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Garcia, Margarito’s trainer, relishes his second career

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Robert Garcia, keeping an eye on protege Antonio Margarito during a recent workout, is becoming one of the busiest trainers in the world. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank

GRAPEVINE, Texas — Robert Garcia sat on a bed in his hotel room, three days before he’ll work the corner of Antonio Margarito against Manny Pacquiao in nearby Arlington, yet still couldn’t quite believe he was here.

Garcia, a former titleholder himself, knows what it is to be part of important fights. This is different, though. This is a mega-fight. The crowd at cavernous Cowboys Stadium could approach 70,000. At least 1 million will watch the fight on pay-per-view TV. This is the big time, the biggest stage in the sport.

And he’s one of the two trainers involved. Indeed, Garcia, who is working with an increasing number of world-class fighters, has gone from a relative unknown just a few years ago to one of the most in-demand trainers in the world.

“I guess it’s just hitting me now,” said Garcia, referring to his success in a second career he’s enjoying much more than the first. “I’ve worked with Nonito Donaire, Brian Viloria, Steven Luevano, Joan Guzman for a few fights in my gym. The attention was nothing like this, though. I went with Viloria to the Philippines a few times. It wasn’t like this.

“This is huge. And I know this won’t be the last one. I have Brandon Rios. I know he’ll be in this position one day. I know Donaire will be in the same position.”

Garcia has come a long way from his roots in Oxnard, Calif., the location of both his gym and home today.

Eduardo Garcia, his father, and his mother were immigrants from the state of Michoacan in Mexico who raised their children in a trailer park and picked strawberries to support them. The younger Garcia didn’t know luxuries but he and his siblings never went hungry.

“We always had food, we always had decent clothes. It wasn’t that bad,” he said.

Garcia also always had boxing. Eduardo Garcia learned to box from a priest in Mexico and fought in amateur shows to raise money for the local church. After he immigrated, first to the Long Beach area and then to Oxnard when Robert was 2, he would hang around local gyms when he could find time and get to know the fighters.

Of course, he passed his passion for the sport to sons Danny and Robert, the latter of whom took up the sport when he was 5 under his father's guidance and has yet to leave it.

And he was good. The young Garcia (34-3, 25 knockouts as a pro) was a tough, well-schooled boxer-puncher who would go on to outpoint Harold Warren to win a vacant junior lightweight title in 1998 and successfully defend it two times before losing it to Diego Corrales. He would retire less than two years later at only 26.

Garcia was pleased with his career and proud of the fact he was a world titleholder — “No one can ever take that away from me,” he said — but he doesn’t look back with as much fondness as one might expect.

He bemoans the fact he missed out on a great deal growing up.

“I never really wanted a boxing career,” he said. “I think my dad chose that for me. I remember being in high school. Every day I had to be home by 3 or I’d be in trouble. If I came home 10 minutes late, my dad would be on my ass. And I never had the chance to try other sports. Do I have regrets? Yes, I do. I have kids now. I tell them, ‘Try a lot of sports.’ They play football, soccer. ÔǪ That’s probably why I said at 26 that enough was enough.

“I don’t hold anything against my dad. He was strict because he wanted me to do good. And he feels real proud. I know it. He has almost every trophy I ever won.”

Eduardo Garcia also played a role in his son’s transition into training fighters, although only in the beginning.

Robert Garcia, who retired as an active fighter in 2001, spent a few years trying to plan his next step in life. He pursued a life-long dream of becoming a police officer but realized it wasn’t for him shortly after joining the academy. He worked as campus supervisor at a local high school, where he led some of the kids to boxing. And he worked with children at the La Colonia Youth Boxing Club, the gym he once trained in.

Then came an opportunity in 2002. His father, busy guiding the career of Fernando Vargas, suggested that his son train two young fighters who also happened to be the young man’s friends, Felipe Campa and Arturo Barraza.

