. Brandon Rios loves it.
|HBO ring announcer, Max Kellerman|
RK: What’s the deal with Max Kellerman? He seems a bit pretentious to me, and was quoted in the press saying a few negative things about you.
RG: No, Max is a good person. He’s a good friend, I could say. He’s just interesting. People want to hear what he has to say.
When we were having a meeting with HBO before a fight he said to me, “What does it feel like to be on the A side now?” I thought, “Well what about Rios and Margatio, are they not A fighters?” Later he cleared it up for me, and told me he meant that in previous fights my fighters’ were always the challengers in the B side facing the champions, and now with Donaire I was in the A corner.