September 12, 2003

Joel Casamayor: “Sometimes I Feel Like Crying”

By Fiona Manning

Sometimes in boxing, a writer gets to witness an historic moment. Sometimes that writer also gets to tell all about it: sometimes, the moment is so profound and unique, it affects all concerned.

That historic moment came for this writer at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys this week when former legendary world champion Gabriel Ruelas stopped by to translate for Cuban superstar and world IBA 130 pound champion Joel “Cepillo” Casamayor for his exclusive interview with La Prensa San Diego.

For trainer Joe Goossen who trains Casamayor, (whose record stands at 29-1, 18 KOs) facing the biggest challenge of his life next month when he takes on rangy former WBC 130 pound champ Diego “Chico” Corrales on October 4, seeing him “bond” with Ruelas is a matter of honor and pride.

Goossen discovered Ruelas and his younger brother Rafael who together, took the boxing world by storm by becoming one of the first pairs of brothers to become world champions.

The Mexican-born brothers who appeared in the gym as pre-teens trying to sell candy, never got that sale but landed a boxing coach and surrogate father who still keeps a watchful eye on the two men he still loves like sons.

Ruelas and Goossen saw their share of heartbreak, especially on the fateful day that Jimmy Garcia died in the ring as a result of the beating he sustained from the fearsome, hard-punching Ruelas.

Goossen has also shared heartbreak with Casamayor. Few ringsiders who witnessed Casamayor’s title defense against Acelino Freitas could believe Freitas walked away with a highly controversial loss.

The trainer went to bat for Casamayor with the WBA, the way he once did with Ruelas’ frustrated school teachers.

Although there can be no doubt Casamayor was the victim of dreadful refereeing by Joe Cortez but the judges too, seemed to be watching some other fight.

Casamayor was devastated by the defeat, but the two men regrouped and redoubled their efforts in the gym. Coming back from adversity, (no stranger to Ruelas) coupled with lack and delay are common bedfellows for Casamayor.

Taking a break during training, Casamayor sat on a makeshift sofa in the dressing room in back of the gym. The door was open and Casamayor never once reacted to the constant speeding ambulances which left the base directly opposite or the police cars with blaring sirens spinning out of their base right next door.

“What has kept me going this past year is that so many people tell me I beat Freitas,” said Casamayor. “What keeps me motivated is the knowledge that he can run, but he can’t hide forever. Pretty soon he is going to be forced to fight me and I will be right there waiting for him.”

Casamayor is hoping a victory over Corrales will move him one step closer to touching ‘em up again with Freitas.

“I did get to Freitas,” said Casamayor with satisfaction. “He is no longer a KO artist. I took that from him which is why he avoids me. I think he is not as good as he thinks he is. I watched his last fight with Jorge Barrios and maybe it was his marital problems but this guy knocked him down! That was a rough fight but I was impressed that Barrios just went after him.”

Casamayor feels Freitas’ training might also not have been there. “I never take short cuts,” he said. “I train for everybody.”

To that end, he endured 130 blistering rounds of sparring with 135 pound champion Juan “Hispanic Causing Panic” Lazcano.

“He’s one of the best fighters in the division and gave us a tremendous workout,” said Goossen. “But now we need somebody tall, somebody with a mean left hook. We need Yoni Vargas.”

Vargas, who is a close friend of Casamayor (the two met during the 1996 Olympic Games. Casamayor won the Gold medal for Cuba) has not only sparred with him but was destroyed by Casamayor last December in five painful rounds.

He will be back in the gym with his old buddy Monday afternoon. “He’s my good luck charm,” said Casamayor.

The “old” Casamayor seemed to be back in the Vargas fight and we saw glimpses in his January performance against Nate Campbell – a fight he took over Christmas at short notice – but he is promising a demolition job against Corrales.

“He’s never handled a very fast left-handed fighter before,” said Casamayor. “He’s very tall, very very tall but we’ve worked out our game plan and I will not just stand there and let him bang away at me.”

Already in perfect shape and running diligently, Casamayor is confident and ebullient about the fight. He is however always nursing a perpetual sadness.

That sadness is Cuba.

Casamayor can never go home and has not done so for 12 years. He has not seen his mother or many family members and had to fight to have his wife and children moved to Miami.

“Sometimes,” he said. “I feel like crying. Sometimes, in the gym, I am so focused and working so hard and I realize my mother can never watch me fight. She can never come to see me and it’s hard. The emotions are all right there.

“But this is how my life has always been. Hard luck, pain, loss, these are my friends. This is what I work with.”

Ruelas, a devoted family man seemed overcome by Casamayor’s confessions and very concerned to hear that the fighter’s mother is sick with an ulcer and medical care being what it is in Cuba, his wife has visited her constantly and he sends money for medicine.

“My mother is one tough lady,” he said. “The toughest lady I know and the only person in this life I am afraid of. When I was 12 I won a bicycle in a boxing competition and I was so excited I rode home and hit something on the road and fell over the handle bars and broke my tooth. I went home and my mother hit me!”

Today, she might not be so bold as to haul off and hit a world champion, but he said, “You never know. She is a Cuban lady. Very tough!”

Casamayor, whose skin was beginning to dry off had to get back to the bags. “There’s one more thing,” he said. “I would like to take time to finally explain my nickname Cepillo. It means butterfly but it has nothing to do with my fighting style or my uppercut. You wouldn’t believe the things people tell me they hear that it means.

“When I was seven, my uncle used to drive trucks and he let me drive them and people said the way I drove them, the way I handled the steering wheel, very quick, very smooth, I was like a cepillo, like a butterfly. And the name stuck.”

Warning to Corrales: He didn’t get that name for nothing.

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