by David P. Greisman
Getting into the ring is the easy part. Getting out of it is much more difficult.
Robert Guerrero and Alfredo Angulo have stepped between four ropes on four sides for most of their lives. Guerrero was 9 years old when he followed his older brothers into the gym. Angulo was a 17-year-old inspired to lace up the gloves after watching the rematch between Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Guerrero is 33 now. He made his pro debut weeks after his 18th birthday and has fought in the paid ranks for 15 years. Angulo is 34. He competed in the 2004 Olympics and then turned pro the following year. His career has spanned more than a decade.
They are no longer young, but chronologically speaking they are not old for boxers, who tend to be in their primes between the ages of 28 and 33 and may continue on for a handful of years afterward.
Time does not pass at the same rate of speed for every fighter, however. These recent years have been hard for Guerrero and Angulo.
They are nowhere near their peaks. Time in boxing acts as a form of gravity, pulling fighters downhill as the punishment accumulates, as the mileage accrues, as the body realizes what the mind and heart refuse to recognize.
They should have realized that already, but didn’t. It is a hard truth, one that will need to be confronted after the losses they suffered this past Saturday in Anaheim, California.
That wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
These were intended to be confidence-building fights, wins to help put each in a better position to be back where they once were.
“I want to get back in there with the top guys,” Guerrero said a month before he faced David Peralta. “All the fights are there. I have to get back in that position. I have to prove it to everybody watching that I'm there at the top level. I have to take care of him and leave no doubts so that I can get in there against the top guys again.”
“I want to show people that ‘El Perro’ is back and that I still want to compete in the biggest fights,” Angulo said a month before he fought Freddy Hernandez. “If I work hard, I think that I can have an opportunity by next year for a title shot.”
Guerrero was previously a titleholder at 126 and 130 but quickly moved up to a much higher weight class, going from competing at lightweight in 2011 to contending at welterweight in 2012. It was a big jump, but the war he won over Andre Berto showed that he could take a punch from and still battle in the trenches with 147-pounders. It didn’t mean that he could beat the best in his division, never mind the best in the sport; Guerrero dropped a one-sided decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.
There’s no shame in losing to Mayweather. What was concerning was what came afterward: the trouble he had while winning against lesser opponents, compounded by the moments of success against better welterweights that fooled him into thinking he still belonged.
A 12-round war with Yoshihiro Kamegai in 2014 saw Guerrero land 484 punches but take 293, most of them power shots. Then came another battle, this one ending with a wide defeat on the scorecards against Keith Thurman in 2015. Months later, Guerrero had to come off the canvas to take a fortunate decision over Aron Martinez. He blamed that performance on circumstances outside of the ring.
“I felt a little drained and worn out,” Guerrero said in January. “Not so much of the fighting, but I had other situations going on in my life at home and emotional stuff.”
He had better preparation for his fight with Danny Garcia for a vacant world title earlier this year, and it showed in a performance that started off decently until Garcia took over and won a decision. Guerrero nonetheless felt that he won and wanted a rematch.
His first step toward that was the main event of this broadcast on Spike TV. In the co-feature was Alfredo Angulo, who was fighting for the first time in nearly a year.
Angulo had never stood atop the 154-pound division, but he had participated in captivating fights, with heavy hands and an even heavier chin that allowed him to take a wealth of shots in order to deliver a few of his own. He could be out-boxed, as Kermit Cintron did in 2009, and he could be out-brawled, as happened against James Kirkland in 2011, but he was still a tough out.
Erislandy Lara learned that in 2013, coming off the canvas twice and ending a hard fight with a single left hand that drew grotesque swelling around Angulo’s eye.
Angulo’s hands already moved slowly. His head barely ever moved at all. The accumulated punishment made him even more of a punching bag for Canelo Alvarez in 2014. He moved up to middleweight later in the year, only to suffer an upset loss to James De La Rosa.
There were two bounce-back fights against lesser opposition last year, then a lengthy layoff that Angulo said was beneficial.
“I feel better when I have rest in between fights,” Angulo said weeks before this bout. “I feel stronger. The rest has helped my body and I’m going to be stronger and sharper when I get back in the ring.”
Guerrero and Angulo both were at points in their career where they were no longer the A-side fighter, but rather the B-side whose name could be used to elevate another star.
The only times in which they were the A-sides themselves was on nights like Saturday, when they were trying to win their way back into major fights.
