By Thomas Gerbasi
If you’ve been in this business long enough, you can tell the difference between fighters that are confident for the cameras and those that really believe it. Robert Guerrero is the latter in the lead up to his Saturday showdown with Floyd Mayweather.
You might say, what reason does he possibly have for being so secure of victory against boxing’s pound for pound best? Sure, he’s got a laundry list of titles and quality wins over quality fighters like Andre Berto, Selcuk Aydin, Joel Casamayor, and Michael Katsidis, but none of those fighters are Floyd Mayweather. Not even close.
Yet in pre-fight interviews, Guerrero is not only talking winning, but he’s talking of humbling Mayweather, perhaps an even more ludicrous notion than beating him. And this is a fighter without one punch knockout power, dazzling speed, or any one tool that makes you say ‘yeah, that’s it; that’s the secret weapon.’
In fact, what Guerrero brings to the table is what a lot of past opponents brought to Mayweather: solid fundamentals, a sturdy chin, good punch variety, and toughness. He’s even coming off a win over Berto last November that cemented his credentials as a boxer who knows how to fight. And I mean truly fight. In the trenches, down and dirty, no referee necessary, may the toughest man win. In fact, that was the fight that made many – including this scribe – look at Guerrero as not a keep busy win for Mayweather, but as a live underdog.
Mayweather’s not buying it. He’s not of the opinion that solid pressure-filled (albeit losing) performances by Jose Luis Castillo and Miguel Cotto are the key to pinning a loss on his perfect record.
“That's been everybody's game plan,” said Mayweather on a recent media teleconference. “Everybody said, ‘We'll keep a lot of pressure on Mayweather.’ That's been everybody's game plan, to keep pressure. You've been covering me for I don't know how many years and everybody's game plan has been to keep pressure / throw a lot of punches. So like I said before, as long as everybody's got the same game plan I'm gonna keep having the same game plan.”
That game plan has led Mayweather to 43 wins in 43 fights. His record contains the names of a Who’s Who of this era: Cotto, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Zab Judah, Arturo Gatti, Castillo, Diego Corrales, and Genaro Hernandez. There are at least five Hall of Famers in that group, making it clear that Mayweather will also have a plaque in Canastota five years after his career is over.
Guerrero’s resume can’t compare, but what “The Ghost” knows that we often forget is that what happened yesterday, a year ago, or five years ago doesn’t really matter. All that matters is what happens on fight night, and on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Guerrero is a believer, and it goes beyond his oft-talked about religious beliefs.
What it reminds me of is Antonio Tarver’s second fight with Roy Jones in 2004. At the time, Jones was the best of the best, with a resume already securing him a place among the sport’s immortals. Six months earlier, Tarver pushed Jones to the limit before losing a majority decision, but most chalked up Jones’ less than dominant performance to the strain of getting back to 175 pounds after putting on muscle to go up to heavyweight and win a title from John Ruiz. The second time around, conventional wisdom said that Jones would dismiss Tarver with extreme prejudice, much like he did in his second fight with Montell Griffin.
Tarver knew something though. He didn’t have the resume of Jones, and while he could do it all in the ring, there wasn’t any one thing that was spectacular. What he did know better than anyone else was Roy Jones. For nearly two decades he chased Jones, studied him, and while he fell short the first time around, the second, he delivered on his boasts, knocking out Jones in round two of their rematch.
Guerrero, a southpaw like Tarver, hasn’t put in 20 years of study on his foe, but he’s seen enough, and from the time he began calling for a fight with the Michigan native over a year ago, he’s done so without backing down from his assertion that he would not only fight Mayweather, but he would beat him. And though it’s rare – and even rarer when fighting Mayweather – sometimes confidence and will can lift a fighter to new heights, even if it’s for only one night.
One night can make a fighter’s career though, and no matter what Tarver did after beating Jones in their rematch, that night in 2004 will be the clip for the time capsule, kicked off with Tarver’s pre fight question in the middle of the ring: “You got any excuses tonight, Roy?” It was a Hollywood vignette better than anything Tarver did as Mason Dixon in the film Rocky Balboa, and for all the talk of Mayweather’s new Showtime deal, his father being back in the corner, his stint in jail, Guerrero’s faith-filled sermons, and his father Ruben’s rants, the greatest drama will take place in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and if Guerrero pulls off the upset, everything that took place before the opening bell will pale in comparison.
So does Robert Guerrero know what Tarver knew about Jones, Buster Douglas knew about Mike Tyson, and Max Schmeling knew about Joe Louis? He certainly thinks so, and if that old idea about the power of positive thinking holds true, then anything can happen, even in boxing’s theater of the unexpected.