By Fiona Manning
When IBA world super featherweight champion Joel Casamayor stepped into the ring last Friday night to face Yoni Vargas in a stunning fifth round KO victory at Miami’s American Airlines Amphitheater, he had more than his own victory on his mind.
He was also thinking about The Ghost.
The Ghost is featherweight Robert Guerrero, the 9-0 whiz-kid southpaw featherweight prospect from Gilroy, CA whom Casamayor is now managing with his trainer/manager Joe Goossen, Louis de Cubas and Bob Santos.
Casamayor, considered one of the best fighters in the world has taken Guerrero so close to his heart, he personally supervised Guerrero’s most recent fight - a scheduled six round TV undercard fight on ESPN2.
Originally slated to face former world champion Rudulfo Blanco, Guerrero was disappointed but not fazed when Jose Alfonso Rodriguez, a veteran opponent stepped into the ring instead.
“I’m on a mission,” said Guerrero who knocked out Rodriguez in two rounds.
It was a big night for the master and the avid student.
“You know what Guerrero means?” said Casamayor who rushed to the gym this week to watch his charge spar veteran welterweight Vince Thompson for seven grueling rounds. “It means warrior. Robert is the Ghost Warrior.”
So ecstatic is Casamayor about Guerrero that he invited La Prensa San Diego to the Ten Goose Gym so we could see the kid in action.
Casamayor doesn’t get very excited about prospects very often. The last time he did, it was featherweight Rudy Martinez, who after notching up an 11-2, 6 KO career, quit the boxing business two years ago.
“I had hopes for Rudy but I see much more dedication, much more love for boxing in Robert,” said Casamayor. “He has a very good attitude that will make him champion one day very soon.”
Casamayor is not the only one who raves about Guerrero.
Joe Goossen who is sent prospects to examine on a daily basis, rarely takes on somebody starting out but is so high on Guerrero he positively glows when he talks about him.
“Oh, Robert’s the hottest prospect I’ve had in here since Gabe and Rafael Ruelas,” he said which is something Goossen never says.
Bob Santos, who has worked with Guerrero since he was a hot amateur prospect is also full of praise for the guy who was the youngest boxer ever to try for the Olympics [in 2002].
“He competed on the day he turned 16 which is the Olympic cut off age and he won the Olympic junior gold medal but he lost out on a position on the team to Clarence Vinson,” Santos said.
Guerrero, at 5’9 has no body fat, plenty of foot and hand speed. Unusually tall and hard-hitting for his weight, he packs pistols in his fist.
Just ask Thompson who used to be Pernell Whitaker’s sparring partner. Guerrero battered Thompson who joked, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” after the session was over.
“That’s what Robert keeps doing,” said Santos. “He’s been fighting much bigger guys his whole career which explains his low KO output.”
Since turning pro in April last year, Guerrero has fought steadily but has only 2 KOs on his ledger.
After this week’s fight (at 126 pounds), his management team is planning to fight him strictly at 122.
“He really hadn’t been getting much sparring until we started working here at the Ten Goose Gym,” said Santos. “There isn’t much boxing up in Gilroy.”
Having trained with his father Ruben Guerrero exclusively since he was five or six, there seem to be no egos involved in the meshing of the Guerreros and Goossen.
“We’re just so happy everybody likes Robert,” said his father. “We are both learning from Joe. He is really excited about Robert and we’re here to work so things are very good right now.”
Guerrero and his father have a good relationship, which is obvious just looking at them in the gym together.
“We’re best friends,” said Ruben. “We’re always together. Robert is just a good kid. he goes to church on Sundays, he has no bad habits. He’s a hero to the kids at the Gilroy Youth Center where he’s been training for years. Sometimes I have to shake my own head and say, ‘and this guy’s a boxer?’”
For his part, Guerrero is soaking up the atmosphere in the gym that has turned out so many world champions.
He is also pinching himself, still not quite believing his good fortune that Casamayor has taken him under his wing.
“We have breakfast together and we run together,” said Guerrero, who is bi-lingual. “We talk about boxing all day long.”
Ruben is thrilled that his son has a true mentor in Casamayor and that both father and son have found such willing strategists as Joe Goossen and co.
“Joe took one look at Robert and suggested we turn him pro last year,” said Santos. “This was after the Olympic trials. You never what’s going to happen in the amateurs.”
You never know what’s going to happen in the pro ranks either. Guerrero has been matched tough at higher weights just to keep the fighter busy. He has beaten some stiff opposition: earlier this year he faced Marcos Badillo whose record of 14-19 is against some difficult opponents too.
Ironically, Badillo is an opponent the aforementioned Rudy Martinez also beat in his short career.
Guerrero fought super bantamweight Joaquin Candelario to a decision but after this week, Santos said, they want fights only at 122.
“I don’t care,” said Guerrero. “I’m happy to fight anybody. Boxing is my life and I plan to be a world champion. With all this support, with this incredible team behind me, there’s only one way to go and that’s straight to the top.”