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Trainer of the Year Robert Garcia on Maidana, Rios and Pacquiao


By Gabriel Montoya

2012’s “Trainer of the Year” Robert “Grandpa” Garcia of Oxnard, CA carries a calm into the room that belies his full but mere 38 years. That easygoing confidence was on display as he stepped to the podium Monday afternoon inside La Fonda on Wilshire near downtown Los Angeles as part of the press conference to announce the June 8 fight between his fighter, Marcos Maidana and Thompson Boxing’s Josesito “The Riverside Rocky” Lopez, trained by Henry Ramirez.
Maidana, 33-3 (30), out of Margarita, Santa Fe, Argentina, is something of an unpolished gem. A natural puncher with an iron chin and a will to match, Maidana nearly battled his way to Andrey Kotelnik’s WBA title in February of 2009. The fight made few waves in the sport but no one could ignore Maidana the following June when he rose from first and second round knockdowns to make Victor Ortiz quit in the sixth after scoring two matching knockdowns.
Since then, Maidana has been a part of the mix at 140 and most recently, 147 pounds. But at the top level with the likes of Amir Khan, Erik Morales (whom, though ancient, Maidana looked limited against in a winning effort) and Devon Alexander, Maidana hasn’t had that extra something that has put him over the top.

This will be Maidana’s third fight with Robert Garcia at his Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, CA where he trains Brandon Rios, among many others in a growing and talented stable. While some trainers who reach the notoriety phase of their careers will take on as many fighters as they can in an effort to cash in, Garcia said his motivation was to take in a power-punching gem and polish him. The challenge of teaching an established fighter something new is one Garcia readily accepts.
“I thought it was a really good chance when [Maidana]’s manager called me and told me that he wanted me to work with him,” Garcia told Monday afternoon. “Brandon was actually sitting with me. I was wrapping his hands when I got the call. Brandon right away was like, ‘Yeah! Bring him over so we can spar.’ ‘Til now for this fight is when Brandon is sparring with him. That’s wasn’t my idea. Oh yeah, we’ll get good sparring. And we’ll get both guys prepared for their fights. That’s wasn’t my idea.”
The third fight in a new pairing is often where the slow changes of habit and what replacements have been made begin to show. According to Garcia, the idea is not to completely overhaul Maidana but to highlight things he is either neglecting or failing to see and build as strengths.
“My idea was that it would be a chance for me to teach him, to make him learn,” said Garcia. “So when he came in and every day in the gym he’s listening, asking, following instructions. That tells me [how important he felt it was] to come to me. Not because of my name, training with Robert Garcia and it helps you in the corner and it helps you with the judges. No, he came to learn. He is one of those fighters that every day, he is telling him what to do. And very few fighters do that, especially at that level. Very few fighters do what he does. If I tell him, ‘Today we are doing 25 rounds of sparring,’ he would do it because he would have to; you know what I mean? That would never happen but you know what I mean. He listens and follows instructions every day.”
The work is starting to pay off. Against Jesus Soto-Karass, the changes were somewhat evident. In spots, Maidana boxed but the fight dictated he go to war as usual. His last fight, a tune-up against unheralded Angel Martinez, Maidana scored a third round knockout. Garcia says that while the work is in progress, those who know Maidana most attest to the positive changes to his game.
“His team sees it. His cousin comes in, his manager, every other week and they see the difference,” explained Garcia. “So they tell him how good he is looking and all that is a part of it too. Everybody in the gym, seeing him and seeing the difference, is making him think, ‘This was the right move for him.’”
Still, Garcia expects the fight with Josesito Lopez to be somewhat like the Soto-Karass fight in that it will be a war. So whatever wrinkles to his boxing game are being added, they may have to wait to be unveiled.
“Yes. It takes time and we are not going to see it in this fight. In this kind of fight, we can’t afford to try new things. We have to be ready for 12-round war. We have to be ready for that,” said Garcia, “but we will see more jabs and more head movement. I think this fight is very important for Maidana and Josesito. The winner should get a huge fight next. So I can’t take those chances yet. I need a few more fights before I say, ‘This is the Maidana that I worked so hard to build.’”
So if not now, when could we see the new and improved Maidana? Garcia says it all depends on when the big fight comes. With Lucas Matthysse battling Lamont Peterson next week and Floyd Mayweather making his last stand at 147 pounds, the possibilities are endless.
“Depending on who we are fighting…we could fight a Robert Guerrero, who is a lefty and a different type of fighter. Who knows, maybe Mayweather, who is a totally different fighter,” mused Garcia. “So that’s where we are coming in and what we have been working on. But with Josesito, we expect war and that’s what we are working on. We have to be ready 100% for that war. With the emphasis on trying to start off being first, taking the lead with the jab and the two, three-punch combinations.”
Garcia feels the key to unlocking the Maidana he envisions is in allowing the fighter and himself to think outside of preconceived notions. Just because the man can punch doesn’t mean that is all he should do.
“I think a lot of trainers [look at a fighter and decide] what they are like so they just train them the same way. They just train them to go out and throw punches and maybe move your head a little,” said Garcia. “But when you see a fighter in the gym and you see him moving around and shadowboxing, you see his footwork - and [Maidana] has good footwork. So you say, ‘Why don’t you try and use that when you know you have it?’ Maybe they never saw that. [Being] a tremendous puncher, you want a knockout every fight out. But no, you have to fight smart too. I see the difference. People will see the difference. In Brandon Rios also.”
Garcia has mentioned to me a few times that Rios can box on his toes when he wants to. He just rarely wants to.
“Believe me; when Brandon plays around, moves around in the gym, he’s got reflexes,” said Garcia. “He has that [makes angry face] ‘doesn’t care [attitude].’ Especially with the danger of the fight coming up, we’ve got to fight a little bit smarter. And people will see.”
Rios just landed the fight of a lifetime against Manny Pacquiao on November 23 in Macao, China. It’s an interesting fight that pits Rios (fresh off a hard decision loss to Mike Alvarado in March) against Pacquiao (fresh off his December knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez). While the fight is off in the distance, Garcia had some early thoughts.
“It’s a great fight. It’s a very, very dangerous fight,” said Garcia. “Especially Pacquiao, who is coming off that knockout. Nobody knows how Pacquiao is coming off that fight. It’s one thing that’s happened to many, many fighters where they get knocked out that cold, they are never the same. So, we got to see what Pacquiao comes out. Is he going to be in the place he was a few years ago? Maybe that helped him. Or maybe he is the fighter that loses everything after that? It’s a tremendous risk he is taking. I take my hat off to him and his management team for taking this. Because Brandon can punch. It’s a really good fight the fans will enjoy. Whoever wins or loses, they still have great fights left ahead of them. Even for the loser. There’s the Tim Bradley- Marquez winner. Ruslan Provodnikov. Win or lose, there are so many good fights for both of them.”
The fight will be tested by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, (VADA), for the duration of training camp to the fight. Details are still emerging - even to Garcia.
“Nobody has told us anything. We should have the contract by today or tomorrow. [VADA testing] should be in there. I haven’t read it. I haven’t talked to [manager] Cameron Dunkin to confirm. Only what I have read on the internet.”
As for the anti-doping testing movement in boxing, Garcia gave it his stamp of approval.
“It’s great. I think it is something that should be done randomly to every professional fighter in the world. Maybe not for four or six-round fighters but once you are on the top level, it should be mandatory,” he said. “Every single fighter randomly. Because if they don’t? Imagine in cycling, [Lance Armstrong] came out and admitted to [doping] but there are hundreds out there doing it.”
You can email Gabriel at, follow him on Twitter at and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
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