It’s been a long, arduous journey for Robert Guerrero.
His wife stricken with Leukemia, he’s slept on hospital floors, worked over 40 hours a week in construction and sacrificed training leading up to notable fights.
He’s done this while climbing up five weight classes, taking care of his two children and dealing with grief.
Through it all, Guerrero never made excuses, never offered complaints or whined, not that anyone would have blamed him if he had.
His wife Casey’s cancer in remission, Guerrero has finally had a chance to focus on his boxing career and was able to have his first real training camp. With his first premium network main event on Saturday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) and a fight at his highest weight yet, he set up camp in gorgeous Lake Tahoe, elevation: 6225 feet.
“The Ghost” has his homecoming this weekend: a welterweight showdown with tough Turkish welterweight SelcukAydin at the H.P. Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. – just miles from Guerrero’s hometown of Gilroy.
RingTV.com was able to join Guerrero for a day in the life of a fighter.
After arriving at Guerrero’s cabin on the California side of Tahoe (there’s also a Nevada side) a bit after 11 p.m. last Thursday, I quickly went to sleep. I was awakened at 7 a.m. to the sounds of Mariachi music. Sparring-mate Al Simpson was getting ready for the day and Team Guerrero was preparing breakfast: eggs, oatmeal, coffee and fresh cantaloupe.
After we took a quick trip to the lake, which seems as big as an ocean, Guerrero took some time to reflect on his career. A career he thought about ending “all the time.”
“I vacated the title (the 130-pound belt he won from Malcolm Klassen on HBO in 2009) because I didn’t know if I was going to come back to boxing at all,” Guerrero said of his decision after his wife underwent a bone marrow transplant. “I didn’t know how long my wife was going to be in the hospital. I didn’t know if she was even going to make it out of the hospital. That’s where reality sets in. Boxing was the last thing on my mind. Boxing’s what I do, it’s not who I am. I had to put it on the backburner and say ‘whatever happens with boxing, happens.’”
Not being able to get meaningful fights didn’t help matters. Guerrero grew frustrated and wondered if it was all worth it.
“They’re giving you fights where you’re going to put your life on the line and I’m getting paid what I would make in two weeks in construction,” said Guerrero. “It’s not worth the risk and the gamble. It really makes you think hard and take two steps back. But I got through it.”
His wife Casey, who fought Leukemia for four years while undergoing chemotherapy, spinal taps and a bone marrow transplant, served as Guerrero’s inspiration to continue fighting in the ring.
“Knowing how far I came along, being in the hospital with my wife, seeing what she went through, fighting for her life, talking with her, she really is a true inspiration,” said Guerrero, 29. “[She’s] a huge inspiration on me fighting. There were times I had talks with her and said ‘I don’t know if I should do this anymore.’ She would talk to me and say ‘God has a plan. You got this far. It’s what you love to do; it should be an honor and privilege to do what you love to do.’
“She was fighting for her life because she had to. Me? I had a choice. She really inspires me on the fight. The way she just goes through it. She’s done chemo, spinal taps. A bone marrow transplant where they’re telling you ‘make arrangements, because it’s a 50-50 chance. That’s scary for anybody.”
Since it was a Friday, Guerrero didn’t run, giving his legs a rest. But he did spar 10 rounds at the Escobedo Training Grounds (on the Nevada side.)
He first went five rounds with Simpson, a 1-0 native of Jamaica. Simpson’s wiry frame and energy was a good fit for Guerrero (29-1-1, 18 knockouts). After the completion of five rounds, Simpson stepped outside the ropes and in came Martin Franco, whom they refer to as “The Bull”. Franco was considerably shorter than Guerrero but gave relentless pressure, emulating Aydin (23-0, 17 KOs). Guerrero, a southpaw, showed a lot of snap on his punches and even debuted a new punch – the overhand left. It’s a basic enough punch but Guerrero hasn’t been able to throw one properly due to the nagging left shoulder injury he’s had his entire career, dating back to high school.
He suffered a detached rotator cuff while playing running back in pop warner football. He’s always dealt with the injury, but everything came to a head when he was preparing for the biggest fight of his career, an HBO main event against Marcos Maidana last August. 10 days before the bout, he suffered a slight tear in the shoulder, forcing him to pull out. After undergoing surgery to repair the shoulder and a lengthy rehabilitation stint, Guerrero feels rejuvenated.
“Being a fighter, you block things out,” said Guerrero. ”You get that mentality like Rocky. No pain, no gain. You never want to put it out there that you have an injury, that’s psychological warfare. It gives some fighters an edge. I would never put it out there. So I would take some time off, ice it. Subconsciously, I knew how to work through it already.
“It feels great. I’m doing things with it that I’ve never done before. I could never even throw a baseball overhand. I had to throw it sidearm because it would hurt. I can throw different angles with it, before it was just a straight left, now I can mix it up. Everything’s easier. I just can’t wait to start letting it go.”
Running the hills in Lake Tahoe, over six miles a day, Guerrero’s manager and co-trainer Bob Santos feels Guerrero will be even stronger at 147. Guerrero hasn’t lifted any weights in transforming his body to welterweight, sticking to push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and boxing workouts. Guerrero debuted at 122 and this will be his sixth weight class, a feat Santos feels has gone overlooked.
“Those bodies are all show and no go,” said Santos of boxers who rely on weights and new-age training methods to climb weight classes. “We’re going to be performance laden. You’re always concerned about your fighter’s going to handle the weight. We’re coming off close to a year layoff. But I have the utmost confidence in Robert as one of the best tacticians in the world to get the job done. We were the mandatory to Juan Manuel Marquez and he avoided us, I think that speaks volumes. You look at the [Michael] Katsidis fight. Marquez was in a dead heat with him, was close to being knocked out in that fight, and we beat him at least 11 rounds to one.”
