Robert Guerrero’s Journey from Gilroy to Las Vegas

When Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero first stepped into the prize ring, all I remember was a camel was involved.

Thinking back on that day on April 22, 2001, a fighter by the name of Hector Camacho Jr. rode on the back of a camel into the outdoor lot of Fantasy Springs Casino. He was dressed like some kind of Arabian knight.

On that same fight card Guerrero fought Alejandro Cruz who was also making his pro debut and won by unanimous decision. The kid from Gilroy, Calif. had just turned 18 a month earlier. Poor Cruz, little did he know he was debuting against a future Hall of Fame fighter in Guerrero.

You just never know who will improve into the upper heights of such a demanding sport and who will melt like rubber under the intense heat of prizefighting.

The next time I saw Guerrero he fought in a tent at Pechanga Casino in Temecula. That day on February 2002, he beat Joaquin Candelario, a veteran of 28 pro fights and won by decision in a super bantamweight match.

But it all came together on May 4, 2003 at the Spotlight Casino in Coachella, Calif.

The late Dan Goossen was the promoter of the event that was headlined by desert fighter Steve Quinonez Jr., a likeable southpaw boxer looking to crack the top echelon. He was fighting Michael Clark in a lightweight battle of contenders. The semi-main event was Guerrero in only his 10th pro fight against local strongman David Vasquez.

Vasquez was a veteran of 28 pro fights against some of the best fighters in the world including world champions such as Paulie Ayala, Jesus Salud and Danny Romero. When Vasquez was born his birth certificate might have said “tough kid” in bold letters. He was so tough that when guys like Prince Naseem Hamed and Acelino “Popo” Freitas came to the desert to train they called him.

It was because of the tough sparring Vasquez provided for Brazil’s Freitas that he was placed on a Las Vegas card against an undefeated Artyom Simonyan. Vasquez fought him to a draw. It was the night Freitas defeated Cuba’s Joel Casamayor in a battle of undefeated super featherweights at Cox Pavilion.

Because of Vasquez’s showing he was selected to face Guerrero that spring day. I had a front row seat to an expected a battle of extraordinary proportion. It wasn’t to be.

In the time it takes to tie a pair of shoelaces Guerrero connected with a left cross from his southpaw stance and caught Vasquez coming in. Down he went and was counted out.

Vasquez had tasted leather against the best and to see him unconscious from a single blow sent signals through my brain like one of those loud amber alerts. Guerrero was the real deal, the kind of fighter you don’t see every day.

Mentally I marked in my head to keep an eye on Guerrero wherever he fights. He was then 20 years old.

Three more opponents were eradicated in the first round including a Julian Rodriguez who Guerrero hit during a badly timed referee’s break by the late Lou Filippo. Instead of another knockout win it was ruled a technical draw.

Guerrero didn’t hit a snag until he met Mexico’s Gamaliel Diaz in 2005 in a featherweight clash in Central California.

Diaz remains one of the cagiest and dirtiest boxers that Mexico has ever produced. When things got bad against Guerrero, the fighter from Mexico City began hitting low, elbowing, holding and getting away with it. He figured out Guerrero’s punch sequences and walked away with a disputed split decision. That would be the last time Guerrero would taste defeat until 2013.

Much to Diaz’s credit he would become world champion in 2012 when most figured his career was done. He is still fighting.

PH.D. in Boxing

But that loss was one of the last lessons Guerrero needed to learn. It was like getting his Ph. D. in boxicology and two fights later he would avenge the loss by knocking out Diaz and then beat Eric Aiken for the IBF featherweight world title at Staples Center on Sept. 9, 2006. He was only 23 years old.

One fight later, Guerrero would lose the title to Orlando Salido in an epic battle that saw Guerrero in a brutal slugfest against the hard boiled Mexican. Salido would win the title by decision, but blood test results found traces of steroids in his system. The fight was deemed a No Contest.

After regaining the IBF featherweight title against Spend Abazi in February 2007 and defending it several times, the former star athlete of Gilroy began moving up in weight. Critics said he was too small as he moved through super featherweights, lightweights and super lightweights.

Standing Jump

A match between Marcos Maidana and Guerrero was postponed when the fighter from Gilroy suffered a torn tendon in his rotator cuff. It was the fight he was extremely revved up to accept. The injury was a serious setback it seemed.

But this was an extraordinary athlete.

Once inside Abel Sanchez’s gym in Big Bear while he was training for Maidana, he stood outside of the boxing ropes and from a standing position jumped over the boxing ropes and into the boxing ring. It was an incredible feat of jumping.

“Yeah I can dunk a basketball,” said the 5’8” Guerrero with a grin.

Mayweather Era

It was around 2011 when it became apparent that Guerrero was strong enough and talented to compete with super lightweights and welterweights.

Floyd Mayweather was running out of opponents and the proposed clash with Manny Pacquiao was stalled in 2010 because of the Filipino’s refusal to be tested for PEDs that entailed blood samples. One side demanded testing and the other wanted no testing within two weeks of the proposed fight. Negotiations broke off when Pacquiao’s team refused to submit to the conditions.

In stepped Victor Ortiz, in stepped Miguel Cotto and then Mayweather spent time in a Nevada jail for domestic abuse in 2012.

After 87 days in jail and upon his return Mayweather was looking for a foe who was worthy of a pay-per-view event.

Guerrero had blasted through Michael Katsidis, Selcuk Aydin and then Andre Berto to shut down critics who claimed he was too small to fight as a welterweight. The win against Berto was an eye-opening moment for most including Mayweather.

The former featherweight and super featherweight world champion was tagged by Mayweather to fight for the welterweight world title on May 4, 2013. In their fight, Guerrero won several rounds against boxing’s version of Rubik’s Cube. But as every boxer before and since Guerrero, Mayweather prevailed.

Yet, Guerrero had reached the pinnacle of the mountaintop. In facing Mayweather he reached the dream of every prizefighter who ever lived and put on gloves as a professional: to fight for your self-estimated worth.

After the megafight, Guerrero returned to the ring and in the last several years faced the best of the current crop of welterweights including Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, and Yoshihiro Kamegai. The recent loss against Omar Figueroa was against a former world champion. But the man that Figueroa defeated was not the same man who won multiple world titles in multiple weight divisions.

The heart was there but the physical abilities were not the same ultra-athletic abilities I first saw in 2001.

“I was blessed to win multiple world titles in four-divisions.  A boxer’s career is a long and tough road. Many tears were shed, lots of blood, and tons of sweat.  Many miles were traveled, thousands of rounds sparred, none were easy and nothing was ever given to me,” said Guerrero. “I earned everything I got the old fashion way.  I never ducked anyone and fought the best fighters in the world.  I fought my way through every obstacle to make sure my fans enjoyed every second, of every round, of my fights.”

I expect to see Guerrero’s name mentioned again in five years’ time in Canastota, New York. Sixteen years passed quickly since the super bantamweight from Gilroy stepped inside a prize ring. And every time he fought, the excitement level revved up more than a few notches.

The Ghost was always worth watching.

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