By Jake Donovan
Robert Guerrero has waited more than 15 months for this moment to arrive – that next time when he finally gets to once again set foot in a ring for an official fight.
Not since his wide points win over Michael Katsidis last April has Guerrero (29-1-1, 18KO) been able to add to his resume. An untimely injury, extended rehab and a Floyd Mayweather-or-bust media blitz in targeting a major fight in the spring has resulted in the longest period of inactivity in his career.
The long wait comes to an end as he moves up two weight classes to face unbeaten welterweight Selcuk Aydin. The fight takes place at the HP Pavilion in San Jose (CA), not very far from his Gilroy hometown. The venue was supposed to house an Aug. ’11 title fight with Marcos Maidana, only for an injury to pull the plug on the anticipated homecoming.
Well over a year later, a fully rehabbed Guerrero now gets that long overdue opportunity to ply his trade in front of his hometown fans.
“My body is fresh. I’m not beat up,” Guerrero insists in search of a silver lining to the extended ring absence. “The only negative is inactivity, not being in the ring and able to showcase my abilities.”
Guerrero gets to do so in front of a live televised audience on Showtime, though the challenge that lies ahead hardly qualifies as a traditional showcase. A real fight awaits the former two-division champion, though that’s precisely what Guerrero is after.
“This is a milestone for me,” Guerrero says of the fight, his first at welterweight after having never fought heavier than 138 lb. “It’s my chance to crack the pound-for-pound lists and get in line for the bigger fights.
“Selcuk Aydin is a pressure fighter. I have to be very disciplined. I have left no stone unturned and there is no doubt in my mind that I will come out with the victory.”
Guerrero has put together a nice run in recent years, racking up six straight wins since a disappointing no-contest against Daud Cino Yordan in March ’09. The bout took place at the very same hosting venue as this weekend’s event, designed to showcase Guerrero as the next big star on HBO.
Instead, a cut from a headbutt in round two left the Californian bloodied and unwilling to continue. Mixed interpretations came of the ending, with the general consensus believing that Guerrero was in need of a career makeover to convince fans he was the same fighter who served atop the featherweight division in preceding years.
Six straight wins have helped restore his image, including a dominant points win over Malcolm Klassen to pick up his second major title.
The super featherweight title reign never extended beyond that Aug. ’10 evening, as Guerrero immediately moved up to lightweight. Decisive victories over Joel Casamayor, Vicente Escobedo and Michael Katsidis – all of which were financed by HBO - helped prove he belonged in the division, though the fighter longed for much bigger game.
Unfortunately, his grasp far exceeded his reach. It’s not that it was ever believed by his handlers that Guerrero couldn’t beat the best in the 135 lb and 140 lb. divisions; quite the opposite, as none of the major players at either weight bothered to give him a look.
Chief among Guerrero’s hit list at the time was a shot at lineal lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. Aspiring to become a three-division titlist. Guerrero worked his way up to mandatory status for one of Marquez’ belts, only for the opportunity to never materialize.
The closest he came was an interim title fight with Katsidis. Even though he won the bout and was supposed to be assured a crack at the true championship, Guerrero sensed that such opportunity would never come.
By the time his shoulder fully healed earlier this year, the same fights he pursued at 135 and 140 could no longer be dreamt of becoming a reality. Thus came the command decision for the talented southpaw to max out weight on his 5’8” frame.
“I had trouble getting fights at 140 and 135 so I bypassed both, and did the crazy thing of moving up two weight classes,” Guerrero says of the road that leads to this weekend’s challenge. “Not many fighters are willing to do that, but I’m here to show that I not only talk the talk but walk the walk.”
One person not particularly fond of any talking Guerrero has done is the man who awaits him in the opposite corner on fight night.
Aydin – born in Turkey but now based in Germany – arrived stateside earlier this month to better acclimate himself to the local surroundings. The unbeaten welterweight has exhibited bizarre behavior, claiming to have been disrespected and ignored by the American boxing media, yet refusing to speak to anyone when given the opportunity.
Among the few quotes he has offered includes the vow to break Guerrero’s jaw and that he believes the American is overlooking what immediately lies ahead of him this weekend.
The physical damage Aydin will be able to inflict remains to be seen. But what Guerrero can directly speak on is the second half of that statement, which he immediately dismisses.
“I came from a training camp, isolated. There was no TV, I was isolated in the middle of nowhere. If he thinks I’m taking this fight lightly, he’s tremendously wrong.”
“I’m not even thinking about the hometown crowd,” Guerrero continues. “I’m just focusing on the fight. A lot of fighters when they fight at home, they tend to fight to the crowd. That’s when they lose focus. You have to stick to the game plan.”
For this weekend, Guerrero believes the most effective course of action is to follow simple rules.
“You have to be very smart in the ring,” Guerrero says of facing Aydin. “He’s not very big but he’s very dangerous for anybody. He has power in both hands. I’ve seen him take shots and walk through them. He carries his power into the 12th round. At any given moment he can take you out with one shot. He’s no fighter you can take lightly. When a fighter has two hands, anything is possible.”
Guerrero’s hands have been good enough to get him 29 wins and two major titles through the years. It’s a bum shoulder that put him on the sidelines for the past year and change. The physical rehab he endured turned out to be a blessing in disguise, believing to be at 100% for the first time in years.
“The rehabilitation went great. I went for 3 ½ months. The woman I saw works with the SF Giants, the A’s. She’s awesome. I’ve done things I was never able to do before. Muscles were compensating for other muscles. When that’s happening, you’re not throwing right. Now I’m throwing a lot of strong hands and I’m ready to go.”
He will need to be ready against a fighter like Aydin, who has yet to experience what it’s like to lose. The closest he came was in a controversial points win in his first fight with Jo Jo Dan in June ’10. Aydin removed all doubt in last November’s rematch, scoring a lopsided decision in his last ring appearance prior to this weekend.
From an alphabet sense, a win positions the winner of this weekend’s televised main event into mandatory challenger status to the alphabet title currently held by Mayweather. The more realistic scenario is that the winner is eventually upgraded from interim titlist to full alphabet champion.
Whatever the case, Guerrero views this bout as the first step towards realizing what he believes to be his destiny.
“I want to leave the sport knowing I’ve fought the best and have done things that so few others can do,” Guerrero states. “I really think this is the fight that I need and that will catapult me into the pound-for-pound ranks.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox