By Fiona Manning
Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, 11-0, 4 KOs, California’s fast- rising southpaw super featherweight prospect, will finally get his chance to strut his stuff to the whole world when he kicks off the PPV TV telecast of Evander Holyfield vs James Toney at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on October 4.
Guerrero, who hails from the northern California town of Gilroy, has faced some tough ring challenges since he joined forces with trainer Joe Goossen twelve months ago. Now he’s staring down his most challenging assignment: once-beaten Jorge Martinez in a 10 round bout guaranteed to rival the main event for intrigue and quality.
It was IBF cruiser champ Toney, one of the many believers in this particular ghost, who pushed for Guerrero to appear on his card. Joel Casamayor, who faced Diego Corrales in a junior lightweight bout, also wanted Guerrero on board.
Toney, who has been training in Hollywood for his heavyweight showdown with Holyfield, frequently drives over the hill to Van Nuys just to watch Guerrero train.
Many boxing insiders have jumped on the Ghost warrior’s bandwagon, started by IBF 130 pound champion Casamayor who has a major hand in Guerrero’s career. He confers with Goossen (who co-manages Guerrero with businessman Bob Santos) on opponents and actively trains with him.
“Robert pushes Joel,” said Ruben Guerrero, who was Robert’s first trainer and happily handed the reins over to Goossen. Like Santos, he is in the gym with Guerrero every day. “They run together every morning and Robert’s always the one saying, ‘Come on, let’s go!’ ”
This happy trio has infected Goossen’s Ten Goose Gym with their unbridled enthusiasm and pleasure in every aspect of grueling preparation for ring war.
Their hometown of Gilroy is famous for its garlic. Now it’s becoming famous for its ghosts. This hard-scrabble farming community is not however, famous for its boxing.
In fact, boxing is something that has been hard to come by for this heavy-handed slugger who up until he joined forces with Goossen, had never really sparred before.
They may say go west young man, but Team Gue-rrero went south and rolled up at the Ten Goose one day. Goossen, a jaded boxing insider, was frankly ecstatic with what he saw when he put Guerrero in the ring with veteran welterweight Vince Thompson.
“He was beating Vince up,” said Goossen. “I felt in that moment I had never seen a more talented kid and nothing has changed my first opinion of him. He’s every bit as talented as the best guys I ever worked with. He’s up there with Michael Nunn and the Ruelas brothers.”
Goossen went one step further saying Guerrero is “a boxing oxymoron. He works harder than any other guy in the gym. Usually those hard-working, dedicated type guys are lousy fighters. But not Robert. He’s a phenomenon.”
Guerrero first gained notice by demolishing the normally durable former NABF feather champ David Vasquez in 62 seconds in May last year. He showed that despite what many experts perceive as a low KO output, his record is extremely deceiving.
“I’ve never been hit like that,” Vasquez told anybody who would listen, immediately after the fight. Vasquez has been down the stretch with some big names including Paulie Ayala - and was a quality sparring partner for Acelino Freitas.
The extremely aggressive, hard-punching, lightening-fast 20 year old Guerrero has clocked up three KOs against good opposition since he came to work with Goossen and nobody is expecting this little engine to run out of steam any time soon.
And he’s finally getting some sparring.
“We got this far without any sparring at all,” said Santos. “Until we came to work with Joe, we had nobody to spar with, now he’s getting in some really good work.”
Guerrero has found few fighters who like his wicked body shots. Armenian featherweight Art Simonyan said he “dreads” sparring Guerrero who insists he isn’t trying to hit hard.
“The fights I had were my sparring, so I just hit the way I hit in a fight,” said Gue-rrero who is stick-thin and extremely strong.
Papa Guerrero said the secret of his son’s strength is that he never gets out of shape and never, ever slams on weight between fights.
“He’s like an alcoholic for boxing,” said Ruben. Robert concurs.
“I’m always in the gym,” Robert said. “Even between fights. We train down here for fights and afterwards, we go home and dad and I still work out at the Gilroy Community Center.”
These days, local fans show up to watch him train and Robert said he hopes that this new interest in him might encourage other young men to box.
Guerrero has no bad habits. He has no problems coming to the gym, no female headaches (he has one girlfriend who apparently understands that he’s become a bit of a celebrity and tolerates other girls calling the Guerrero house at all hours of the night and day according to Ruben. Right now, Robert is so focused, he’s not even calling his girlfriend).
“He was never a bad kid, never got in fights,” said Ruben. “We are a family of fighters and he grew up around it. When he was a real little kid, I took him to the gym one day and he’s been there ever since.”
Guerrero doesn’t drink, smoke, take drugs, has no prison record, no skeletons in the closet. He and his team even go to church on Sundays. What kind of a story is that?
A rare one in boxing. This kid can fight and is taking everything seriously except his own press. Interestingly, he hasn’t changed a bit and is still the same, sweet, lovable kid he was when he first laced on the gloves.
“When he won a gold medal in the junior Olympics and went home a superstar, he was the same guy,” said Santos.
Guerrero won the gold medal at the National Junior Olympics at age 15, and was the youngest competitor at the 2000 United States Olympic Trials.
His new opponent, Martinez, 11-1, 3 KOs, has won nine consecutive fights since suffering his lone defeat on a five-round decision to Juan Ruiz on April 13, 2001, in Palm Springs, California.
A top amateur, Martinez won the vast majority of his 132 amateur bouts before turning pro on Feb. 15, 2001, with a four-round decision over Ulises Pena.
In his last outing, the crowd-pleasing boxer-puncher captured the ABMH (Hispanic World Boxing Association) 130-pound belt with a 10th-round TKO over Victor Dominguez.
Guerrero anticipates a difficult fight with Martinez. “He should have been on the Mexican Olympic Team in 1996 but although he won a place on it, the shoved him aside for Francisco “Pan-chito” Bojado. I know he’s tough.”
In his last fight, Guerrero faced Jose Luis Tula, who dropped a 12 round decision to William Abelyan in March and got his smack-talking mouth shut within a minute of his first round with Guerrero.
Guerrero, who doesn’t have an ounce of body fat, fights with the poise and speed of a fighter who has more than 10 pro fights to his credit.
Sparring with a cracking roster including the aforementioned Simonyan, Miguel Espino, Daniel Jimenez and Marshall Martinez, Guerrero shines.
It’s fair to say that during their crackling six round session, Simonyan was looking disheartened. Sure, it was wildly entertaining to watch but Simonyan being flogged four ways from Sunday but the truth is, he is the one who’s been snuffing the fires of other well-known and well-regarded fighters like Radford Beasley and Azumah Nelson’s cousin Ablorh Sowal (who has sparred extensively with former IBF bantamweight champion Tim Austin).
Casamayor, who watches Guerrero train, offers constant advice which Guerrero soaks up like the sun. He has also adopted Casamayor’s guerilla-like approach to diet and the two men share their Spartan training meals.
Twist papa Ruben’s arm a little and he does reveal one ghostly vice: “Pizza,” he whispered. “Frankly, he could eat it now if he wants, but he won’t. He’s sticking to a very strict diet. He won’t even eat spices right now. He’s eating a lot of fish and vegetables, boiled steak and a tiny bit of fruit but that’s it. He’s very disciplined. Very occasionally he’ll have a little bit of chili on his steak.”
But no garlic.
The fighter, who is very tall and thin for his 126 pound fighting weight has another vice: Starbuck’s coffee.
“We get up at 4am every day and by 5.30 we’re at the doors, knocking to be let in,” said Robert. “We’re like the guys in the K-mart ad: ‘Open up! Open up! Open up!’ “
He allows himself only one cup of black coffee per day and has so ingratiated himself with the Starbucks barristas, their brew is free.
“That’s Robert for you,” said Goossen who seems perpetually happy since this jubilant ghost started haunting his gym.
For the management and training team around Guerrero, each day in the gym is further proof that their faith in the Ghost is justified.
“I’m excited,” said Goossen, cranking up the music so Guerrero could work with the “Crazy Ball” for 10 rounds. “I’m inspired. He listens and he learns and he executes. He always wants more. And I’ll tell you something, this kid has talents you can just not teach to fighters.
“He’s been looking extraordinary since we started four week camps for his fights. Wait until you see how he looks after this camp. We’re doing six weeks. Tell everybody, Gilroy pretty soon is going to be very famous for something other than garlic.”