Guerrero was paid $500,000. Peralta received just $30,000. Angulo’s purse was $100,000. Hernandez’s was $25,000.
In boxing parlance, a cab driver is a derogatory term for a fighter. Greg Haugen once derided the wins Julio Cesar Chavez had built his record up with as coming “against Tijuana taxi drivers that my mom could whip.”
Peralta was an actual cab driver, not a figurative one, in his native Argentina. He had been pondering retirement. His career wasn’t bad — he was 25-2-1 with 14 KOs going into the Guerrero fight — but he had reached his limits on a national level, getting stopped in five rounds in 2011 and losing a split decision last year, neither defeat coming against anyone who achieved greatness beforehand or afterward. Peralta was coming off a win but hadn’t fought in 15 months.
Hernandez was infamous for being a fall guy to Andre Berto down at welterweight in 2010, losing in two minutes. Though he rebounded with a victory over Luis Collazo, Hernandez then went on to drop six straight — losing decisions to Erislandy Lara and Demetrius Andrade, a stoppage to Delvin Rodriguez, a wide loss on the cards to Francisco Santana, and technical knockouts to Julian Williams and Brad Solomon.
He finally got back on the winning end in 2015, making quick work twice of Jorge Juarez, who was 8-18-3 before the first bout, and then edging a 10-7-1 foe named Todd Manuel. Hernandez, too, was coming off a yearlong layoff and fighting at 163 pounds, well above his ideal weight.
Guerrero and Angulo underestimated what their opponents had to offer, and they overestimated what they themselves had left.
Hernandez outworked Angulo from the outset, having little trouble dodging Angulo’s slower shots and landing with his own combinations. He withstood Angulo’s power, fighting through a cut that brought blood from above his left eye, and won a clear unanimous decision.
Peralta also did more than Guerrero, who had said before the fight that he’d made a mistake in the past of trying to bomb his opponents out. Guerrero may have wanted to box, but he didn’t throw enough on Saturday, nor did he makes Peralta miss. Peralta, meanwhile, was landing with more regularity and more effectively, including a pair of right hands in the ninth round that, combined with tangled feet, had Guerrero falling backward into the ropes.
Peralta won a split decision, getting seven of 12 rounds on one scorecard and eight of 12 rounds on another (the dissenting tally read seven rounds to five for Guerrero).
“I thought I clearly won the fight,” Guerrero said afterward. “For the judge to say I lost eight rounds sounds crazy to me. Peralta was very awkward, but I felt I won. I won the rounds when I boxed.”
Even had he won, it still wasn’t going to be the performance Guerrero wanted when he said he needed “to take care of him and leave no doubts” in order to prove that he was still at the top level.
It wasn’t enough to leave him doubting his future, though.
“This is very disappointing, but I'll be back,” Guerrero said. “That you can count on."
Getting into the ring is the easy part. Getting out of it is much more difficult.
Fighters spend so much of their lives in boxing that it becomes difficult to imagine being without it. Losses and poor performances can be excused and attributed to problems in training camp, problems in life, difficulty making weight, injuries, a need to rest, a bad style match-up, a bad night or bad scorecards.
The money also is enticing. Boxers at the points in their career that Guerrero and Angulo were going into Saturday don’t normally get paid $500,000 and $100,000, but that is what their adviser, Al Haymon, guaranteed to them. It’s a lot easier to decide to hang your gloves up when the paydays are much smaller, and when defeats against journeymen opponents mean that it will be even more difficult to get a sizable paycheck ever again.
The money shouldn’t be the only reason they stick around. That’s a dangerous decision, a trap that too many fall into, sacrificing their long-term lifestyle for diminishing short-term returns.
It’s also often a foolish delusion for a fighter who thinks he can still get one more shot and put forth one more great performance. While it has happened, it is otherwise rare.
Fighters who can’t compete at the level they once could don’t have to immediately retire, but they do have to become content with facing lesser opposition on lesser shows for lesser paychecks. The problem is no one ever is content to stick to that. Instead, they cash in their names, which is close to all they have left.
This cash should be more than enough. Guerrero got half a million dollars and Angulo received six figures for fights they would’ve won clearly in the past but couldn’t even win closely now.
These were tough losses, but that money should soften the blow.
Guerrero and Angulo were already quite downhill from their peaks. They are now on the verge of falling much farther. These paychecks they received, then, amount to golden parachutes. They would be wise to deploy them and depart.
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