By Thomas Gerbasi
Guy Robb didn’t win his ShoBox debut against Joel Diaz on January 20th. But anyone who watched the two unbeaten prospects lay it all on the line for nearly seven rounds in an early Fight of the Year candidate really isn’t too concerned with the final outcome, which, for the record, was a seventh round TKO win for Diaz.
This was what boxing should be about. There was no protecting of the beloved “0” at the end of their records, no playing it safe for the Showtime cameras. What Robb and Diaz did was simply fight as if a world championship, millions of dollars, and their lives were on the line.
If you’ve ever lost faith, even if only for a moment, in a sport that has let business and politics get in the way of what AJ Liebling described as “the sweet science,” this was the fight to bring you back to the Church of the Gloved Fist.
But then you wonder if you should feel guilty for enjoying the fight so much. You ponder the effect such a war could have on two young fighters (Robb is 23, Diaz 19), and question whether they left too much of themselves in the ring that night. Ray Woods doesn’t believe so.
“If over a period of time you keep fighting hard fights like that, yeah, you’ll go down fast,” he said. “But it was okay. When the referee stopped the fight, my kid wasn’t hurt. He was slipping, bobbing and weaving, but he waited too long to counter. I tell him that all the time. You can’t wait. You can’t slip a hundred punches. You’ve got to counter in between some of them shots. You slip, slip, counter, counter. You’ve got to do it like that. And he waited too long before he countered, and the referee stopped it.”
If you haven’t guessed by now, Ray Woods is Guy Robb’s trainer. He’s also as old-school as it gets when it comes to boxing, producing several standouts over the years in Northern California, including a host of amateur champions. But to casual fans who have heard the name, but can’t place where they heard it, Woods also used to train a pretty fair fighter named Diego Corrales, who wasn’t only the jewel of his stable, but his son. And while watching the Diaz-Robb fight, it was almost impossible not to notice the resemblance between Robb and the late “Chico,” not stylistically, but in terms of heart, determination, and a general disregard for his own safety. Ask Woods what went wrong for his kid that night in Vegas last month, and the answer is telling.
“He (Robb) is doing fairly well, but he’s not following my instructions to the letter,” he said. “I wanted him to use his jab a lot more, I wanted him to throw a lot more speed combinations to the head, instead of loading up with every shot. But he got lured into a war, and that’s what he don’t mind doing. He’s just like Diego. Both kids are very good boxers. Guy Robb can box very well; so can Diego. But they prefer to go inside and bang it out if the opportunity presents itself. I was a little frustrated because he wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do.”
In other words, once the fists start flying, all bets are off.
“Guy Robb will go into war mode just like Diego, in a heartbeat,” said Woods. “I’m kinda glad he’s showing his hand now so I can work on it when it comes to listening to his corner, following my instructions to the letter, and hopefully he’ll someday go ahead and be champion.”
Just eight fights into a pro career that began in 2010, Robb has the potential to reach those lofty heights if he follows Woods’ instructions and continues to develop his raw skills. That’s the easy part. The other parts, the intangibles that don’t show up on the tale of the tape, he’s already got those. And as far as Woods is concerned, that’s the key.
“If you give me a kid with the will to win, I can teach him how,” said the Louisiana native. “One thing I do know is that I can train a fighter. Most of the time, you can train them all you want to, they just don’t have what it takes. I can teach skills, but the will to win, that’s got to come from within the fighter.”
And it’s not just the will to win, but the willingness to win and to test yourself against stiff competition, and not just stiffs. In addition to Diaz, Robb also took on (and decisioned) 6-0-1 Pablo Armenta last September, showing that he has no qualms about taking chances in the ring.
“Competition wise, I think you need to fight somebody at least close to the same level as you,” said Woods. “Not necessarily with a knockout record, but somebody that knows how to fight. Some of these guys build these records up fighting nobodies, and it’s not for real. By the time they fight somebody that can fight a little bit, they go into shock. So I like to match my guy with some competition. Not every fight. You can’t fight every tough guy you see, but I like a little competition, and that’s the way my fighter grows and gains confidence.
“There are too many fighters worried about that zero,” he continues. “They don’t want to put their record on the line because they might lose. I really hate boxers that are like that. Everybody can’t stay undefeated all the way to the championship. Because you lose one or two fights, that don’t mean you’re not gonna be a champion.”
Corrales, who tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 2007 at the age of 29, never lost on his way to winning the IBF junior lightweight title in 1999, but he didn’t dodge quality opposition either. And when it came to his ring performances, he fought with a fearless bravado that made it seem as if he believed he was bulletproof. He wasn’t. That much was made clear when it came time for the biggest fight of his career against Floyd Mayweather in 2001. Dealing with legal issues, illness, and several distractions, Corrales needed to be saved from himself. And Woods tried whatever he could to rescue his son.
