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Robert Guerrero’s Journey from Gilroy to Las Vegas




When Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero first stepped into the prize ring, all I remember was a camel was involved.

Thinking back on that day on April 22, 2001, a fighter by the name of Hector Camacho Jr. rode on the back of a camel into the outdoor lot of Fantasy Springs Casino. He was dressed like some kind of Arabian knight.

On that same fight card Guerrero fought Alejandro Cruz who was also making his pro debut and won by unanimous decision. The kid from Gilroy, Calif. had just turned 18 a month earlier. Poor Cruz, little did he know he was debuting against a future Hall of Fame fighter in Guerrero.

You just never know who will improve into the upper heights of such a demanding sport and who will melt like rubber under the intense heat of prizefighting.

The next time I saw Guerrero he fought in a tent at Pechanga Casino in Temecula. That day on February 2002, he beat Joaquin Candelario, a veteran of 28 pro fights and won by decision in a super bantamweight match.

But it all came together on May 4, 2003 at the Spotlight Casino in Coachella, Calif.

The late Dan Goossen was the promoter of the event that was headlined by desert fighter Steve Quinonez Jr., a likeable southpaw boxer looking to crack the top echelon. He was fighting Michael Clark in a lightweight battle of contenders. The semi-main event was Guerrero in only his 10th pro fight against local strongman David Vasquez.

Vasquez was a veteran of 28 pro fights against some of the best fighters in the world including world champions such as Paulie Ayala, Jesus Salud and Danny Romero. When Vasquez was born his birth certificate might have said “tough kid” in bold letters. He was so tough that when guys like Prince Naseem Hamed and Acelino “Popo” Freitas came to the desert to train they called him.

It was because of the tough sparring Vasquez provided for Brazil’s Freitas that he was placed on a Las Vegas card against an undefeated Artyom Simonyan. Vasquez fought him to a draw. It was the night Freitas defeated Cuba’s Joel Casamayor in a battle of undefeated super featherweights at Cox Pavilion.

Because of Vasquez’s showing he was selected to face Guerrero that spring day. I had a front row seat to an expected a battle of extraordinary proportion. It wasn’t to be.

In the time it takes to tie a pair of shoelaces Guerrero connected with a left cross from his southpaw stance and caught Vasquez coming in. Down he went and was counted out.

Vasquez had tasted leather against the best and to see him unconscious from a single blow sent signals through my brain like one of those loud amber alerts. Guerrero was the real deal, the kind of fighter you don’t see every day.

Mentally I marked in my head to keep an eye on Guerrero wherever he fights. He was then 20 years old.

Three more opponents were eradicated in the first round including a Julian Rodriguez who Guerrero hit during a badly timed referee’s break by the late Lou Filippo. Instead of another knockout win it was ruled a technical draw.

Guerrero didn’t hit a snag until he met Mexico’s Gamaliel Diaz in 2005 in a featherweight clash in Central California.

Diaz remains one of the cagiest and dirtiest boxers that Mexico has ever produced. When things got bad against Guerrero, the fighter from Mexico City began hitting low, elbowing, holding and getting away with it. He figured out Guerrero’s punch sequences and walked away with a disputed split decision. That would be the last time Guerrero would taste defeat until 2013.

Much to Diaz’s credit he would become world champion in 2012 when most figured his career was done. He is still fighting.

PH.D. in Boxing

But that loss was one of the last lessons Guerrero needed to learn. It was like getting his Ph. D. in boxicology and two fights later he would avenge the loss by knocking out Diaz and then beat Eric Aiken for the IBF featherweight world title at Staples Center on Sept. 9, 2006. He was only 23 years old.

One fight later, Guerrero would lose the title to Orlando Salido in an epic battle that saw Guerrero in a brutal slugfest against the hard boiled Mexican. Salido would win the title by decision, but blood test results found traces of steroids in his system. The fight was deemed a No Contest.

After regaining the IBF featherweight title against Spend Abazi in February 2007 and defending it several times, the former star athlete of Gilroy began moving up in weight. Critics said he was too small as he moved through super featherweights, lightweights and super lightweights.

Standing Jump

A match between Marcos Maidana and Guerrero was postponed when the fighter from Gilroy suffered a torn tendon in his rotator cuff. It was the fight he was extremely revved up to accept. The injury was a serious setback it seemed.

But this was an extraordinary athlete.

Once inside Abel Sanchez’s gym in Big Bear while he was training for Maidana, he stood outside of the boxing ropes and from a standing position jumped over the boxing ropes and into the boxing ring. It was an incredible feat of jumping.

“Yeah I can dunk a basketball,” said the 5’8” Guerrero with a grin.

Mayweather Era

It was around 2011 when it became apparent that Guerrero was strong enough and talented to compete with super lightweights and welterweights.

Floyd Mayweather was running out of opponents and the proposed clash with Manny Pacquiao was stalled in 2010 because of the Filipino’s refusal to be tested for PEDs that entailed blood samples. One side demanded testing and the other wanted no testing within two weeks of the proposed fight. Negotiations broke off when Pacquiao’s team refused to submit to the conditions.

In stepped Victor Ortiz, in stepped Miguel Cotto and then Mayweather spent time in a Nevada jail for domestic abuse in 2012.

After 87 days in jail and upon his return Mayweather was looking for a foe who was worthy of a pay-per-view event.

Guerrero had blasted through Michael Katsidis, Selcuk Aydin and then Andre Berto to shut down critics who claimed he was too small to fight as a welterweight. The win against Berto was an eye-opening moment for most including Mayweather.

The former featherweight and super featherweight world champion was tagged by Mayweather to fight for the welterweight world title on May 4, 2013. In their fight, Guerrero won several rounds against boxing’s version of Rubik’s Cube. But as every boxer before and since Guerrero, Mayweather prevailed.

Yet, Guerrero had reached the pinnacle of the mountaintop. In facing Mayweather he reached the dream of every prizefighter who ever lived and put on gloves as a professional: to fight for your self-estimated worth.

After the megafight, Guerrero returned to the ring and in the last several years faced the best of the current crop of welterweights including Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, and Yoshihiro Kamegai. The recent loss against Omar Figueroa was against a former world champion. But the man that Figueroa defeated was not the same man who won multiple world titles in multiple weight divisions.

The heart was there but the physical abilities were not the same ultra-athletic abilities I first saw in 2001.

“I was blessed to win multiple world titles in four-divisions.  A boxer’s career is a long and tough road. Many tears were shed, lots of blood, and tons of sweat.  Many miles were traveled, thousands of rounds sparred, none were easy and nothing was ever given to me,” said Guerrero. “I earned everything I got the old fashion way.  I never ducked anyone and fought the best fighters in the world.  I fought my way through every obstacle to make sure my fans enjoyed every second, of every round, of my fights.”

I expect to see Guerrero’s name mentioned again in five years’ time in Canastota, New York. Sixteen years passed quickly since the super bantamweight from Gilroy stepped inside a prize ring. And every time he fought, the excitement level revved up more than a few notches.

The Ghost was always worth watching.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges



In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two




When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman



Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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