Antonio Margarito (left) shares a laugh with new gym mate Brandon Rios, who is also trained by Robert Garcia. Margarito has been in a good mood during his camp for Manny Pacquiao, an indication that he's working well with Garcia. Photo / Crhis Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
This column is usually a first-person account of what happens in one or more of the many professional boxing gyms of Southern California.
For reasons that I’ll detail later, this Gym Notes does not contain first-hand accounts of what I consider the “good stuff” of a gym visit, the sparring sessions that veterans and up-and-comers alike use to prepare themselves for high-profile bouts.
Few bouts that take place this year will equal the attention that Manny Pacquiao’s Texas showdown with Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13 will garner, which is why I was excited to watch Margarito go rounds in his new trainer Robert Garcia’s gym in Oxnard, Calif.
We all know the event will be driven in part by the controversy surrounding Margarito’s hand-wrap scandal and the national backgrounds of the combatants, which promises to bring in droves of loyal Mexican and Filipino fans to Cowboys Stadium. Whether we get an actual fight — for however long it lasts — depends on the legs of the former welterweight titleholder-turned-boxing pariah.
Margarito’s legs were not under him the last time I watched him spar, which was during his camp for the Shane Mosley fight. The emerging Mexican star was easily pushed back on his heels by undersized prospects and rank journeymen in the sessions I witnessed. And we all know what happened once he got into the ring with Mosley.
Did 15 years of training like an animal and catching hard shots with his chin like a human PEZ dispenser take its toll on Margarito? Is he spent bullet?
I don’t know. His comeback fight against Roberto Garcia (no relation to his trainer) in May was inconclusive. Margarito, who was understandably rusty after sitting out more than a year following his knockout loss to Mosley and license revocation, dominated his opponent. However, he didn’t look like his old self in doing so. Margarito didn’t try to walk down Garcia and beat the tough fringe contender into submission as he did all of his pre-Mosley opponents, which makes me wonder whether that fighter still exists.
I thought the nine rounds of sparring I planned to watch on Wednesday would answer that question.
If Margarito looked as sharp as he did during his camp for Miguel Cotto, I would go against the opinion of most boxing writers — who dismiss the Mexican’s chances to even compete with Pacquiao — and maybe even give the underdog a shot at upsetting the reigning pound-for-pound king.
However, if Margarito looked the way he did during the Mosley camp, I would seriously reconsider traveling to cover this event. Why bother to be ringside for a slaughter?
I still don’t know whether I’m booking that flight to Dallas because my 1994 Toyota Corolla stalled quite suddenly in the middle of the Ventura Freeway, just 10 miles outside of Oxnard. Margarito went three rounds apiece with Austin Trout, Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis and Ricardo Williams as I waited for a tow truck to transport my 16-year-old vehicle to a nearby auto shop.
I thought about putting the column off for another day, but I’d come too far (in the pouring rain no less) to give up. After calling Garcia, my wife and AAA (in that order), I sent a text out to Sam Garcia (no relation to Robert).
Sam and his father, Max, co-train junior lightweight prospect Eloy Perez, who has set up camp at Garcia’s gym for his Oct. 15 Telefutura headliner against Dominic Salcido. I figured if they were at the gym, they could serve as my “eyes” as I tried to make my way there before Margarito left.
Sam replied to my text immediately. I was in luck.
“We’re next door eating lunch,” the text read, “we are going back after we eat to watch a little sparring.”
I informed Sam of my plight and asked if Margarito had begun sparring.
“Oh damn, he is just warming up,” was the reply. “He usually starts close to 2:15 and is done by 3, then begins (his) floor workout(s). I’ll let you know.”
As my car was being towed to the auto shop, Sam shot me this tantalizing text:
“He’s looking good. We can’t wait until the fight.”
I briefly considered asking the tow truck driver if he knew the location of Robert Garcia’s Boxing Academy and talking him into dropping me off there if he did. I hate missing good sparring.
Sam and his father are disciples of the most-astute boxing mind I’ve ever encountered, that of the late “Coach” Don Familton, so I trust their opinion of what they were watching. But I wanted to see it for myself.
That will have to wait for another day, but thanks to the Garcias, I would catch the tail end of Margarito’s workout and have the opportunity to talk to his trainer about the seemingly Herculean task they face on Nov. 13.
Shortly after arriving at Airport Auto Repair on Oxnard Boulevard, Sam shot me the text I was hoping for:
“My dad can go pick (you) up if (you) want.”
Twenty minutes later I was talking boxing in the back of Max Garcia’s SUV while we waited in the parking lot for another tow truck to take my car to a transmission specialist in Ventura.
“Looks like it’s time to buy a new car, Dougie,” Sam said. “There’s no excuse not to now that you’ve sold out for all that Golden Boy money.”
Funny guy. He reads my mailbags.
Enough jokes. “How does Margarito look?” I asked.
“He doesn’t look shopworn,” Sam said.
“He’s ripped,” said Max. “He looks very strong, and he’s big. They say he’s only eight pounds over the contracted weight, but he looks like a light heavyweight.
“Of course, it takes more than size and strength to beat Manny. You can tell Margarito is working on walking Manny down and hurting him with uppercuts and body shots, but he’s so slow in comparison to Pacquiao, and man, he telegraphs those uppercuts. He lets you know when those body shots are coming.