“If you remember, Diego was in trouble with the law, we had a terrible training camp, we had people in the training camp that had no business there, and they were a distraction,” Woods recalls. “Plus, Diego had bronchitis, and he would cough himself all out of air. I tried to get Diego to call that fight off, but that was the first time he was gonna make 1.4 (million dollars) and he didn’t want to. He wasn’t ready for that fight, not at all. It was a circus, I wanted to call it off, nobody agreed with me, and we went on with the fight. Before we walked out to the ring, Diego was coughing and wheezing so bad in the dressing room, I thought at any moment he might have called it off before he even walked out. It was bad. But Diego was a warrior, he never made no excuse, and he said it was Floyd’s night.”
In a dazzling performance, Mayweather dropped Corrales repeatedly, but “Chico” stubbornly rose to his feet every time. I asked Woods what was going through his mind as he saw what his son was going through.
“If I would have just let it go on, it could be one shot too many,” he said. “The fourth time, I told (cutman) Miguel Diaz, ‘it’s getting close to the time to stop this. If he goes down again, I’m stopping it.’ We’ll fight another day, and I don’t think we had no business in this fight anyway.”
After Mayweather scored a fifth knockdown, Corrales got up again, yet while receiving a count from referee Richard Steele, the soon to be ex-champion could see his father up on the ring apron with the towel of surrender.
“No, no,” said Corrales, waving his hand towards Woods. But the die had been cast, the decision made. The fight was over.
“What the hell you doing?” yelled Corrales, distraught over the loss. Moments later, with tears in his eyes, he told HBO commentator Larry Merchant, “Nobody had the right to stop the fight. Nobody. I don’t care what the concern is. I’m on my feet, I’m up every time. I kept getting up, I should not have been stopped. Let me go do what I do.”
Woods stood stoically in the background, not saying a word. He didn’t have to. And should he lead Guy Robb and a hundred other fighters to a world title, January 20, 2001 may still be considered his defining moment as a trainer, a father, a man.
Corrales didn’t talk to Woods for a while after the bout. When they did, Woods explained himself.
“Man, you could have taken one shot too many,” he said. “You could have been paralyzed for life or you could have died in the ring. You lost all muscle strength in your neck, and you were about to get hurt real bad.”
“It’s my life,” countered Corrales, “and I want to go out on my shield.”
“Not on my watch,” said Woods.
More than a decade later, nothing has changed when it comes to the way Ray Woods feels about the young men entrusted to his care in the gym and the ring.
“That’s not just for my son, that’s for anybody’s son,” he said. “I know they’re warriors and they’ll fight to the death, but somebody’s got to have some sense.”
Did he ever think of stopping the Diaz-Robb fight?
“Nope,” he says with no hesitation. “That wasn’t even on my mind. He wasn’t in no danger. He was doing what he knows how to do; he wasn’t getting hit at that moment when the referee stopped the fight.”
You know that if Robb was in danger, Woods would be the first to rush to his side, as any trainer worth his salt would do. But following the Mayweather bout and Corrales’ 14 month stint in prison, Woods no longer manned the corner for his son, leaving him in the role as a concerned parent while he watched the wars pile up, most notably the all-time classic between Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo in 2005. When the two met a second time, Corrales got knocked out, and it was another fight that Woods thought never should have taken place even before the weigh-in day debacle that saw Castillo come in overweight as his team was accused of tampering with the scales.
“That second fight with Castillo, I told him don’t take that fight,” said Woods. “You need a lot of time off. Even Castillo needed some time off. Those guys took a lot out of one another that first fight.”
He even wonders about what would have happened if all went well in the lead up to the Mayweather fight. But he has a good idea of how things could have turned out.
“A healthy Diego, and I would never be able to prove it now, but a healthy Diego would have took Floyd that night,” he said.
Like he says, it’s something no one could ever prove now, so we move on and look to the future while still remembering the great fights that Corrales left as his legacy. More importantly, when the idea of heart in sports is discussed, his name should be at or near the top. So, in a day and age in boxing where records are protected, businessmen are disguised as boxers, and promoters refuse to risk their investments in real fights, are there any fighters like Diego Corrales out there?
“I think I got one,” smiles Woods. ‘All I need is for them to pick the right fight for him, and let’s move him right.”
You know you just put an eight ton weight of expectations on this kid’s head with a statement like that, right Ray?
“He’s gonna give you all he’s got, every fight - that’s Guy Robb,” said Woods of his fighter, who he expects to move down to the featherweight division as soon as possible. “I’m excited about this kid. I’ve got some pretty good amateurs coming up right now too, but I’m really excited by Guy Robb. If the management and the promoter make the right moves with him, we’ve got an exciting fighter for the future.”
And a good man to lead him there.