By David A. Avila
Stacked cars block the long entrance to Robert Garcia Boxing Academy where many of the best prizefighters in the Southwest prepare.
It’s Wednesday afternoon and the first shift has arrived.
Just last weekend two RGBA-trained fighters Hector Tanajara Jr. and Joshua Franco returned to their native area San Antonio, Texas and showed off their fighting skills polished in the hills of Riverside, California. It’s a human factory of prizefighters of all sizes and ethnicities.
Trainer Robert Garcia, with help from his sons, runs the sizeable gym that includes three boxing rings like a choreographer. He doesn’t need charts or tablets, he simply directs the fighters to the ring and tells them the number of rounds they will be trading punches.
Gabriel Flores Jr. of Stockton is chosen to open up the sparring. He’s a 19-year-old speedy lightweight from Stockton, Calif. and so far has remained undefeated after 16 pro bouts.
First to spar with the Stockton fighter was Saul “Neno” Rodriguez, the slim power-punching super featherweight from Riverside. Early in his career he was trained by Garcia, first in Oxnard, then, when the Riverside operation was opened, he made the transition too. For more than two years Rodriguez had trained elsewhere but has returned to the Garcia machine. It’s hard to get better training.
Flores and Rodriguez sparred for multiple rounds of action that featured what each fighter does best. One is a counter-puncher and the other stalks and punishes. One utilizes speed and agility to offset attacks and the other pressures and pursues while looking for openings and mistakes.
It’s a perfect mesh of styles.
Next up was Luis Coria another lightweight with speed and aggressiveness like a wound-up top.
Coria was scheduled to fight Adam Lopez last November in Las Vegas, but when the main event featuring former WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez fell out due to the opponent weighing 10 pounds over the limit, Lopez was asked to step in. That left Coria without an opponent.
“He was well paid to step aside,” said Robert Garcia trainer and manager for Coria.
That night Lopez impressed the boxing world by flooring Valdez although eventually losing by stoppage. That could have been Coria. No problem, he will be fighting soon enough.
Coria sparred several rounds with Flores and both showed speed and a contrast in styles.
The gym always operates at crank level and somebody is always preparing for the next big fight. Coming up soon will be WBC and WBO super lightweight titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez who will be traveling to China to defend against Viktor Postol on Feb. 2.
Later in February, Mikey Garcia returns to the ring for the first time since last March. The former featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, and super lightweight titlist is set to meet former super lightweight and welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas on Feb. 29, at Frisco, Texas.
Pick any season in the year and RGBA is always humming.
WBA, IBF and IBO super welterweight titlist Julian “J-Rock” Williams (27-1-1, 16 KOs) finally returns to the ring and makes his first defense against Jeison Rosario (19-1-1, 13 KOs) on Saturday Jan. 18, in Philadelphia. FOX will televise.
It’s homecoming for Williams who grabbed the title with a riveting win over former champion Jarrett Hurd in what I felt was the Fight of the Year in 2019. Both engaged in trench warfare and exhibited the beautiful art of inside fighting rarely seen or allowed by trigger-happy referees anxious to create space. Close-quarter fighting takes talent.
Fighting in front of friends and family can be pretty stressful. Philadelphia is a true fight town and it could be an added distraction for Philly boxer J Rock.
"I try to just block myself from the world. Especially with a hometown fight, people are pulling you 50 different ways, tickets, asking me stupid questions. It's crazy, so I just try to block myself from the world,” said Williams about the upcoming fight with Rosario. “Rosario brings ambition to the table. I think he's an ambitious kid. I don't think it's a difficult fight (for me), to be quite honest. I just think it's a matter of being focused and on top of my game, and I think I'll take care of him. I don't think it's difficult, though. He's a decent fighter. We're not going to make him out to be Ray Robinson.”
Top Rank in NY
If you are one of the many who wondered whatever happened to Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo here’s your chance to watch the former phenom in action as he meets Manuel Rey Rojas (18-3, 5 KOs) at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY. ESPN+ will stream the Top Rank card.
Verdejo (25-1, 16 KOs) fought once in 2019 and defeated cagey veteran Bryan Vasquez by decision last April in New York City. He remains a big draw but since turning pro nearly 10 years ago has failed to live up to expectations as the next Felix Trinidad. There’s only one “Tito” Trinidad.
Rumors abound when it comes to Verdejo who was supposedly involved in a motorcycle accident and other escapades. Life can get in the way. Here he is now 26 years old and looking to conjure up some of that old fervor he had as a teen.
Fights to Watch
Fri. Showtime 7 p.m. Shojahon Ergashev (17-0) vs Adrian Estrella (29-4).
Sat. ESPN 4 p.m. Eleider Alvarez (24-1) vs Michael Seals (24-2); Felix Verdejo (25-1) vs Manuel Rey Rojas (18-3).
Sat. FOX, 5 p.m. Julian Williams (27-1-1) vs Jeison Rosario (19-1-1); Chris Colbert (13-0) vs Jezzrel Corrales (23-3).
Photo: Eduardo Garcia, the Garcia family patriarch, is flanked by sons Robert and Mikey. Photo by Al Applerose.
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