Robert Guerrero: The Ghostly Heir Apparent To the 126-Pound Crown

06.09.05 - By Fiona Manning: Plenty of fighters in the 126-pound division are afraid of ghosts – one in particular, the hard punching, take no prisoners, undefeated southpaw featherweight Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero.

With the latest soft shoe shuffles affecting the division - Rocky Juarez toppled in a major upset by Humberto Soto and the reigning superstar Juan Manuel Marquez stripped of the IBF title because no promoter was willing to spend the minimum $50,000 on a purse bid for his overdue mandatory title defense - those in the know are eyeing The Ghost as the heir apparent to the championship.

Guerrero, 22, who hails from Gilroy, the Garlic capital of the universe (he ain’t afraid of no coast!) has quietly been proving himself constistently to ratchet up a respectable 15-0-1, 8 KOs ledger and is now casting his line for a world title shot in the new year..

He’s preparing for two upcoming bouts: On September 16, he faces the ever-ferocious TBA at the Palace Indian Gaming Casino in Lemoore CA.

His team is so confident of victory, he is already scheduled for December 2 Showtime card.

On a blistering hot, post-Katrina day at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, CA and Guerrero was wrapping his hands to spar two world champions Manny Pacquiao and Israel Vasquez when went Ghostbusting.

The mood in the gym was all business: no music, the famed Wild Card 30 second rest break instead of 60 and intense, passionate work between fighters who all respect each other.

Guerrero was more relaxed and talkative than usual. Credit newish trainer Johnny Bray for this and the astonishing new angles he’s showing in the ring.

As Pacquiao and Vasquez made the rounds of the gym shaking hands with all and sundry prior to sparring, it was clear that Guerrero was respectful and excited but not in the least intimidated.

“Sparring like this is priceless,” he said as Bray strapped his head gear on for his turn in the ring. “I’m getting to work with two world champions. You can’t put a price on that type of experience. It’s a confidence lifter.

“Working with Manny has been amazing. I’ve learned so much just dealing with his hand and foot speed, not to mention those punches.”

Guerrero, previously trained by his dad Ruben and managed by Bob Santos, initially enlisted the aid of trainer Joe Goossen in his quest for world domination.

The two never seemed to quite hit it off but the energy between Bray and Guerrero is symbiotic to say the least.

“We clicked straight away,” said Guerrero who is like a puppy dog around Bray; eager and willing to learn new tricks. Bray is like the master showman who knows it all, is willing to share the knowledge and all without a hint of showboating.

Once a five-time heavyweight amateur champion at 201 pounds, Bray’s fighting photos are on the wall of the gym. That’s what it all comes down to, according to Guerrero.

“Johnny’s been a fighter. He’s been cut. He’s been tired. He’s been hurt. He knows exactly what I’m going through in the ring and I’m prepared to listen to him because he knows.”

Bray concurs. He has seen Guerrero emerge from his shell and come into his own. “Why fight like you’re 5’2 when you’re 5’10?” he asked. “You know, a trainer doesn’t have to have been a fighter to be a good trainer but you can’t be a teacher unless you’ve been a fighter.

“You might be telling the fighter the exact right thing to do in there, but in the back of the fighter’s mind, he’s always gonna be thinking: ‘How do you know?’”

Guerrero who is still accompanied to his city training camp with Santos, no longer has his dad on hand but there is a trust between the new team, trainer Bray, Santos, Guerrero and promoter Shelly Finkel who is so high on the gangly 5’ 10” southpaw who is finally being taught to use his height and reach.

“You’re good,” said Vasquez after three hard rounds. Pacquiao too relishes the exchanges in preparation for his September 10 bout.

Guerrero accepts the praise gratefully but shows none of the cockiness he once had. If anything, his burgeoning success seems to have brought out his humble side. There isn’t a Hummer or a hanger-on in sight.

Santos is the first to remark on this. He is at every training session, has watched all the right moves and a few wrong ones too.

“Robert got married, he has a baby (five month old daughter Savannah) and a very strong faith in God. If anything, he is more humble now that things are starting to take off for him. Look at him, his entourage has shrunk!”

Papa Ruben will be present at all of his son’s fights, but now that Robert has a comfortable working relationship with Bray, it’s clear that Team Guerrero believes they don’t need too many folks in the kitchen.

“We’re ready,” Santos said proudly. “A lot of people are talking about Robert as the next big thing. With the way he’s fighting now, I’m already thinking beyond the 126-pound division to 130, even 135. This is a guy who could excel in four weight classes and we are willing to fight anybody.

“The great thing about Robert is that he never asks me who he’s going to fight. He never questions decisions. He fights whoever we put in front of him. I can guarantee this is not a kid looking for the easy path to the championship.”

For Guerrero, working with Bray has given him a new perspective on his life and career:

“Sometimes you have to make decisions to enhance your future,” he said. “The first thing Johnny taught me was using my height, using my reach, not just slugging.

“The older you get, the less physical you get. If I don’t learn to slip punches now, I’m going to be in trouble. I don’t want to have a short career. Look at James Toney. He still has a career because he knows exactly how to get out of the way of punches. There’s a reason it’s called boxing and not slugging.”

Bray believes that previous training had Guerrero slugging it out, “Which at this stage is fine, I guess but I watched his fight with Victor Polo and I thought if he keeps fighting like that he will not be the same guy when he’s 30.

“Really, we have a guy here who is a tremendous package. He has huge power, great speed and strength, plus he’s a southpaw. That’s makes him a very dangerous fighter.

“When I started working with Robert, he hadn’t been taught much but he’d been trained well, so there weren’t too many bad habits to break. The thing about Robert that is great for a trainer is that he wants to improve.

“He wants to learn. He wants to be a world champion. He does whatever I ask him to do. I stand at the ropes and I watch him give me double jabs, triple jabs, counter punching, angles, angles – all the time!”

Guerrero grinned when Santos said, “Robert’s knocking at the [championship] door. There’s nobody closer. It’s time.”

“Thank God,” said Guerrero, climbing into the ring to give a couple of reigning champs what-for.

Article posted on 06.09.2005

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