Three days, four gyms
The gruesome cut over Robert Guerrero’s right eye that prematurely ended his HBO-televised bout with Daud Yordan on March 7 is barely noticeable.
A plastic surgeon’s expertise, 23 stitches and two months of no contact have allowed for the jagged gash that sliced through his eyebrow and eyelid to heal completely; however, the junior lightweight contender’s wounded pride is another matter.
After the accidental headbutt with Yordan opened the cut midway through the second round, referee Jon Schorle took Guerrero aside and asked him if he could see. Guerrero answered honestly. He couldn’t. The fight was stopped.
And just like that, in the eyes of many fans and boxing writers, the former featherweight titleholder from Gilroy, Calif. went from being one of the sport’s most promising young fighters to a “quitter.”
The “Q” word and its connotations hurt Guerrero worse than the moment when Yordan’s skull collided with his eye socket, worse than any punch he’s ever taken, worse than not being able to deliver an exciting fight for all the hometown fans who attended the March 7 card in San Jose.
“I still feel the sting of that criticism,” Guerrero said before a workout at the Glendale Fighting Club in Glendale, Calif., on Wednesday. “I’ve felt it since that night. I feel it all the time.”
Guerrero, who is training for a bout against Johnnie Walker on June 12 on ESPN2, knows that he’s the only person who can make things right again.
“That’s why I’m here, in camp away form home,” he said. “The things that were said about me lit a fire. I want to show all the doubters how wrong they are.
“That’s why I had to get away from Gilroy. I needed to get away from the distractions and get back to the grind that made me a champion.”
Guerrero (23-1-1, 16 knockouts) trained at home for recent fights to be close to his wife, Casey, who was diagnosed with leukemia in late 2007. Earlier this year, the mother of two went into remission, which has allowed Guerrero to go away for a real camp for the first time since he won the IBF featherweight title.
The 26-year-old junior lightweight is making the most of his time away from home, training hard and sparring with hungry young prospects.
“All I do is eat, sleep and breathe boxing,” he said.
Guerrero’s not alone.
This may be a slow week for the U.S. fight scene, but the gyms in the greater Los Angeles area are buzzing with world-class boxers and prospects who are preparing for upcoming fights.
I visited four gyms over the past three days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) and gathered plenty of notes that I’m happy to pass on to you.
FOUR GYMS IN THREE DAYS
Monday, May 18:
I dropped by the Fortune Gym on 7574 Sunset Boulevard (near Fairfax), owned and operated by Australian Justin Fortune. The fighter-turned-trainer was Freddie Roach’s head assistant for many years before an acrimonious split in 2007. He can be surly at times but his moodiness is tempered by his wonderful assistant Mysti Friedman, a former fighter with nothing but love for boxers and the sport.
Friedman used my Facebook page to tip me off to former heavyweight titleholder Lamon Brewster’s sparring sessions with John “Hoppa” Hopoate, a Tongan rugby player from Australia who is giving boxing a try.
Hopoate (11-2, 11 KOs) is scheduled to fight former champ Oliver McCall at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas this Friday. Brewster, who recently signed a promotional deal with Germany’s Sauerland Promotions, is preparing for an eight-round bout with someone named Juho Haapoja on the Ruslan Chagaev-Nikolay Valuev title bout in Finland on May 30.
I figured Monday was probably Hopoate’s last day of sparring, so I made sure to be there even though the Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez press conference took place in downtown L.A. that afternoon.
I’m glad I did. Not because Brewster and Hopoate’s sparring session was anything to write home about — it wasn’t — but because I was able to observe some decent international talent, including Australian junior middleweight Daniel Dawson (34-1, 24 KOs), Russian welterweight Ivan Kirpa (23-1, 15 KOs), and young Australian light heavyweight Kerry Foley (11-0, nine KOs).
The good ole U.S. of A was represented well with local middleweight Miguel Espino (20-2-1, nine KOs) and Philadelphia’s Yusaf Mack (27-2-2, 16 KOs).
