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Fernando Guerrero “This is a moment of a lifetime.”


Heading into his 2011 fight with Grady Brewer, middleweight contender Fernando Guerrero had it all going his way. He was 21-0 with a growing following in Salisbury, Maryland. He was fighting often both in Mississippi and Maryland and drawing well. He had TV fights and industry notice. What he didn’t have was what he got that night: a reality check surprise loss. Brewer, considered a heavy underdog, shocked Guerrero and pretty much everyone else when he stopped Guerrero in four rounds. That loss, like every experience before or since, is looked at as a positive by Guerrero who enters the ring for the biggest fight of his life Saturday night against WBO middleweight titleholder Peter Quillin.


“It’s crazy, you know. I fought so many times. You know what? It was smooth sailing,” Guerrero told Sunday afternoon. “I mean, I was selling out arenas. 10,000 people and this and that and basically never getting hit or nothing. I didn’t even  . . . once I won the NABF and the NABO, I never even wore it into the ring. I just expected like  . . . I didn’t even know that I won it. I was like ‘I’m supposed to wear it. That’s what I do.’ So now when I lost I was like ’Hold up. I can lose?’ When that happens it makes you more cautious, it drops you down a little bit. As humble as I was, I can still be more humble. It gets you to really appreciate life. Gets you to really appreciate everything and then you just know what you are truly made of. It’s not that I lost to somebody better than me. I lost to somebody who had his day but not even close to my skills. I think that it was more like a learning lesson. I’m not going to put any excuses like ’the weight’ or anything. It was my decision. I accept the loss. I am human and now I know how to get up and I truly know what I am made of. I know that I can still lose and still continue. I am not going to lose and just give up. There are too many people behind me. I’ve got a whole country behind me. They are waiting. The Dominican Republic is waiting for a champion. Salisbury, the east coast, have been waiting for their champion for the longest.”

Before and since that loss, Guerrero has been on a journey of self-discovery. When he was born in the Dominican Republic, Guerrero’s father went to Puerto Rico and his mother went to Barbados to begin setting the paperwork foundation that would eventually reunite them all in Salisbury, Maryland in 1995. Raised by his grandfather to that point, Guerrero developed a strong work ethic early on growing up in the Dominican Republic carrying water home over miles and learning the value of hard, physical labor.


Now a man of 26, a pro fighter with one loss but on a four fight winning streak and looking down the barrel of his first world title fight, Guerrero is as positive and prepared as ever.


“The thing is, a lot of people don’t understand, I am where I am at because of everything that happened,” reflected Guerrero. “I don’t think about that loss or try and forget it. It is what it is. I always learned from my losses. I don’t want to part from it. I just want to use it. It made me who I am. I wouldn’t be where I am at in L.A. being on the east coast was great. The atmosphere and how they treated me and you know? The crowd and everything. It was electrifying. It was a lot of pressure to be undefeated. But now we move on and we use what we lost and we use what he gained in loss.”  


Guerrero was once almost exclusively fighting on the east coast. But since his loss, he has fought there once, in Washington, DC, in favor of Texas, Mexico and Las Vegas. Guerrero likes the variety.


“They did that because I needed to get out of my nest,” Guerrero explained. “I needed to realize. How many fighters do you know that without a title bout they’ve got bobble heads, they’re selling out arenas, magazines, shirts being sold in Walmart, everything. I had all of that. I never really truly appreciated it until I had to leave the nest and be like ’Hey, I thought everybody was treated like that.’ But [now] I’m like ’That’s kind of once in a lifetime.’ I kind of like that now there are more people that know me [due to fighting in new venues]. When I fought in Cancun, there were even Dominicans that flew down to see me fight.”


Guerrero is a friendly man; a people’s champ waiting to happen with a quick smile and genuinely honest way about him. On top of it, the man can flat out box. A southpaw who stands 5’9’ Guerrero can move with the best of them while utilizing straight punches, solid defense that incorporates slipping, dodging, moving and parrying. Not a lot of fighters use all of those effectively. He is a student of the game who seems to always be learning or working on something new. For this camp, Guerrero learned how to restart, having to do his whole camp all over again following the original February fight date’s postponement due to the main event fighter, Danny Garcia, injuring his ribs.


“You got to stop training when that happens,” said Guerrero. “When you go into a camp, everything is precise.  Everything is according to that day. For instance, you got to work your way back all the way from weigh-in, all the way from the beginning of the camp. You can’t just spar twelve rounds in the middle of the week or do whatever you want. You’ve got to break it down. There is a certain way that you got to do things. Once you have two more months, you can’t just keep pushing your body. You’ve got to just do it in a specific time.”


This will be his second fight and camp with trainer Virgil Hunter, who is based out of the Bay Area. While Guerrero prefers his new hometown Los Angeles’ weather, the Hayward, CA gym Hunter and his stable train out of offers Guerrero a unique squad of talent to test himself against. Amir Khan, Alfredo Angulo, Brandon Gonzalez, Stan Martyniouk and of course, elite fighter Andre Ward all train there among others. The competition is stiff and varied.


But perhaps the toughest competition in camp comes from legendary sprint coach Remi Korchemny, who served one year probation for his involvement in the BALCO case. The 80 year-old Korchemny now works with select athletes these days on a limited basis, including Guerrero, teaching them the finer points of explosive running.


“Work is work, you know? It’s that specific work that you got to do,” said Guerrero. “[Korchemny] brings something specific good to the table that I am used to. It is hard work for your legs. And I felt real strong doing it. Faster. Being the type of guy that he is with the sprints and the knowledge and confidence that he has, it’s good. It’s good working with someone who has a nice resume. It’s good.”