Santos has grown frustrated with Guerrero’s inability to garner a big fight. He says they have tried to get a date with all the top fighters over the years – Chris John when he ruled 126, Juan Diaz when he ruled 135, and Amir Khan at 140. Guerrero’s only loss came to Gamaliel Diaz in 2005, a defeat he avenged via knockout a year later. As Santos said, “Sometimes you’re too good for your own good.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind Robert Guerrero is the most avoided fighter in boxing. It’s plain and simple,” declared Santos. “I don’t understand how you can win multiple world championships across six different weigh classes and not one of the so called superstar fighters [fights him]. If he’s that simple of a fight, go collect the easy pay day. He’s HBO and Showtime approved. These promoters are making boxing like it’s the WWE. They’re picking and choosing who they want the stars to be.”
Likewise, Guerrero feels slighted by his lack of ability to gain a notable fight and is highly frustrated.
“I think I’m one of the most avoided fighters,” said Guerrero. “There’s a lot of fighters that get avoided, but it’s been a number of years I’ve been avoided. It’s frustrating the situation I’m in. Not being able to get out there and work. IT’s how I make money. It’s very frustrating to know that youre one of the top fighters in the world and nobody wants to give you a fight.
The team up in Lake Tahoe for eight weeks consisted of Guerrero, Santos and two of Guerrero’s family members – his father and younger brother. His father Ruben is his head trainer and brother Randy is an aspiring pro fighter who will make his debut sans headgear on the Andre Ward-Chad Dawson undercard on Sept. 8. The team is close knit and they seemed to bond over the duration of the camp. No television probably helped.
“Me and my father, we treat each other with respect,” said Guerrero, who grew up with five siblings, all boys. “A lot of people look at their relationships as father-son relationships. But when it comes down to boxing, with me and my father it’s all business. We treat each other like men. There’s times where I’m not going to agree with him and he’s not going to agree with me, but at the end of the day, I know it’s for my own good. I respect what he’s doing because I know when he does come out to tell me stuff, it’s for my own good.
“With six of us boys it was a rough household. All of us were very competitive with each other, always trying to outdo each other in whatever it was – football, boxing. My father always had us taking care of each other and respecting each other as brothers. It was a very disciplined [upbringing], yet very laid back. I think it’s why I’m at where I am today.”
After training was completed and we ate dinner, Guerrero talked further about watching his best friend, a woman he began dating when he was 14, fight for her life.
“It’s probably the toughest time of my life,” said Guerrero. “Just seeing her the way she was: being real sick, throwing up, being down. Fighting for her life. Not knowing how she’s going to be feeling the next day. It really is heartbreaking and it tears me apart all the time. It’s the woman that I married, the woman that I love, the woman I had my kids with and to see her sick is very heartbreaking.
“Trying to keep it altogether [was hard.] Trying to stay strong. Trying to stay positive all the time, making sure she’s eating. I had to care of my kids when she was in the hospital. It was a struggle. And then trying to fit boxing in. I had to put boxing on the backburner.”
To make ends meet, Guerrero took a job in construction, a physically-demanding job which took a toll on his career in pugilism. Carrying hot tar buckets, he still has burns on his arms to remind him of the struggle. Even if it was going to jeopardize his boxing career, he knew he had to make a sacrifice with mounting hospital bills and a family to feed and support.
“When you’re dealing with 600 degree tar, it’s not only something I had to do, it endangers my boxing career,” Guerrero said. “All it takes is one spill of a bucket and I have third-degree burns and I can’t fight forever. But it’s what I had to do. I had to suck it up.”
He walks around at 150 and feels he will be a more impressive fighter at welterweight. Guerrero feels his lifestyle has afforded him the ability to move up in weight with relative ease.
“I don’t party, I don’t drink beer; I hardly go out to nightclubs or anything like that. I’m a family man. I like to stay home with my kids and wife. I really appreciate family. It helps out a lot when you take care of yourself, diet right and work with a nutritionist. Your body is your tool; you have to keep your body sharp all the time.
“I’m a lot stronger and faster fighter. I don’t have to come down 12-15 pounds,” said Guerrero. “I’m a tall guy, pretty long. The higher I get, the better I get. Not having to go down in weight so much, it keeps you at full strength.”
After this bout with Aydin, 28, Guerrero will be in line for some meaningful fights at 140 and 147. But he’ll have to look impressive against a full-fledged welterweight, a guy known for his power.
“There’s always pressure on looking impressive because you’re only as good as your last fight and my last fight didn’t even happen,” said Guerrero. “Especially moving up two weight classes everybody’s wondering what I’m going to look like. I’m taking on one of the hardest punchers in the division, a tough guy. The pressure’s always there, especially being in your hometown.
“He’s a tough guy, strong, a power puncher. But he’s limited skill wise. We have the right game plan, we’re gonna take him to school. He relies on one punch knockouts and at the championship level that doesn’t work very often. Skills pay the bills.”
With an impressive victory Saturday, Guerrero can start another journey. A journey to establishing himself as a fighter to reckon with and fulfilling the potential many believe he has. For once, he had a full training camp and will be fully equipped to showing he’s deserving of the big fights he so desperately wants.
“I want to leave this sport knowing that I fought the best, took on the best challenges the toughest guys,” Guerrero proclaimed. “There’s champions that are out there that have only won titles in one class. I want to go down as a legend in this sport. I want to make my mark.”
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger