It's hard to root against these two. Humble gentlemen, both of whom could and can flip a switch to knockout mode when the bell rings. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)
When the question came up among the boxing media as to who was the top trainer of 2012, one name kept surfacing, Robert Garcia. And who could argue? The former world champion had a great year helming the training duties of some of boxing's best. Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios and younger brother, Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia, all benefited greatly from the 37 year old Oxnard native's guidance.
Garcia manages his gym in strict fashion. Fighters like Donaire may be boxing stars but in Garcia's world there's no room for prima donna attitudes. At the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California humility is a must.
"I think with my fighters, I’ve been lucky enough to have quality athletes who come into my gym and want to learn," he said before heading to New York with Mikey, who'll take on Orlando Salido for the WBO featherweight title. "I still haven't had to train the type of fighter where you have to kiss their ass and they train when they want. That's not how it goes here."
He continued, "The fighters I work with, if I don’t have space for them at 2 or 4 p.m. and all I have is 10 a.m., they show up at 10 a.m. and train. They listen and they're not picky. So far I've had fighters who believe in me. They let me call the shots and they're happy with the way we work and results we get."
"Right now, they're under my order and not the other way around. The day I let the fighters choose how many rounds they want to spar and when they want to come in, the day I lose control will be my downfall," Garcia said. "So far they're doing what they're told and everything's great."
One fighter who's flourished under Garcia's training is Mikey, who fights for the world title on HBO this Saturday. He's the number one contender and undefeated with a record of 30 wins and 26 knockouts. His opponent, Orlando Salido, (39-11-2, 27 KO's) is an old school Mexican blood and guts warrior. He refuses to back down and doesn't know how to quit.
"It's a very dangerous fight. We know Salido well," stated Garcia. "He's been in training camp with us in the past. The fight won't be easy but to be a world champion you have to beat the absolute best."
He understands that defeating a relentless foe like Salido will take Mikey's greatest effort. "He’s going to have to be patient. He has to be very smart, keep his distance and stay busy. Salido's style, which is coming forward all the time, should work to our advantage."
"I see Mikey shining and doing sensational. If he fights every round and every minute the way we want, there's nothing that'll stop him," Garcia said. "The minute he loses concentration that's when he'll lose grasp of the situation. If he fights the way we train, we should be fine and we'll come home with the world title."
Twenty five year old Mikey is fortunate to have his big brother in his corner. Not only is he a great trainer but he's developed a special insight into the game. Boxing took a big toll on Robert who spent every waking moment since elementary school completely focused on the sport. He earned a world title in the process but also ended up burning out at 26. "It's not bad when kids start training young but sometimes parents are too strict when it comes to kids and boxing. They need to let kids be kids," Garcia said. "If they have a party or a school function, then, they should attend. That's one thing I didn’t have. I didn’t participate in school activities. It was boxing all the time everyday. If kids don’t want to come to the gym once in a while, it's okay."
But it's his pros who take up most of his time and garner all the attention. The media has been filled with articles about a possible fight between his most famous client, Filipino world champion, Nonito Donaire and Mexican world champion, Abner Mares, in what many consider to be the premiere match up in the lighter weight division.
As much as Garcia wants it to happen, he doesn't think it can be made. "It's not only Top Rank and Golden Boy promotions that are in conflict but also HBO and Showtime," stated Garcia. "Abner can call out Nonito all he wants but he knows the fight isn't going to get made. Do I want it to get made? Of course. I know both fighters want the fight. But is it going to happen? I don't think so. There's nothing Nonito and I can do about it. Some people just can't work together."
If the fight should happen, Garcia feels confident Donaire would be too much for Mares. "In reality, I think the fight wouldn't be so hard for Nonito. I think Abner comes in and swings and Nonito counters him and beats him without a problem. There are other fights that are more dangerous for Nonito to tell you the truth."
Although he enjoys the fame that comes with training Donaire, it's not the promise of further fame that drives him. "It's fine. I enjoy the attention. But all that doesn't matter. What matters is the gym and the 100 plus members," Garcia said. "Getting my amateurs out to tournaments is what matters and that isn’t cheap and sometimes I take care of those costs. I help some of the fighters because I had those same type of economic needs."
He certainly isn't in boxing for the money. "I drive a 2000 Camry. I'm not caught up in buying luxury cars or anything. That's not important," he said. "I want to help kids as they're coming up in the sport. I needed the help and I understand where they're coming from."
He considers this the best time of his life. "I'm in a great moment right now. Nonito, Mikey and Brandon have a great future. Years from now I hope to still be active and still winning. "Who knows?" Garcia ponders. "In a few years someone else may come down the road and they’ll be the new hot trainer and I'll be forgotten. You just never know what may happen. I tell you one thing, I'm not taking any of this for granted."
Mikey Garcia vs. Orlando Salido for the WBO featherweight world title takes place Saturday night at the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of an HBO triple header.
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