By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — Mikey Garcia couldn’t help but think of his last opponent this week while preparing for his fight against Juan Carlos Martinez on Saturday night.
The undefeated featherweight contender was stunned to learn Rafael Guzman, whom Garcia knocked out in the fourth round June 4 in Los Angeles, was murdered Monday in his native Guadalajara, Mexico.
“It’s sad to see someone like that go,” Garcia said. “The guy was a good fighter, he had a good career still ahead of him, and he could still have done more in boxing. I don’t know why he was murdered, but I can only imagine it must be very hard for his family. My prayers and condolences go to his family.”
Guzman, 25, reportedly was shot eight times by gunmen who remain at large. They shot Guzman from a moving vehicle.
The young boxer was pronounced dead when police arrived at the scene.
Guzman went 28-3-1 (20 KOs) during his five-year pro career. He settled for a majority draw in his most recent bout, a 12-rounder against Venezuela’s Rafael Hernandez (13-3-2, 11 KOs, 1 NC) on Aug. 20 in Manzanillo, Mexico.
That bout came 2½ months after Garcia beat him in a fight HBO televised from Staples Center before the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Sebastian Zbik middleweight title fight.
“He was tough,” Garcia, 23, said. “Just to take a fight like that on short notice, you’ve got to have heart and confidence in yourself. I knew he was getting ready for a fight coming up, like a week or two after my fight [on June 4], and when they offered him my fight he took it. So he was also training. It wasn’t like he was out on the streets. He was training.
“But he came to fight. That first round, he came out swinging. He hit hard and I felt his punches. I was expecting a longer fight, from what I had seen [of Guzman], but I was lucky enough to hurt him in that fourth round and stop him. So the fight ended sooner, but I knew he was going to be tough.”
Garcia (26-0, 22 KOs), of Oxnard, Calif., and Martinez (19-12-1, 7 KOs), a Mexican journeyman, will square off in a non-televised 10-rounder on the Nonito Donaire-Omar Narvaez undercard in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Keith Idec covers boxing for the Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com.