Story by David Robinett
Heading into his HBO-televised bout against undefeated Indonesian prospect Daud Yordan last March, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero was on the fast track into boxing’s upper echelon, that rarified air where name recognition trumps alphabet titles as well as the arbitrary whims of promoters and sanctioning bodies.
A decorated amateur, Guerrero had recaptured the IBF featherweight title in 2007, knocking out Spend Abazi, and, in his second title defense a year later, flattened hot contender Jason Litzau. Having put a bitter split with former promoter Goossen-Tutor behind him, a lengthy battle which kept him sidelined for nearly a year, Guerrero had just signed with Golden Boy Promotions and was the featured attraction on the first HBO card to be televised from San Jose, California, just a short drive from his hometown of Gilroy.
But Guerrero’s charmed ride came to an abrupt halt in the ring in San Jose, not from a loss, but from worse, a perception that he wasn’t willing to fight through adversity when things got tough in the ring. A clash of heads in the second round of his fight with Yordan caused a deep gash over Guerrero’s right eye. The referee stopped the action so the ringside physician could examine Guerrero. Although it appeared the referee and doctor were willing to let him continue, Guerrero reported that he could not see out of his right eye, resulting in a stoppage and a ruling of no-contest, disappointing the thousands of fans in attendance who had come to see their native son. Perhaps unfairly, criticism quickly turned to Guerrero for not continuing that night when seemingly given the opportunity.
“I thought about a lot,” said Guerrero. ”I got a lot of bad press from it, but you have to bite the bullet and take it the way it comes. This is boxing and everybody loves to see a good fight.
“Unfortunately the fight got stopped and that’s the way the cookie crumbled. But I used it as a motivational tool to get me fired up and get me pumped up and to work even harder for my fights.”
This Friday, Guerrero, (23-1-1, 16 KOs) returns to the ring for the first time since his March no-contest, facing off against Efren “Huracan” Hinojosa, (30-5-1, 17 KOs), over ten rounds in the main event on ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” from HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.
Guerrero acknowledged that his quick return to the ring, despite suffering a cut which required several stitches, was in large part to erase the memory of that disappointing night.
“The fight with Yordan was a no-contest and it only went two rounds, so the plan was to get healthy and to get back into the ring as soon as possible,” explained Guerrero. ”I went to a plastic surgeon I’ve used before, who did a great job on stitching me up. The cut healed solid and so far I’ve had no problems. That’s one of the good things about having the right people work on you, they can help you turn it around quick.”
In preparing for Friday’s fight, Guerrero faces another challenge. Original opponent Johnnie Edwards was scheduled to meet Guerrero in a scheduled ten-round junior lightweight bout. When Edwards dropped out last week with a back injury, Hinojosa, a natural lightweight, was available to replace Edwards, but only agreed to take the fight at the lightweight limit. Now, Guerrero will be moving up in weight for the second time in three fights. Guerrero though was undaunted at taking on the bigger man on short notice.
“It didn’t really affect me,” explained Guerrero after learning he would suddenly be making his lightweight debut. ”We worked on getting in shape for whatever they put in front of me. One of the things we focused on was preparing for a lot of different styles and not knowing too much about Edwards, we’re preparing right now the same way [for Hinojosa].”
Hinojosa, who brings a solid resume but whose best days are likely behind him, is an aggressive fighter but does not carry a big punch, having knocked out only one opponent in the last nine years. Nevertheless, Guerrero plans to be mindful of the bigger man and not get careless.
“It’s a matter of sticking to the game plan and with what I’ve been working on in the gym, putting everything together,” said Guerrero. ”Getting overanxious, sometimes it doesn’t work out. You saw in the Yordan fight, we clashed heads and there was a bad cut. You have to know when to push, when to pull off and when to control the fight and stick with the plan.”
Guerrero added that the move to lightweight was only temporary, but could also be something he revisits in the future.
“If the fight is right, I’d love to fight again at 135, but the plan for now is to stay at 130 pounds. Its not a problem with the weight. Whoever they bring me to fight I’ll fight. I’m not one of those guys who picks and chooses his opponent, I’m willing to fight whoever, whenever they bring them.”
One thing Guerrero doesn’t have to worry about is his promotional situation, having signed with Golden Boy Promotions last December.
“Everything is working out great with them,” said Guerrero. ”I’m fighting back in my hometown again and we’re on ESPN. Its nice to fight here, building up a base and giving the fans a hometown fight that they can watch live.” Guerrero also acknowledged his local counterpart, Oakland’s Andre Ward. “This is an untapped market and we’re the up and coming names from out here in the Bay Area. There’s a lot of boxing fans out here and its all about drawing them out so we can have big fights here.”
Fighting so close to his hometown, particularly in light of the disappointment in March, Guerrero conceded he felt some pressure to perform well on Friday.
“Yeah, its important to me. Putting on a great show is what boxing is about. It’s always on my mind to put on a great show for everybody, and if I can do it like I’ve done in my other fights the fans will be there.”
In the meantime, Guerrero hasn’t forgotten his unfinished business with Yordan but is determined to move on for now.
“The only redemption I can get is in a rematch with Yordan,” explained Guerrero. ”But he wouldn’t give me a rematch so that’s out the door now. I just have to get back on track and to keep on trucking and fighting through to the next championship fight.”
The ten-round lightweight bout, presented by Golden Boy Promotions, will headline ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” beginning at 10:00pm ET/7:00pm PTand will also be broadcast on ESPN Deportes and ESPN360.com.