By Jake Donovan
It was an event three years in the making, the amount of time it had been since Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero had the pleasure of performing in front of a hometown crowd.
The former featherweight titlist couldn’t wait for 2009 to begin, having been out of the ring for nearly a year before he was legally cleared to fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner.
Guerrero was promised an HBO date and a hometown showcase, both of which would come on the same night. Golden Boy arranged for a March 7 tripleheader to air live on HBO from San Jose (CA), 30 or so minutes from his Gilroy hometown.
Six weeks after scoring a first-round knockout to open the year, Guerrero was ready to head home, looking to expand on his 2-0 (2KO) record in Bay Area fights, both of which sent his faithful fans home happy.
A mere two rounds later, his Bay Area ledger remained stuck on 2-0. His fans, however, didn’t quite their money’s worth out of the aborted affair.
But if anyone was more disappointed with the turnout against undefeated Daud Cino Yordan, it was Guerrero himself. While having moved on from the cut-induced No-Contest, he knows that he owes his fans a much stronger showing this time around.
“You’re only as good as your last fight,” acknowledges Guerrero (23-1-1, 16KO) of his HBO debut that left a lot to be desired. “I was disappointed. I honestly don’t even count it as a fight. I’m excited about this Friday, to make up to my fans for what happened in March, and to continue to strive for another world title.”
More disappointment threatened to set in when original opponent Johnnie Edwards was forced to withdraw from what was supposed to serve as the ESPN2-televised main event at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. this Friday (10PM ET/7PM local time).
Team Guerrero scrambled to find a suitable enough opponent to preserve the televised date, settling on veteran gatekeeper Efren Hinojosa. The only catch was at what weight the fight would take place. Guerrero was supposed to face Edwards in a junior lightweight bout; Hinojosa accepted the fight, but with the disclaimer that he couldn’t get lower than 135 lb. given the short notice.
Long story short, Guerrero now makes his lightweight debut this weekend.
The extra five pounds is of no concern, considering that his name was attached to rumors earlier in the week of a possible summer showdown with former lightweight titlist Juan Diaz. A greater plan was in place to eventually gravitate towards lightweight, but Guerrero chooses to simply play the hand that he was dealt.
“I’m excited about fighting at 135. I get to show how I carry my punching power. People will be surprised. There are a lot of lightweights - Juan Diaz is out there. I’m right in that range. This fight will let everyone know I can fight at 130 or 135.”
It figured to be a matter of time before the 5’8” southpaw would grow into the lightweight division, but not without first taking care of business at 130. Still in the crosshairs remains a planned title shot before year’s end.
One would’ve been within reach had his bout with Yordan not ended the way it did. A regional belt was at stake, but one that would’ve put Guerrero a step closer towards a major title fight with a win. He instead endured the unkindest of cuts, one that not only ended the fight but also left him on the wrong end of mass media criticism.
Despite a career-long flair for always entertaining from bell to bell, more than a few writers and fans suggested that Guerrero sought the easy way out when a headbutt late in the second round left him with a cut over his right eye.
Referee John Schlore asked Guerrero if he could continue, to which the fight replied that his vision was compromised. Schlore stopped the fight, but also offered the fighter an alibi after the fact, insisting that he was ready to stop it himself regardless of the answer to his question.
It still doesn’t change the fact that the hometown crowd went home empty handed, at least from the perspective of being entertained by their local favorite. Guerrero always kept this in mind, when soliciting a rematch before settling on the ESPN2 date.
“I’d love fight Yordan again this Friday night,” he insists. “I wanted the rematch, but it wasn’t offered. I have to move on.”
That’s not to say it can’t still happen in the future.
“If it comes to his being in my path (on the way to a title shot), I would love the chance to get out there and fight him again. We have unfinished business.”
Before he travels that route, there’s the business of getting rid of Hinojosa, who oddly enough is also coming off of foul-shortened bout earlier this winter.
Unlike Guerrero, Hinojosa (30-5-1, 17KO) has a win to show for his efforts, or at least his acting ability. An errant punch thrown by opponent Jose Reyes left the Mexican face first on the canvas late in the opening round of their Telemundo-televised main event.
Hinojosa was given five minutes to recover, but ended the fight first on his stool and then on a gurney with his neck immobilized. He left the arena not knowing he was declared the winner, though neither did the crowd on hand or the viewers at home, since the ring announcer botched the details and announced the fight a no-contest.
Whatever the verdict, Guerrero wouldn’t know. He doesn’t claim to be familiar with the fight, or even with Hinojosa. That’s not to speak of his lack of preparation, however; he also didn’t know very much about Johnnie Edwards when that was the scheduled fight.
“The change of opponents means nothing to me; I was just preparing to fight on June 12, not really preparing for anyone in particular,” explains Guerrero. “When I was getting ready for Johnnie Edwards, I didn’t watch fight tape or anything. I just touched on every aspect, preparing myself for anything.”
Anything, like… another fight soon after this one.
It was hoped by Guerrero that a win this Friday would lead to a possible summer clash with Juan Diaz. Those plans were dashed when Diaz and Paulie Malignaggi agreed to terms for the August 22 HBO slot, though Guerrero’s summer plans aren’t limited to that one fight. Just the opposite, as he remains receptive to any fight, so long as it comes sooner rather than later.
“I’m ready to come back immediately. I had a yearlong layoff, and have only fought three rounds this entire year. We have to make up for lost time, so the more fights that can be fed to me the better. I have to stay busy.”
At the very least, his name will remain in lights throughout the month. The fighter appears in EA Sports’ Fight Night Round Four, which comes out June 22. From there, the goal is to add enough to his resume to force major revisions by the time Fight Night Round Five rolls around.
That begins with hometown redemption this weekend, one where just winning isn’t enough.
“I have to have a great performance, there’s no question. As long as I take care of business on Friday, everything will be right there. I have Golden Boy promoting me; they have a lot of big plans and high expectations. I owe it to them and to my fans, to deliver.”
That’s a Ghost story the Bay Area fans would much rather hear.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .