By Terence Dooley [Part One of a Two Part Series]
Joan Guzman’s childhood in the Dominican Republic was so impoverished the youngster had to venture outside for shelter when the rain came; the leaky roof of the family home rendered useless by a patchwork of holes and tears. Indeed, when Guzman won the Central American Boxing title as an amateur the Dominican president, H. E. Joaquin Balaguer, presented the teenager with a family home.
Guzman, who won 300 out of 320 fights in the unpaid ranks, turned over in 1997, defeating Juan Miguel Rivera by 2nd round TKO in Phoenix, USA; he followed his maiden victory with a second stanza win over Henry Bowden in New York.
However, Guzman did not feel satisfied with the way he was treated as a young pro and took a fifteen-month sabbatical. Joan’s break from boxing was broken by the economic reality of his day-to-day life, he needed money to support his family and there was only one way to make it. The inevitable return to the ring came in 1999 with a points win over Orlando Mateo back in the Dominican Republic.
WBO title wins at super-bantamweight and super-featherweight followed only for Joan to blot his copybook when failing to make weight for a 2008 challenge to undisputed lightweight boss Nate Campbell, who publicly slammed Guzman for his lack of professionalism.
Joan, however, regrouped with a points win over Ameth Diaz before running into the 6’ 1’’ South African Ali ‘Rush Hour’ Funeka, who held Joan to a majority draw when they fought for the vacant IBF lightweight title last November. Many observers gave the fight to Funeka, who had boxed well when dropping a majority decision to Campbell in February of that year, and wrote Guzman off as a top-level force. The two are set to rematch on the 27th of this month; Joan has come over to Manchester, England to work with new trainer Lee Beard and nutritionist Kerry Kayes, who will travel to Las Vegas in order to keep tabs on Guzman’s weight.
Joan popped into Kayes’s Denton-based gym to speak exclusively with BoxingScene.com. Joan’s manager, Jose Nunez, put him in touch with Beard and the 33-year-old believes that the change of training regime will help him overcome the freakishly tall Funeka.
“As soon as I came here [Manchester], I could see it was different,” revealed Guzman. “In America it is a lot of boxing technique and here it may not be as much technical but for conditioning and getting ready for the fights it is very good. It is all about boxing here. They are all training hard and I need that. I have Adrian [Gonzalez], Dean [Harrison], and sparred John [Watson] – I am very happy with everything.
“Kerry [Kayes] is a good man; he opened his gym to me and is helping me to lose weight correctly. Kerry will give me the body I need for this fight. My body feels very good for this, more than for the other fight. I have good physical training, can eat the right food, and I feel strong.”
Still, Guzman took a shellacking at times in the Funeka fight. In particular, Joan was hit with a right hand that put him on Queer Street in round eight. Joan, however, feels that he should be credited for staying the course after enduring a difficult build-up to the contest.
“In the last fight, you saw rounds one and two where I look good but I never felt good after that in the fight. I had the blood coming from my eye and nose. In round three, I am slow in my moves, it is not the same Guzman that people like to see, the Guzman who likes to go to the ropes and show the speed. It was a good experience for me as a lot of people think Guzman lose the fight but I went to the house and watched it a lot of times and thought I won the fight.
“Funeka was good but there was a lot of blood and he cut me here [points to his right eye and uses his finger to outline the scar across the bridge of his nose]. A couple of times I was hurt by Funeka but I was still there at the end, he is a good fighter but maybe does not have as much determination to end the fight. Guzman would die before losing a fight.”
“For nearly one year, I don’t fight,” he said when recalling the fight’s prelude. “There is no good training then for this fight because we only have two months as the training focus was to lose weight. All I hear is, ‘Guzman, you lose that weight’ - I only went to the heavy bag two times in eights weeks. I sparred for the fight but only a couple of spars. I was in the gym training to lose weight, not for a big fight and for a win. I should have known before the fight, as I wasn’t happy in the gym.