Mack, THE RING’s No. 10-rated light heavyweight, is scheduled to fight on the Andre Berto-Juan Urango undercard on May 30 in Florida. The East Coaster exhibited nice technique while sparring with the lesser experienced Foley, a game and gutsy 21 year old who appears to be a natural.
Kirpa and Dawson also went quality rounds with each other.
The most interesting sparring session I observed was between Hopoate and Lionel Butler. Yes, THAT Butler, the former heavyweight journeyman who worked his way to contender status in the 1990s before a one-sided loss to Lennox Lewis and a drug problem took him out of the sport.
Butler, who says he weighed 320 pounds when he began training at the Fortune Gym a month ago, now weighs around 270, which is still heavy. However, he looked sharp bobbing and weaving his way inside on Hopoate, where he assaulted the Australian with uppercut and body-shot combinations.
Hopoate got off with a nice, fast jab, but he had trouble with Butler’s head movement and pressure. They went to war whenever Butler worked his way in close. The four rounds Hopoate went with Butler and the four he went with Brewster is just what the rugby player needs to make up for his late start in the sport (he’s 35) and his lack of amateur experience.
Hopoate, a 15-year rugby veteran who supposedly has the record for suspensions, possesses athletic tools and toughness. He just needs to learn how to relax in the ring and how to deal with various styles. Brewster (35-4, 30 KOs) gave him a different “look” from Butler, preferring to work primarily from the outside behind a heavy jab.
It took him three rounds, but Hopoate eventually figured out that his best bet against Brewster was to back the powerhouse up to the ropes and smother his punches.
McCall is 44 years old and probably has no business being licensed to fight, but if Hopoate allows the veteran to fight at his pace and from a distance, he will give the tough-as-nails old man a chance to win. To decisively beat McCall, Hopoate will have to put stress on those wobbly 44-year-old legs and push him back on his heels the way he did (in spots) against the younger, stronger Brewster.
I’m definitely making the Fortune Gym part of my weekly boxing club rotation. It’s not only home to quality pro fighters, but it's where some of my favorite boxing trainers (and characters) can be found, including Macka Foley (another Wild Card ex-patriot), John Bray, and Jerry Rosenberg.
Tuesday, May 19:
I made my way to Southern California’s most famous gym, the Wild Card Boxing Club, on 1123 North Vine St. in Hollywood (near Santa Monica Boulevard).
I thought things would have mellowed out more than two weeks after Manny Pacquiao squashed Ricky Hatton and returned to the Philippines, but I was wrong. The gym is as busy as ever.
Too busy, I think. Poor Freddie Roach looked overworked to me.
I asked him “What’s new?” and he just shook his head and let out a big exhale. Before Roach could answer, a young couple from London approached his desk and asked if they could take a picture with him.
This happens every day. Fans come in from across the U.S. and from around the world just to meet Roach.
He always takes time to say hello, as he did Tuesday, and then he’s back to work.
Roach turned his attention to female fighter Chika Nakamura, who was working the heavy bag closest to the desk, and reminded her to put a right hand behind her left hook, which looked tight and sounded pretty hard.
He put headgear on former UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski and sent the giant into the ring before stopping to tell me what he was about to say before taking the picture with the tourists.
He told me that a production crew from HBO’s Real Sports has been at his house since Monday. The Emmy-award winning show is running a profile on him on July 21.
“They set up at 6 a.m. and they are there all day,” he said. “Yesterday they were here at the gym, too. I do two-hour interviews in the morning, afternoon and at night. They’re nice people but they’ll be at my house until Wednesday.”
On Thursday, Roach will fly out to Connecticut to be the in-studio commentator for this week’s “Friday Night Fights” on ESPN2.
“Man, you’re everywhere,” I said. “I don’t know how you do all that and deal with all these fighters. Do you ever turn anything down?”
“Jerry Springer wanted me to come on his show. I turned that down,” Roach chuckled. “I figured he might ambush me with all my ex-girlfriends.”
Arlovski went four rounds with a small, but powerful heavyweight named Leteef Kayode.
“He only weighs 208 pounds but I think I’m going to keep him at heavyweight,” Roach said of Kayode (6-0, five KOs), a native of Niger now living in Hollywood. “He fought a 4-0 guy his last fight and knocked him out in the first round.”
