Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Robert Garcia: Boxing's New "It" Trainer

Robert Garcia has quietly and rapidly ascended the ranks of the top American trainers in boxing.  With three fighters – Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios and brother Mikey Garcia – among the top-five in their respective divisions, Garcia has some of the most dynamic, young talent in America.  As their stars continue to rise, Garcia's prominence in the sport grows accordingly.  

Hailing from a boxing family out of Oxnard, California, Garcia won a junior lightweight title by the age of 23.  After getting knocked out in three of his final five fights (by Joel Casamayor, Ben Tackie and Diego Corrales), he retired at the still-tender age of 26.  Garcia had designs about becoming a police officer.  Slowly he drifted back into the sport, helping his father, Eduardo, train fighters at the La Colonia Youth Boxing Club, the gym where Robert and the legendary Fernando Vargas learned their craft as young fighters under Eduardo's tutelage.  In time, Eduardo elevated Robert to co-trainer. 

Oxnard, once a predominantly agricultural community west-northwest of Los Angeles, supplied the Garcias with a willing crop of young fighters.  Latinos composed two thirds of the city's 200,000 residents.  With Eduardo's success and favorable demographics, Oxnard became the number-one boxing hotbed for Mexican-American fighters.

However, it was the talent and rivalry of two transplants from Garden City, Kansas – Victor Ortiz and Brandon Rios – that started the current wave of publicity for Robert.  Ortiz quickly emerged as La Colonia's star pupil, and one of the top prospects in all of boxing.  Soon after, Brandon Rios embarked to Oxnard to train with the Garcia family.  The two young boxers were former friends in Kansas, but became embroiled in a bitter feud.

Ortiz had a promotional battle with Top Rank and Golden Boy, declaring bankruptcy to void his contract with the former to join the latter.  The tug-of war was brutal and after much conflict, Ortiz decided to train with another son of Eduardo's, Danny Garcia.  These events created a huge rift within the Garcia family and Rios remained very protective of his relationship with Robert and Eduardo.  Brandon's ascension up the prospect ladder, his harsh words for Ortiz and his ability to cultivate publicity created a throng of media attention regarding the Garcia-Ortiz-Rios-Top Rank-Golden Boy soap opera.

Eduardo and Robert pressed on with the son assuming most of the lead training duties while the father continued to provide technical guidance.  Working together, they cultivated the boxing talents of Robert's younger  brother, Miguel (or Mikey), who was fast becoming an elite featherweight prospect.  They continued to have success with Rios and created a pipeline of impressive amateur boxers.

Soon, other major boxing talent started to seek out Robert, including Joan Guzman, Brian Villoria and Steven Luevano.  Garcia started to train Antonio Margarito after Javier Capetillo was banned for his role in Margarito's hand wrapping scandal.  Additionally, when Nonito Donaire split from his father, Garcia was selected as his head trainer. 

With his success over the last few years, Garcia opened up the Oxnard Boxing Academy, which in its brief time has become known for some of the top sparring in America.  He now finds himself on a short list of the top trainers in America and perhaps the number-one choice for elite Mexican-American and Hispanic-American fighters.  

2011 has been Garcia's best year to date.  Nonito Donaire became a unified bantamweight titlist with his second-round destruction of Fernando Montiel.  Brandon Rios won his first title with an epic battle against Miguel Acosta.  Also, Mikey Garcia has become one of the top featherweight prospects in the sport and may only be another fight or two away from his first title shot.

What may be most impressive about Garcia as a trainer is his adaptability to the talent at hand.  Unlike many famous cornermen, he does not have a signature calling card (for instance Emanuel Steward's ability to work with tall fighters or Floyd Mayweather Sr.'s expertise in defensive positioning). 

Garcia's top-three fighters all have different skill sets: Donaire, the offensive explosiveness with one-punch knockout power; Brandon Rios, the superior pressure fighter; and Mikey Garcia, the heavy-handed counterpuncher.  These fighters look markedly different in the ring, yet they are all very effective with their respective ring styles.  To Garcia's credit, he is not trying to create assembly-line fighters. 

Garcia emphasizes combination punching and body shots.  Robert's work with Mikey and his own successful boxing career also indicate an acute understanding of footwork, balance, timing and angles.   But he is not trying to make Brandon Rios into Mikey.  Robert knows that he has a killer with Rios.  Why unnecessarily complicate things with a great pressure fighter?

Who knows where this ride might end?  In another 12 months, Donaire, who already is among the top-five pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, might become the highest earning smaller-weight fighter in boxing.  Mikey could begin a long, prosperous title run as a featherweight champion and Rios may cement his status as one of the best TV fighters in the entire sport.  In short, Robert may not even be close to his peak yet.  

Trainers go through winning streaks and cold spells just like other professionals and it is quite possible that none of the above transpires.  But Garcia is on some kind of run right now.  At still just 36, he has the opportunity and the ability to become a force in boxing for generations to come.  Perhaps in 20 years, the Garcia name might be shorthand for one of the best training dynasties the sport has ever seen.  

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