“In boxing you need focus for the fight. You don’t need to be thinking, ‘How much do I weigh?’ You need to train for the fight. I told my family, ‘I am fighting Funeka again’, and my daughter, my father and my wife say, ‘Ok’. I ask my four-year-old boy about a fight and he say, ‘Papa, you fight with him, the tough guy?’ and I say, ‘Yes!’ My son then says, ‘Kill him!’ - and he is only four! He knows that Papa will fight tough guy again, everyone in boxing knows that Guzman takes the tough fights. That night was a bad night for me, now I have good training, I am hungry, and I am in a place that I like.”
Ironically, Guzman was having a solid round for the majority of that eighth session. Sure, he took some right hands, and a solid right uppercut, but was cutting the ring down and banging away to Funeka’s long, slender body before that counter right hand robbed him of his senses.
“It was a good, good right hand, I give him that. I lose balance for a couple or ten seconds and then I had to move,” recalled Guzman. “I don’t see out of one eye so I move, and don’t fight, then I go to the ropes and it gives me heart because the right hand got me but Funeka can’t do anything with that moment. That night was Funeka’s night but he didn’t take me that round. I see that fight and think, ‘Damn, I die here’, because I’m not in the right mood - I fight happy and was not happy that night.
“In my fights, I’m happy and I laugh but you saw me tense in the corner and I’m asking them what they think of the fight. They don’t tell me, ‘Guzman, you losing!’ I need someone to tell me to do more and not just call me ‘three-time champion’, and I have that now. You need someone to tell you to do this, do that but they were just trying to stop the blood. I’m also tired after three or four rounds.
“Round three, he gets me on the nose. Round four, he gets my eye. It [the cut] is open and bleeding too much, burning my eyes, blood going in my mouth, it is no good for me and makes it harder. Everybody saw me as the bull in that fight. I usually fight with my hands, my speed, but I fought with my heart that night. I tasted my own blood.”
“Cojones, yeah”, laughed Guzman, “I showed my balls in this fight. My manager says he’ll stop the fight, as I’m bloody and not thinking. I say to him, ‘No, don’t stop this fight’, and they want to stop it again after that right hand but I know that he doesn’t get too many of those punches in my face, it is usually jab, jab that Funeka throw. Move, move and jab. But I cannot block the jab because I cannot see!
“I cannot move properly in the fight. Now, in this fight, I am training hard to win. I have my time here, had my time in New York with Lee, I feel comfortable with Lee – I like to work with him. Next time, I come here for ten weeks. I went to Cardiff to win my first title [the WBO super-bantamweight belt virtue of a third-round KO of Fabio Daniel Oliva] and it is nice over there as well!”
Guzman is also away from the distractions of his Brooklyn base; the cultural melting pot of NY City brings with it a multitude of culinary delights, bad news for fighters, who need to boil down to make the weight. “I am still Brooklyn, si. I live in Brooklyn with the Dominican people. For training it is no good for me,” Guzman confirmed.
“I’ve got too many friends there, Dominican food, I go to a restaurant and you see Guzman here, Guzman there, it is no good for fight. I move the training and cannot play anymore. Here, everything is boxing; in New York, I have so many different people from so many different countries, and I like people! Here, I go from the house to the gym and then go to see Kerry about my weight. This here is my office!”
“I don’t go to nightclubs in New York but we dance at my house. My friends come to my house and we have a party house, a family party with the food and the kids. My family is always with me. The only problem is the Dominican food – I like it too much!” laughed Guzman, who used to spend a lot of time in his native country; however, the death of his mother has made a homecoming trip a painful proposition for the fighter.
“For one year I haven’t been there,” mused Guzman when asked about his motherland. “Last year my mother dies and I feel sad when I go there. I remember my mother with everything I see there. Maybe I go there after this fight, and also to help the people of Haiti and Chile, you know, God has taken away from them and he can now give back through me and other people who want to help. I like to help people back at home and near my home after I’ve focussed on fights. People need help and you need to do something. I want to go to the Dominican Republic in June and then to Haiti to see their people.
“My brother lives there [the Dominican Republic] and they are all waiting for the Funeka fight and they always ask him when I fight him again. It makes my fans happy that I fight him [Funeka] again. I do not fight for one year, then another year, and my people miss me fighting, and I miss the activity. My movement goes when I’m not busy.”
Up next: Guzman talks Nate Campbell, Joan’s failure to make weight, and his desire to fight Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.