Arlovski, who Roach says will make his pro boxing debut on the Victor Ortiz-Marcos Maidana undercard on June 27, has good lateral movement for a man his size and a decent straight right, but he still looked like a fish out of water fighting under boxing rules.
Michael Moorer gave Arlovski some pointers outside of the ring while Kayode went a few rounds with a 19-year-old Mexican heavyweight named Andy Ruiz.
I’ve heard rumors that the former heavyweight champ and Roach have parted ways, but Moorer was there and everything seemed fine on Tuesday.
Arlovski reentered the ring to go some rounds with Ruiz (1-0), who consistently beat the Belarusian mixed martial artist to the jab. It was a strange sight. Ruiz (1-0, 1 KO) is short, stocky and chubby; he looks like a baby-faced Hispanic version of Butterbean. Arlovski looks like a gladiator from a Frank Miller graphic novel, but the teen-ager with the 95-5 amateur record easily held his own.
Boxing is not a body building contest but the talented Kayode, who fights on a June 12 club show in Glendale, looks like he’s been chiseled out of marble.
Boxing columnist Steve Kim, a Wild Card regular, was finishing up his workout when I arrived. While the heavyweights sparred, we talked shop.
(And yes, we’re still cool, folks, so would the readers who keep emailing me and asking if we’ve got some sort of “beef” please stop being so damned silly. We’re boxing writers, for God’s sake, not gangsta rappers circa 1995.)
Kim asked whether I knew whether it was true that Mayweather is guaranteed to make $15 million against Marquez.
“That’s what I’ve heard,” I said.
“I don’t see how Golden Boy is going to recoup their investment in this fight,” Kim said. “That fight is not going to do huge numbers.”
“Come on, man, we’re talking about Money May, the returning King of Boxing, it’ll do 1 million pay-per-view buys easy!” I said with extreme sarcasm.
“Yeah right,” Kim said. “From what I understand, Golden Boy is paying Mayweather that much because they are going to work with him and do his next three fights, but who are they going to put him in with? Mayweather wants no part of Shane Mosley.
“And if he beats Marquez, he’s not going to get Pacquiao this year. (Bob) Arum told me they have that October 17 date locked up for Pacquiao and that will be his last fight this year. Pacquiao's not going to fight the first Saturday in December.”
“So who will Pacquiao fight on the October date? (Miguel) Cotto?” I asked.
“Maybe, but I don’t think Cotto will beat (Joshua) Clottey (on June 13),” Kim said.
I disagree. I think Cotto is too versatile a boxer to lose to Clottey, especially on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City.
Wednesday, May 20:
I woke up late on my birthday, feeling all 39 of my years. I got dressed on instinct and hit the freeways in time to make it to the Glendale Fighting Club before Guerrero’s sparring session with lightweight Art Hovhannisyan and junior lightweight Eloy Perez began.
In fact, I made such good time that I was able to watch Guerrero’s younger brother Randy go a few rounds with one of the tough Armenian amateurs who train at the gym, which is on 601 South Brand Blvd. in Glendale.
The 17-year-old featherweight is preparing for the U.S. amateur championship tournament June 8-13 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
All the fighters I watched spar are in action that weekend. Guerrero headlines the card from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. on the 12th, and Perez (13-0-2, three KOs), who hails from nearby Salinas, is on the undercard. Hovhannisyan (7-0, two KOs) is on the same June 12 club show in Glendale that Roach’s heavyweight is scheduled to appear.
Hovhannisyan, a former amateur standout from Armenia, exhibited a nice jab, good hand speed and solid technique in spots while sparring four rounds with Guerrero, but his pride often got the better of him and he resorted to loading up and lunging in with his right hand.
Perez, a crafty counter-puncher with good footwork, presented a different challenge for Guerrero to deal with — a difficult target. Perez tucks his chin behind his left shoulder and rolls with punches before countering with his right, usually taking just a step or two in any direction to avoid follow up shots from his opponents.