Using custom-made industrial-strength elastic bands that are attached by a harness onto the athlete, Korchemny’s charges do various sprint drills while he barks technical criticisms at them in his heavy Ukraine accent. A genius in his work, Korchemny suffers no fools and rewards his charges begrudgingly.


“He’s scary type of dude. He’s screaming at you ’Immediately!’ and all that other stuff. He screams at everybody. He’s like that old Rocky guy [Mickey, Rocky’s trainer] ’You’re a bum!” laughed Guerrero.


Once Guerrero got the drill techniques down and his times got better, the barking stayed but a smile emerged. Well, sort of.


“His attitude started changing towards me,” said Guerrero. “He started seeing the type of work that I put in. My times going down and everything. He kind of gives you like me grin like ‘I like you but I don’t want you to know that.’ I noticed that because of the type of work and effort that I put in.”


In general, Guerrero feels his move from the east coast where he was treated as something of a prince heading towards kingship, to the west coast was a huge positive in his life. Suddenly, he went from competing with the same people to being put in a larger talent pool where his skills could be displayed and flourish.


“I’ve always been the type of guy that only sparred with my won within my group. The only people I would spar with were the Petersons and Paul Williams. When I came out to L.A., that’s when I started admiring my skills more. I went out and started sparring like other [bigger names] like Kelly Pavlik,’ he said.


Loquacious but never with a hint of false bravado, Guerrero is not a trash talker. He looks at boxing as not so much a job but his life’s passion and a sport. It’s not about who can win the press conference. What happens in the ring is what matters.  Through talking to Guerrero, it is apparent competing as a gentleman and a sportsman is important to him.


“For me, I don’t have to [engage in psychological warfare]. Either you’re good or you’re not, you know?” said Guerrero. “It’s like a lot of times people will ask me "Are you ready?! Are you ready?!’ I’m like "No. For what? I don’t need to be ready until I am in the ring." You know what I mean? In basketball, in football, soccer, whatever, tennis golf, racing it’s just  . . . I am just good at boxing. I don’t have to be a killer or a scary person. I don’t have to be mad. I can knock you out with a smile and we go our own separate ways. So it’s real cool, you know?”


When it comes to the fight, Guerrero keeps an open mind. Quillin is the WBO titleholder. He is the favorite but not necessarily the draw despite claiming Brooklyn despite being from Cuba. With his nearby Maryland and Dominican following, Guerrero feels right at home in the fight.


“It’s weird for me because I’ve been brought up with so many fans from the east coast, I don’t feel that’s his territory,” mused Guerrero. “If that was his territory, they wouldn’t cancel the fight the first time. He is the champion. They should have just put it as the main event. But the thing is, I appreciate what I have. If there is one Dominican or one Salisburian, one person cheering for me then it’s my territory because I have to perform for that one person.”


Both men have the ability to box from the outside but Quillin, 28-0, (20) is considered the boxer-puncher in the bout while Guerrero, 25-1, (19) is considered more the technician. Guerrero utilized quick feet coupled with excellent footwork, straight accurate punching and sound defense, Quillin is more of a basic boxer who makes up for what he lacks in technique with passion, aggression and raw power. However, Guerrero is not one to worry about the sum total of his opponent.


“I never emphasize or what he is good or what he is bad at. All I see is what I am good at and what I am going to do. It’s my decision I will stick with it. I don’t make half decisions. If I make a decision then I have to do it. If I choose to box then I have to commit to it. If I choose to brawl then I have to commit to it. A lot of people look at what Peter do. ‘Oh he is strong or he is fast. He’s wide.’ You know, it doesn’t matter to me. To me, I have always been stronger than everybody I have always have that power and my belief in it. I have always had that belief in my speed. And have always had that belief in my skills. So all I have to do is stick to what I know and believe in my ability. From the first round we take it from there.”


Guerrero’s philosophy of not focusing overly on the opposition plays into his game planning as well. Guerrero says he likes to just let the fight play out while he reacts to it accordingly along the way.


“I play it by ear. I am going to play it by ear. I am very emotional type of fighter. You’ve got to believe that you are the best. Once I get in that ring I believe that I am the best. So any time that I feel disrespected or any time that I feel I have to make a statement, I make the statement. That’s the only time where I can truly express myself. You never know yourself until you are in that position.”


Living your dreams is not easy. Even when you spend a lifetime pursuing it, getting to the pinnacle of it can be scary. Saturday night, Fernando Guerrero’s journey takes him to the ultimate dream scenario for a boxer. He gets to be a professional fighter fighting pretty much in his hometown for a portion of the middleweight crown. Now all he has to do is allow himself to win it.


“My whole life everyone was telling me what I was going to be or what I was going to become and for the first time, I want to know for myself ’Were they right? What am I really made of?’ So I just play it by ear and let my emotions go. You know how it is when you are fighting, you have one good round. Then the next round, gets better and better. You start doing things you didn’t know you were capable of and I want to reach that level,” said Guerrero. “I think everything from the amateurs  . . . no I will take it further back. Everything from growing up in the Dominican Republic to coming to America and going to a boxing gym, all of that, this is like a moment of a lifetime that I have been waiting for my whole life. Once I do this, it will open the doors not just for me but everyone around me to live better and to do better. I think that I am capable of doing it. I have the credibility and I have the smarts. Just being me, I can do it. I can do big things. I really feel that way. I feel that this is my time now.”

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