“He doesn‘t have an easy time tracking down the fast guys who move on him like Mookie and Ricardo”
“True,” Sam interjected, “but he does eventually slow them down. It takes him a few rounds but when he catches them, they have to fight for their lives. He does damage. Last Monday he hit Ricardo Williams with a body shot that shook the gym. Ricardo made a loud retching noise when he got hit with it. It looked so painful I almost took a knee. If Pacquiao is not on his A-game, he’s going to be fighting for his life.”
Margarito was on the speed bag when we arrived at the gym. He sported a big, toothy grin as he loudly dribbled the bag. It was strange seeing Margarito smile as he trained. He didn’t do much of that during workouts with his former-and-now-estranged trainer Javier Capetillo.
I asked Margarito’s co-manager Sergio Diaz whether this camp reminds him of any from the past.
“It’s much different from his old camps,” Diaz said. “It’s not as — how do I put it? — it’s not as military as Capetillo had it. It’s work, but it’s a relaxed atmosphere and he has fun. He likes it here in Oxnard. He likes being away from the city.”
I noticed Margarito’s wife, Michelle, sitting on the ring apron, watching her husband train, even conversing with him a little. I don’t recall ever seeing her around during any serious camps in the past.
“No, she never used to sit in workouts when Tony trained with Capetillo,” Diaz said. “Capetillo believed the wives of fighters belonged at home getting dinner ready for their husbands.”
I think it goes without saying that Garcia has a different training philosophy than “General Cappy.”
Garcia marvels at Margarito’s work ethic, but he says he keeps a close eye on him in order to ensure that the relentless fighter doesn’t burn himself out.
I’m glad Garcia is wary of Margarito overdoing it. I believe the Tijuana slugger was over-trained for many of his fights, including underwhelming performances against Daniel Santos, Joshua Clottey and Paul Williams.
“Tony’s like Brandon (Rios), he’ll spar every day if you let him,” said Garcia, comparing Margarito to the rough-and-tumble young lightweight contender he also trains. “You have to hold those guys back for their own good.”
Garcia says he’s tracking every mile Margarito runs and every round of sparring, making adjustments to his meticulous training schedule as they go along.
“Last week was his first week of sparring, he went eight rounds with Mookie, Austin and K.C. (Karim Martinez) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Garcia said. “Today was the first day he went nine rounds. He’ll eventually build up to 10 rounds, but he’ll only go 12 rounds twice in this camp. We have six weeks until the fight, plenty of time to build up and taper down. We’ll probably do 170 rounds of sparring in this camp, but we could do less.
“Last week his weight was good and he looked sharp in sparring, so I told him to take Thursday off.”
I still need to watch Margarito spar to gauge the sturdiness of his legs and the speed of his reflexes, but his body is every bit as ripped as Max Garcia said it was.
Following traditional abdominal work in the center of the ring, Margarito’s washboard stomach was put to the test during a bizarre stick routine that consisted of Garcia systematically whacking away at the fighter’s midsection with a baton for three minutes.
Rios, who tried the torturous exercise once, said it’s more painful than it looks. It must be. Margarito, whose face turned beet red after about a minute, was in obvious agony. He let out a “Whooo!“ and dropped into a squat near a corner the moment the three minutes were up.
This was the only time he wasn’t smiling while I was there.
“I’ll never do that again,” Rios said. “It stung too much after only a few seconds. I was like, ‘Hell no, that‘s enough!’”
Eloy Perez gave it a try and quickly found out what Rios was talking about.
“How long did I last?” a winded Perez asked Garcia.
“Twelve seconds,” Garcia said.
“This isn’t one of my exercises,” Garcia told me. “Tony was doing this in Tijuana before camp started. He brought this up with him.”
Margarito is a tough S.O.B., but I had to ask Garcia whether he seriously thought his fighter has a realistic shot at beating Pacquiao.
“I’ve been watching video of Pacquiao’s fights every day since the last time you came by the gym (one month ago), and I’m telling you I see things,” he said. “Every time I watch him the job we have seems a little bit easier. That sounds crazy to anyone who watched what Pacquiao did to Hatton and Cotto and Clottey. When you watch Pacquiao fight live, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, because his speed and power is so unbelievable that you don’t notice what he’s doing.
“He seems unbeatable. But if you really study him — somebody that really knows boxing — you see a lot of mistakes. And you see that his opponents, who didn’t have it or didn’t try like they should have, should get some credit in how incredible he looked. That’s not going to be the case with Tony.
“I think Tony is going to do what lately nobody’s been able to do,” Garcia continued. “The last one to do it was Erik Morales — he beat Pacquiao when he did it — and that’s not show him any respect. He can be backed up. He backs up easy. When you do that, you put him on the defensive and there’s a lot of things he does instinctively, like cover up as he goes to the ropes, that a strong fighter like Tony can take advantage of.”
I got really excited about Nov. 13 for the first time since the bout was announced as Garcia talked about his fighter’s confidence and Pacquiao’s perceived weaknesses.
Perhaps it was just wishful thinking. I want to see a fight when Pacquiao and Margarito meet in that giant stadium, not a slaughter. Perhaps I’m subconsciously rooting for Garcia, a former fighter and a good man who seems to have found his true calling as a trainer.
Or maybe I just have a soft spot for Margarito, as blasphemous as that notion is after the heinous crime he and his former trainer almost committed.
I’ll try to stuff that anticipation for now and be as cynical as the next internet boxing writer — at least until I watch Margarito spar sometime next week.