After that, while accompanying younger brother Miguel Angel to amateur tournaments, he met two talented teenagers — Victor Ortiz and Rios — and guided them into their professional careers. (Ortiz is now trained by Danny Garcia.) Garcia later would guide Viloria and Luevano to world titles.

A trainer was born.

“I started taking Felipe and Arturo to fights, mostly in California,” Garcia said. “I enjoyed the traveling. I would drive up north [in California], spend a few days. I liked it. Every time I traveled as a fighter it was hotel, training, making weight, fighting, going home. That’s the life of a boxer. Traveling didn’t mean anything to me. Now, I can get out and see the cities, meet people. That got me into it.

“Then I did more little by little. And that was it.”

Garcia didn’t enjoy his boxing career as much as others might have, apparently because it wasn’t his choice to do it. Training was different. He chose to train fighters full time, not his father.

And it was a natural fit because he had a lifetime of knowledge, the credibility of having been a big-time fighter himself and a way with people. Everyone loves Robert.

What does he like better: boxing or training? No contest.

“Training,” he said without hesitation. “When I fought, I had my training camps in Big Bear (Calif.). I was gone for two months. And my dad being my trainer, he was really strict. No family, no friends, not even phone calls. It was a training camp. I had kids. I missed some things in their lives. Now, I’m gone for maybe a week and then I go home to see my kids.

“And I enjoy the training itself more. I like the challenge of seeing things that need to be corrected and helping them to do better. With Viloria and Luevano, and Rios now, I’ve seen how much improvement they’ve made. I like it. I know I’ve done a good job.”

Margarito, for one, wouldn’t argue with that.

The beleaguered former titleholder, who first worked with Garcia for his comeback victory against Roberto Garcia [no relation] in May, apparently has found relative bliss in the remote Ventura County town. Garcia runs an easy-going gym, which reflects his personality, and clearly knows what he’s doing.

Garcia also does his best to guide Margarito — and the others — in life. For example, he has been advising his prot├®g├® on investing his earnings.

“I had a lot of confidence in Robert from the beginning,” said Margarito, speaking through a translator. “I knew who he was, a world-champion boxer. We’ve really clicked in our second camp, though. It surprised me a little bit because it feels like we’ve been together for many years. He knows what it takes because he was a world champion. When he tells me something, I know it’s true.

“ÔǪ I think he’s a really good trainer. And once I beat Pacquiao, they’ll start saying he’s a great trainer.”

Some are already thinking along those lines. Garcia said his phone doesn’t stop ringing.

Promoters and managers now go to him with big-name fighters, Margarito being only one example. He also was asked to try out with Miguel Cotto in Florida and initially agreed but changed his mind because he didn’t want to leave his growing stable in Southern California. And he said that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. approached him before ultimately hiring Roach.

And other fighters from across the country and beyond — most he’s never heard of — regularly inquire about services. He doesn’t have the heart to say no to any of them — “I don’t know how,” he said — but understands that a big-time trainer with limited time must learn to do so.

He had some qualms about saying yes to Margarito because of the hand-wrap incident but, after discussing it with the fighter, came to believe that the fighter didn’t know what former trainer Javier Capetillo had done.

Now he finds himself a central figure in an enormous fight, in the opposite corner of the No. 1 fighter on the planet. Life, he said, couldn’t be much better.

“I love what I'm doing,” he said. “I’m able to provide for my kids. I think they’re proud of their dad, who was a world champ and now is training world champs. They go around and the kids ask them, ‘Is your dad training Margarito?’ I know my kids are proud.

“And, as I said, I think this is just the beginning. I thank God every day for allowing me to do this.”

One man could’ve predicted Garcia’s success: Eduardo Garcia.

“I never expected him to be a trainer,” the elder Garcia said through his son. “Once he became one, though, I knew he would do well. He always tried to be the best at whatever he did.

“He’s a very good trainer. I’m not surprised at all at what he’s accomplished.”

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