Veteran cornerman Ruben Gomez could tell Perez’s style was beginning to frustrate Guerrero, who seemed to be working too hard to land his heavy shots.
“Relax,” Gomez reminded Guerrero during his last round of sparring. “Be loose, real loose. Speed, speed, speed, no power. Just touch him, Robert.”
Guerrero was pleased with the quality rounds he put in.
“This is what camp is all about,” he said while doing his sit-ups. “You get in there with guys who give you different looks and that’s what exposes what you’re doing wrong. I wasn’t aware of the mistakes I was making or of the things I was forgetting to do while training at home.
“I like that Art was throwing a lot of right and hooks, like most fighters do when they fight a southpaw because that forced me to work on turning him and using my jab and right hand more. I think I fell into relying on my left too much in recent fights. I was trying to blast everyone out.
“Eloy is good for me to work with because he’s got quick feet, quick hands and he’s strong inside. I have to think more with him and I have to keep busy, because he’s set to get off at all times. I work my jab with him, I try to use feints, and I try to keep things on the outside. I haven’t been keeping my distance in recent fights. That’s how I was headbutted in my last fight.
“That’s not going to happen again.”
One of my favorite boxing people, veteran cutman Joe Chavez, and his son Jesse dropped by the gym to deliver handwraps and equipment to Perez’s trainer, Max Garcia, and to some of the other coaches.
Chavez and I talked shop for a bit before I had to take off to the Maywood Boxing Club. He agrees with me that Cotto should be able to turn back Clottey’s challenge.
The drive from Glendale to the city of Maywood was brutal. There was too much traffic and too much hot sun for a guy who hadn’t eaten all day and was driving a car without air conditioning.
I was baked by the time I parked, but happy to see fellow fight scribe David Avila outside the door of the busy amateur/pro gym located at 4747 E. 56th St.
Avila let me know that I had just missed local bantamweight prospect Nestor Rocha, who is training for a July 14 title shot against excellent Japanese titleholder Hozumi Hasegawa in Kobe, Japan.
Lightweight standouts Urbano Antillon and Jose Armando Santa Cruz, and welterweight fringe contender Jesus Soto Karass, were finishing up their workouts as I entered the gym.
The only fighter who was warming up was the main guy I wanted to see, junior middleweight prospect Alfredo Angulo, who takes on Kermit Cintron in the HBO-televised co-feature to the Berto-Urango fight on May 30.
However, Avila informed me that Angulo (15-0, 12 KOs) had just returned from one of his pre-fight medicals, the eye exam, and would not engage in any serious sparring.
It was just as well, I thought. I was too burnt out to take decent sparring notes anyway.
I wasn’t too tired to talk boxing, though. Avila and I talked about Mayweather-Marquez, fighters who might be willing to face Shane Mosley (I proposed Berto), Cotto-Clottey (he favors Clottey), and Golden Boy Promotion’s debuting monthly series at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles.
Mando Huerta, the manager of the Maywood Boxing Club, told us that his son Charles, a 10-0 featherweight prospect signed to Golden Boy, would be on the first show at Club Nokia on June 11, along with lightweight Luis Ramos and junior lightweight David Rodella.
I stepped outside to do a spot on a Delaware-based sports radio show, “In the Zone” with Rich Quinones, and returned to the oven-like gym wondering whether it was worth it to wait for Angulo to finish his workout in order to interview him.
I intend to write a feature on him for next week, I thought to myself, but I’m also starving and light headed.
Angulo was having a good time joking around and working in the ring with his coach, Clemente Medina, who has helped the 2004 Mexican Olympian develop a sharp jab and a hard arrow-straight right hand, along with underrated block-and-counter technique.
At some point he noticed that I was staring out into space.
“Hey,” he called out from the ring, speaking in decent English, “how come you no look happy?”
“Huh? Me? Tired I guess,” I replied. “I didn’t know I looked gloomy. I should be upbeat. It’s my birthday.”
“Birthday? Come eat with us, you and David,” Angulo said. “You like Chili’s?”
Hey, I’m a boxing writer, I’ll eat anything, anywhere, especially if I’m with good company.
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]