RingTV.com readers voted Robert Garcia the Trainer of the Year for 2011 on the strength of the two stars of his stable – Nonito Donaire and Brandon Rios – and the former junior lightweight titleholder has won the honor for the second year in a row in part because both young veterans continued their winning ways in 2012 under his guidance.
Garcia garnered 57.4 percent of the voters who took part in RingTV.com’s “Readers’ Choice” poll believed the 37-year-old trainer deserved to repeat. Garcia, who also trains younger brother Miguel Angel Garcia, Kelly Pavlik and Marcos Maidana, along with several prospects, beat out a strong field that included Virgil Hunter and the legendary Emanuel Steward, who passed away in October.
Hunter, whose fighters – including RING super middleweight champ Andre Ward and former 140-pound titleholder Amir Khan – were unbeaten in 2012, received 19 percent of the vote. Steward, who guided RING heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko to two of his three title defenses in 2012 (including an impressive six-round stoppage of capable Tony Thompson), received 18 percent of the vote.
Garcia, however, trained more world-class fighters than his competition and his boxers were busier than the other top trainers – especially Donaire, who is strong candidate for Fighter of the Year, after four significant bouts in 2012. The 30-year-old Filipino-American star made a successful jump from bantamweight to junior featherweight by unifying two major 122-pound belts with decisions over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Jeffrey Mathebula, then earned THE RING’s vacant title by stopping the magazine’s No. 1-rated junior featherweight, Toshiaki Nishioka, and ended the year by defending his belts with a third-round blowout of Jorge Arce.
Rios, who Garcia has trained since the amateurs, only fought twice in 2012, but his second bout – a Fight of the Year candidate against Mike Alvarado in October – more than made up for a disappointing start to the year. The relentless slugger, who was denied a high-profile showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa when the talented Cuban pulled out of that matchup, was lucky to get a controversial split-decision over Gamboa’s replacement, Richard Abril, in April.
Taking on Alvarado, a welterweight-sized boxer-puncher unbeaten in 33 pro bouts, was a risky fight for Rios in his first “intentional” junior welterweight bout, but Garcia made sure the 24-year-old former lightweight beltholder was ready – in terms of technique and conditioning – for the phone-booth war of attrition that Rios won by seventh-round stoppage.
However, as impressive as Donaire and Rios were, Garcia’s best work as a trainer may have been with Pavlik and Maidana, both of whom had been written off by many fans and members of the boxing media.
Pavlik, who was thought to be “mentally shot” after losing his middleweight title to Sergio Martinez and checking into rehab for alcohol addiction in 2010, turned in three solid performances in 2012 – knockouts of journeymen Aaron Jaco and Scott Sigmon and a decision over fringe contender Will Rosinsky. Pavlik, who has added a strong left hook and body attack to his arsenal under Garcia’s guidance, is now in line to challenge Ward in February.
Maidana looked like a one-dimensional puncher who had hit his ceiling when he dropped a one-sided decision to Devon Alexander in his welterweight debut in early 2012, but the former 140-pound contender rebounded with Garcia’s help, scoring a hard-fought TKO over Jesus Soto Karass and a one-punch (body shot) KO of Angel Martinez. Maidana is working his jab more and keeping a higher guard under Garcia’s watch.
“Mikey” Garcia remained undefeated (30-0, with 26 knockouts), going 3-0 in 2012, with his older brother in his corner. The 25-year-old featherweight is a slight favorite against WBO titleholder Orlando Salido, who he challenges on Jan. 19.
The only world-class fighter trained by Garcia who didn’t win in 2012 was flyweight standout Hernan “Tyson” Marquez who lost his WBA title to Brian Viloria in a November scorcher. Viloria, who was trained by Garcia in 2008 and 2009, dropped Marquez three times en route to a 10th round stoppage.
After the third knockdown in the 10th round, Garcia, who was rightfully criticized for not keeping Antonio Margarito on the stool during the former welterweight titleholder’s one-sided drubbing against Manny Pacquiao in 2010, stepped in and stopped the fight at just the right time to spare the brave-but-outclassed Marquez unnecessary punishment.
In his lone high-profile loss of 2012, Garcia showed the kind of growth that promises many more Trainer of the Year awards.
Next year-end poll: Prospect of the Year
Photos / Al Bello-Gettyimages, Naoki Fukuda, Chris Farina-Top Rank