Garcia can make his name with Margarito

Kevin Iole
Robert Garcia is working with the notorious Antonio Margarito for Margarito's match with Manny Pacquiao

The bell sounded to end the second round and Robert Garcia trudged across the ring to his corner. If the truth be known, he would have preferred to slip underneath the ropes and kept walking, all the way to the dressing room.

Garcia was a boxer, and a good one at that. On this night, Sept. 22, 2001, he was 26 years old. He began his career 32-0, but had entered this fight with John Trigg at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas 33-3, having lost three of his last four. A former International Boxing Federation junior lightweight champion, Garcia's losses came to opponents who had a combined record of 70-1.

It wasn't out of the realm of possibility that Garcia would get another championship bout if he could string together a few more wins. He knew an impressive win would mean a lot and go a long way toward putting him back into title contention.

Garcia, though, didn't care. He didn't want to punch Trigg. He didn't want to hurt him. He didn't want to do this any more.

"Every one of my fights, I was friends with my opponent, before and after the fight," Garcia said. "I never had any enemies. There was never any bad talk. We were always friendly before and after the fight.

"I just didn't have the heart to go out and beat someone up. I did it because it was my job and so I had to do it, but I never had the fire and I never loved to do it. That wasn't me. That wasn't who I am. When I was in the ring that night, in the second and third round, I was asking myself, 'Why am I doing this?' Why am I beating up on that guy?' I wanted to walk out right then and there."

He won by technical knockout when Trigg couldn't answer the bell to start the fifth round. Garcia was thrilled, not because he'd won and inched closer to a title shot. He knew when they cut the gloves from his hands that it would be the last time he was ever going to do this. His career as a boxer was done.

A little more than nine years later, Garcia finds himself back in the spotlight, a central figure in one of the year's most significant bouts.

This kind, gentle man who has always had a hug and a smile for everyone has taken over the career of perhaps the most notorious man in boxing in the post-Mike Tyson era: Antonio Margarito. Margarito will fight Manny Pacquiao, the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with Garcia in his corner as his chief trainer.

Garcia began working with amateur fighters in the Oxnard, Calif., gym run by his father, Eduardo "Papa" Garcia, shortly after his fight with Trigg. Very quickly, Robert Garcia discovered that while he didn't enjoy punching someone himself, he loved helping young men reach for a dream.

He decided, like his father, to make training fighters his life's work. He had been very successful, with quality boxers like Steven Luevano, Brandon Rios and Victor Ortiz developing under him.

Margarito, of course, is the guy who was caught with an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps prior to a Jan. 24, 2009, fight with Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Laboratory analysis of the pad discovered in his right hand wrap determined it contained the same elements contained in plaster of Paris.

California threw the book at Margarito and suspended him for a year. When he applied for a license earlier this year after a year on the sidelines, California again said no.

But at that second licensing hearing, Margarito had an unlikely advocate. Garcia, the same friendly, soft-spoken man who had given up boxing as a 26-year-old because he could no longer stomach hurting another man, had taken a job as Margarito's primary trainer.

"When we got the fight in May [against Roberto Garcia in Mexico], we needed a trainer and so we wrote down a list of possible guys we could approach," said Sergio Diaz, Margarito's co-manager along with Francisco Espinoza. "Robert was at the top of that list. He was a man with great integrity. Everyone who knew him had good things to say about him. Inside and outside the ring, he was pure class. Right away, it was pretty obvious that he was the perfect fit for Antonio."

On Jan. 24, 2009, Garcia never could have imagined he'd have ever worked for Margarito, or gone to bat for him. But now, as Margarito was trying to get a license so he could fight Pacquiao, Garcia had become one of his biggest advocates.

"This is a guy who is not the type of person everyone thinks he is," Garcia said of Margarito. "I didn't know him, but I've found him to be a very honest, very classy, very respectful man."

The skeptics, and they are legion, will insist that Garcia sold his soul, that he took the job working for a known cheater in exchange for a large payday. Fighting Pacquiao is big business and Margarito is being rewarded handsomely. That will mean a big paycheck for his trainer.

Whatever the truth – whether Margarito knew what ex-trainer Javier Capetillo had surreptitiously slipped into his wraps or not – isn't the point.

The point is that the last thing Robert Garcia would do is to violate his principles and take a job because it paid well. He had to be comfortable with the man he was going to train and had to believe that Margarito was not complicit in the hand-wrap controversy before he signed on.

Countless boxers, let alone media, promoters, managers and fans, have said Margarito had to have known what was in his wraps. On Aug. 31, at a news conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., to announce the Nov. 13 fight in Arlington, Texas, Pacquiao said he believed Margarito knew.

"He is the one who wraps his hands and he doesn't know what's in there?" Pacquiao said. "Of course he knows. What do you think? My belief is he knows that. He is just making some kind of alibi."

Garcia understands the skepticism, because there was a time he was among them.

"I heard about the wraps being like rocks and of course I thought that was horrible to do," Garcia said. "I just thought from what I was hearing that he was dipping his hands into something and made them like casts. How could you not know if there was something wrong with your [wraps] if they did them like that? That's what I thought."

More than a year after Margarito's suspension, there has been no action taken by any commission in the U.S. Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank felt Margarito needed to fight and arranged a bout for him in Aguascalientes, Mexico, against Roberto Garcia (no relation to the trainer). Arum believed Margarito never knew what was inside of his wraps and that he was being railroaded and he'd decided to push the issue. The first step was getting Margarito a fight.

"If I thought he was involved, I would have walked away from him forever," Arum said. "But I've said this a million times: There is not only no evidence against him, but to the contrary, all of the evidence that exists supports the idea that he did not know. I had an obligation to the kid to get him a fight and I thought Robert Garcia would be a perfect guy for him as a trainer."

Espinoza and Diaz approached Robert Garcia. They liked that he was bilingual and could communicate with Margarito in Spanish. They liked that his fighters were fundamentally sound and seemed to win more often than not. And they liked that he was respected by everyone who knew him.

Garcia expressed cautious interest when asked. That was important to Diaz, because he believed that his instincts about the type of man that Garcia is were correct.

"Francisco and I were concerned whether any of the top trainers would want to take it on," Diaz said. "When we talked to Robert, he said he was interested, but before he made any decisions, he wanted to talk to Antonio and get a feel for him, and then he said he wanted to talk to us and ask us a lot of questions."

Garcia and Margarito spent a long day talking, about boxing, about life, about each other. And Garcia was surprised that he found a much different man than he expected, a more thoughtful, introspective man than he'd imagined.

He quickly had a good feeling about Margarito the man.

"I felt he was a good person, and an honest person," Garcia said. "And he talked to me about what happened [with the hand wraps] and I believed him."

Garcia had been under the impression that the entire hand wraps were soaked in plaster of Paris. In that scenario, it would have been impossible for anyone not to know what had been done. But what Capetillo inserted was a small object made of gauze covered in the plaster of Paris-type substance.

Diaz and Espinoza were in the locker room as Margarito's hands were being wrapped before the Mosley fight. When Mosley trainer Naazim Richardson inspected the right hand, which had been fully wrapped and signed by an inspector for the California commission, he felt something he did not like. He demanded the wraps be removed and redone.

"I was as shocked as anyone else when that happened," Diaz said. "I was confused about what was going on and there was a lot of screaming and shouting going on. I looked at Tony and he didn't know what was happening, either."

Margarito, Espinoza and Diaz shared their story of that night with Garcia, who asked numerous questions. Finally, he came to the conclusion that Capetillo had acted alone.

That allowed him to take the job without any pangs of conscience.

"I really believe that he didn't know and as I have gotten to know him better, I believe that even more," Garcia said. "This is a good man. I have a lot of amateur kids who train at the gym and he is so great with them. When he's done working, he doesn't leave. He stays and helps them. They're traveling to the national PALs (Police Athletic League tournament) and Margarito said he would pay for it, all of the expenses.

"He didn't have to do that. We were doing fundraisers to get the money to go, but he did it out of the goodness of his heart. And he didn't do it to make himself look good, because no one outside of those of us in that gym knew about it. I see these things happen all the time and I realize that this is not the person a lot of people think."

Most in the media and the public don't share Garcia's view of Margarito. And Garcia knows there is going to be plenty of heat ahead, as people question his integrity and his ability to prepare Margarito to fight Pacquiao.

He's also training against Freddie Roach, the man widely regarded as the best trainer in the world and a man that Espinoza and Diaz briefly considered as Margarito's trainer. He said he's comfortable with the comparisons, even though he knows he's likely to come out on the short end of them. Roach has been named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2009 and is regarded as one of the best trainers in history.

Garcia's résumé is not nearly as impressive, but he isn't concerned. He praised Roach's ability, but said it's not a competition between he and Roach. It's a fight between Pacquiao and Margarito and Garcia believes he has the right guy in that battle.

"Manny has proven he's best in the world pound-for-pound," Garcia said. "I know that. You have to give him credit for what he's accomplished, because he's done so much. But he's going against a fighter who is so much bigger and who is going to be on him every single second for all 12 rounds.

"A guy who is that much bigger is going to be on him the entire night. Manny has fast, powerful combinations, but once Margarito takes those and keeps coming, it's going to be a long night for Manny. "

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