The first thing that someone needs to understand about Elvis Garcia is that he grew up in Umatilla, Oregon, a town in northeast Oregon with a population of 7,000, and almost a third of that is made up of prisoners at the state correctional facility. Umatilla was once considered so expendable that the Army Corps of Engineers forced the residents to abandon the town because the construction of a new dam took precedence. The town was rebuilt from 1965-68, but the original settlement is gone forever. Now it's just a nature preserve. Today, Umatilla is known for its apples and cherries. One in four lives in poverty and the median income is 40% less than the Oregon state average.
Perhaps it is in this environment, with poverty and few attractive employment opportunities for young people, where a boxing gym might thrive. But that is not the case. There's no boxing gym to be found in Umatilla, or anywhere near it.
In fact, it is in Tacoma, Washington, more than five hours away, where Elvis Garcia first learned the sport and where he would eventually take to it. But his journey wasn't a simple move from a small town to the bigger city. He worked weekends at a Walmart distribution center back home. Every Monday he would hightail it to Tacoma, perhaps sleep at a relative's house, or maybe in his car, and then every Friday he would make the punishing return journey. But as Elvis, a self-professed "fat kid" said, he needed the gym to get in shape, to find a purpose.
|Elvis Garcia (left) and Anthony Joshua|
Photo courtesy of DiBella Entertainment
Elvis was a belated competitor in many respects, but don't be fooled by his late starts. He didn't pick up wrestling until his senior year in high school, but won a state title. He was already 23 when he started boxing, yet he still made it to the U.S. national amateur championships within a few years. He also boxed for Team Mexico in the amateurs (he was born in Mexico and spent his first few years there).
Eventually he would relocate to the Coachella Valley in Southern California where he turned pro with little fanfare. He got work sparring in Joel Diaz's gym. Even though he was still raw, Diaz was impressed with what he saw and later agreed to train him. Garcia's reputation for giving heavyweights good work started to grow. Anthony Joshua utilized Garcia as a main sparring partner for his rematch with Andy Ruiz. Recent super heavyweight Olympic gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov sparred with Garcia as well. News traveled fast and eventually Garcia signed with promoter Lou DiBella. He is still used as a top sparring partner for Frank Sanchez and Robert Helenius.
Garcia (12-0, 9 KOs) makes his ShoBox debut on June 10th against fellow undefeated fighter Alante Green (10-0-1, 7 KOs) in what DiBella calls "a real fight." And as fast as Garcia has risen in the sport, he knows that he still has a lot to learn. His experience in Joshua's camp taught him a lot about professionalism.
"Everything he [Joshua] did was scheduled to perfection," said Garcia. "All those little details, I had to absorb it. There were things that I learned, like when it came to diet and nutrition. He had everything perfectly aligned. Even when he didn't want to train, he still did it because it was scheduled. That discipline is one of those things that I learned from him."
Garcia's weight remains an area of focus. He wants to stay below 225, where he could compete in the WBC's bridgerweight division, but as recently as 2020 he weighed in at over 250 lbs. Garcia also has learned about the dangers of overtraining. In 2019, he fought Hugo Trujillo to a majority decision. Garcia said he was exhausted in the dressing room and felt he had very little that night.
Green, Garcia's upcoming opponent, also competed in U.S. amateur national tournaments, but Garcia doesn't know much about him, nor is there much tape on Green available to study. Garcia's main concern is focusing on himself, making sure that he's staying in shape and improving in the ring. Garcia knows that when he's at his best that his movement and angles can give opponents a lot of trouble. He loves his overhand right and thinks it's his best punch, but he's continuing to make progress in becoming more well-rounded.
"My combinations have improved," said Garcia. "My head movement has improved a lot too. Just adding a couple of little things here and there. I think I'm a little faster as well."
The clock is ticking on the 32-year-old Garcia, but he will have solid opportunities if he continues to win and looks good doing so.
Regardless of what happens next month against Green, Elvis has defied the odds to even make it to this point. Fighters from places like Umatilla, Oregon are supposed to be "opponents," brought in to lose; they shouldn't be the ones with futures in the sport, especially those who don't even take up boxing until 23. But Garcia doesn't look at himself with self-satisfaction. Yes, he has persevered, but he doesn't believe that he has made it yet. He still has dreams and a singular objective to accomplish in boxing. "My goal is to become a world champion. I don't see myself as anything less."