Most of Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero’s career has existed under the radar, like one of those stealth bombers that suddenly appear in a flash.
Others received the fanfare, television time and adulation after the 2000 Olympics in Australia.
Guerrero’s debut took place in an open air fight card in the middle of the desert. The main event was Hector Camacho Jr., who rode on top of a camel or something. It’s a little fuzzy, but you get the picture. That night the junior featherweight southpaw from Gilroy defeated Alejandro Cruz by decision.
A couple of years passed and Guerrero defeated all of those who entered the ring. Nothing jumped out as he beat boxers in Miami, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Temecula. But he only fought once near his hometown.
It was in 2003 that Guerrero really caught my eye. He was fighting a super tough desert fighter named David Vasquez in a bout set for 10 rounds at Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella. Anyone who fought Vasquez was in for a battle.
Vasquez had a granite chin and it was put to good use by visiting elite prizefighters like Prince Naseem Hamed, Acelino “Popo” Freitas and others. He had traded blows with the best and they welcomed his strength and durability. Plus, he was plain dangerous as a puncher too.
Maybe three or four other boxing journalists were seated that evening. One other in attendance that night was James “Lights Out” Toney who a week earlier had defeated Vassiliy Jirov for the cruiserweight world title.
Guerrero entered the ring looking like some kid that was picked off a schoolyard and asked to put on boxing gloves. On the other side was Vasquez who was shorter but compact and menacing. The fight commenced and Vasquez moved in to close the distance. Guerrero was firing tight combinations. Suddenly, a left cross blurred across and connected with a sound like a mini sonic boom. Vasquez dropped in a heap. The referee didn’t bother to count. Toney shouted something behind me about the sound of the punch. It was impressive.
Ironically, that fight took place May 4, 2003, exactly 10 years to the date that Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 Kos) will challenge Floyd Mayweather (43-0, 26 Kos) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The WBC welterweight title and recognition as boxing’s best Pound for Pound fighter will also be at stake. Showtime pay-per-view will televise.
Guerrero’s journey has been a long and somewhat invisible trek that has seen him move up the weight divisions, not because he could not maintain the weight, but because he was avoided by smart managers who knew better than to put their fighters in front of Guerrero.
Big Bear Lake became a common training spot for Team Guerrero who often used Sugar Shane Mosley’s cabin to prepare for their fights. On one occasion Mosley needed a southpaw and Guerrero was called. At the time the lanky lefty was needed to prepare for Luis Collazo who had a date with Mosley. Guerrero was about to fly to Denmark to defend the IBF featherweight title against Spend Abazi.
“I didn’t care,” said Guerrero back then. “If I had to go, I had to go.”
Mosley was very enthusiastic about Guerrero’s abilities.
“He hits like a welterweight,” said Mosley who sparred many rounds with Guerrero in the high altitude of Big Bear. “I can see him moving up and doing real well.”
Those were prophetic words.
Needless to say Guerrero traveled to Denmark and knocked out Abazi in the ninth round to keep the world title. A couple of years later he moved up to win the junior lightweight world title in 2009, but suddenly, no one would challenge him. So he moved up another division and fought Joel Casamayor. Then came Vicente Escobedo and Michael Katsidis. But few other lightweights would jump in the ring with Guerrero.
Jumping the ring
A couple of years ago Guerrero was training once again in Big Bear Lake. He was at Abel Sanchez’s gym The Summit and agreed to talk to us. We began talking about some of the other things he does to keep occupied and one other person told us that Guerrero could dunk a basketball. We were impressed.
Then one of the others claimed that Guerrero could stand next to the boxing ring and leap over the top rope without using his hands. I looked at the boxing ring which was placed on a one foot platform and then looked at the boxing ropes. I estimated that altogether I was about four inches shy of six-feet high. Guerrero stood next to the ring and without any prodding leaped over the boxing ring with inches to spare. It was a Blake Griffin-type jump that would have made the redheaded L.A. Clipper proud.
It astounded me. I hadn’t seen anyone as athletic as that in many years.
While we drove down the mountaintop the photographer and I couldn’t stop talking about the athleticism we had just seen with the naked eye. It was something an Olympian might do, not a boxer from Gilroy, California.
As we talked the photographer asked if I had ever seen anyone else as athletic as Guerrero. I thought about it. I knew Oscar De La Hoya was pretty athletic. His own physical education teacher at Garfield High claims that De La Hoya took up fencing for a short time and proved pretty adept. The coach said De La Hoya was a natural and that he could run for miles with nary a hiccup.
Personally the most athletic boxer I had seen until I saw Guerrero was Floyd Mayweather Jr. Ironically it was in Big Bear Lake that Mayweather showed off some of his athleticism.
It was around 1997 when I walked into the Big Bear Fitness Club near the lake. At the time the fitness club was perhaps the most popular destination for boxers to prepare for a big fight. Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Angel Manfredy, Angel Hernandez, Antonio Diaz, Rafael Ruelas and Shane Mosley used it during the 1990s. One day I walked in and there was Mayweather working out at full speed. He must have been drilling feverishly and had his posse along. After working out for about an hour straight he leaped up to this apparatus that had all kinds of bars and handles on it. He did about 30 chin ups rapid fire then did like a backward somersault as he propelled himself away from the metal monstrosity. It was an incredible gymnastic feat and it stunned me how easily he did it.
That athleticism along with his lifelong devotion toward building his boxing skills has catapulted Mayweather to the top of the boxing pyramid. No one argues that he’s not the best fighter pound for pound… at the moment.
The half decade spent trying to make a fight between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao went down the drain quickly once the Filipino southpaw was defeated twice. But now there’s another southpaw who rose meteorically too.
“If you look at my career, you go back and look at everything I’ve been through inside the ring, outside of the ring, it all leads you up to be ready for moments like this,” said Guerrero.
Still, most people are convinced that time doesn’t change things. They firmly believe that Mayweather 2013 is the same as Mayweather 2009. Maybe so. Maybe this isn’t the year that the best fighter of the last six years has lost too many steps.
“This is about two fighters going out there, testing their skills against one another,” said Mayweather. “That’s what this is about.”
Mayweather has never been defeated and perhaps the closest anyone came to handing the Las Vegas speedster a loss came against Jose Luis Castillo and De La Hoya. Those were many years ago.
When asked to comment about those facts Guerrero merely shrugs.
“It’s my time,” Guerrero says.