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Fernando Guerrero on the Rebuilding Trail

Fernando Guerrero
Fernando Guerrero


If boxing in 2011 had a name, it would be “The Year of the Upset.” It seemed every time you turned around, an upset special was exploding on someone’s jaw, sending him unexpectedly into Loss Land. One victim of that trend was middleweight prospect Fernando Guerrero. Everything seemed aligned for him to enter into contention. Guerrero started out the year training at The Rock, a gym in Carson, CA and in February, fought on the first 3D fight card ever broadcast. He easily defeated Derrick Findley and everything seemed on track. Then Guerrero met veteran Grady Brewer in another televised fight in June. Sure enough, disaster struck.
 
At 40 years old, Brewer was not supposed to win. He was supposed to maybe give Guerrero some rounds and not much else. Instead, he stopped Guerrero in the fourth round and gave him much more than just a bit of work and an easy knockout loss, peeling back Guerrero’s layers and showing his character. In defeat, he was all class. In his post-fight interview, he praised Brewer and declared himself a real fighter now that he had lost. Rather than mope around, Guerrero went right back to the gym to learn.

“Right away. Right away,” Guerrero told me recently at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, CA where he now trains under the tutelage of trainer Ricky Funez. “Then once I got in the ring and sparred, I was like, ‘I am not going to be too eager because I have a lot of questions to ask. I’ve got to get my mind right. I’ve got to rethink everything. I’ve got to start all over again.’ It’s a brand new year and we’re taking a different stage because we are coming in defeated and I have never been defeated before. So we’re working on all of that just like I am working on getting better every time. But the thing is you never say you have heart. You show heart. That’s what I like doing in the ring.”
 
Guerrero questioned everything after the loss. From dropping down a weight class to junior middleweight for no good reason to how long he had to prepare, the bout just hadn’t felt right going in. On the other side of the loss, he now understands that he has to take full control of his career. Guerrero changed gyms, trainers and brought his father to live with him in Los Angeles. That said, Guerrero is not making excuses but recognizing the reasons things happen.
 
“It’s just everything,” he said. “And you know, I want to thank Grady Brewer, man. For just opening my eyes to never underestimate anybody. Because even though I never underestimate anybody, I still had that swag. And then, just a lot of things in the camp. Sparring all left-handers. No right-handers. I never even got a clip of him. Telling my people, ‘No, I am not feeling right.’ We weren’t even supposed to fight. The weight. For the first time ever…I hadn’t fought at 154 since I was 17 years old. I’m 25. So then, I didn’t make 154. I made 152, under the weight that I had never been [as a pro]. So it was a lot of things that you know, I just had to get my father involved.
 
As Guerrero said this, he gestured to his father, Pedro, who happened to be standing right there watching, intently listening to the interview. Pedro smiled and said hello. I got the sense that everything Guerrero was telling me was not the complaints of a fighter looking to blame everyone but himself. Rather, this was a man who received the rudest wake-up call you can imagine and was now wide awake.
 
“I think I have changed as a person,” Guerrero answered when I asked if he had changed as a fighter through this process. “As the person changes, the fighter changes. Smarter, stronger, more mindful of my defense. We’re always more mindful of our jab or speed. We’re never going to stop learning. I am a growing fighter. Even if I become a champion right now, I still have got a lot to learn. There are a lot of fighters that reach their peak. [James] Kirkland is not going to learn more skills than he does. Let’s face it. He is not that skilled of a guy but Fernando Guerrero has a lot more to give and learn. That’s what I am looking for: improvement of my life and improvement inside the ring.”
 
Guerrero has begun the rebuilding process. In December, he returned successfully against opponent Robert Kliewer and stopped him in five.
 
“I felt like any other fighter would feel,” Guerrero said of his return. “One time, you feel undefeated, unharmed, untouched. Then when it happens to you, you question yourself a lot of times. So when you get back to a fight, even though you are strong and everything, it’s still questionable. So I felt questionable for one or two rounds and then in the fifth round, it was, ‘OK. I know who I am and, boom, I knocked him out; you know? So it got answered. And I still got some more answers. And you never end getting answers. You are always going to get that one person that questions you and when you get that answer and finish them, that’s a real champion.”
 
So now Guerrero has a new support team around him, the team at the Ten Goose as well as his father. All of which is an effort to take care of the details he had previously missed.
 
“I told [my father], ‘If we’re going down, let it not be from little mistakes as in amateur mistakes. Let it be because a guy is better than me. Let it be because he was just better than me,” Guerrero explained. “Other than that, I never want to be in that position again. So the thing is, now we are getting in the position that we are controlling our own career. I am 25 years old. I have been in this career longer than some of the trainers I had. Like my last fight, I wrapped my own hands. Every time someone else wraps my hands, it hurts. So I am going to do it. I did fight rounds with it, never hurt. Not one bit. If someone did it for me, even if I knocked him out in one round, my hand was swelling.”
 
In Funez, Guerrero has the man who apprenticed under Joe Goossen since he was 12 years old. Now the soon-to-be owner of the Ten Goose, Funez has seen fighters like Diego Corrales, Joel Casamayor and the Ruelas brothers come through the famed gym over the years. He has watched, learned and now, is running the show. All of which, with a fighter like Guerrero, is exciting and a little scary.
 
“Everything I know, Joe still comes in and gives me advice but is letting me take flight,” Funez explained of his taking over the gym. “Thankfully, I have my first really good fighter in Fernando Guerrero. It’s kind of nervous but at the same time, I have worked with a lot of world champions alongside Joe [Goossen]. I was working with Fernando for two weeks and the same exact things I was teaching him and correcting in him, Joe mentioned.”
 
In Guerrero, Funez has a southpaw fighter with natural ability. He is fast, strong, not the biggest puncher but what he lacks in one-punch power, he makes up for in intelligence and work ethic. Guerrero has a thirst for boxing knowledge.
 
“Fernando is real talented. If I tell him to do something, he executes it,” said Funez. “He is a very smart fighter. Once in a while, he gets stubborn. He tests me to see if I can be in charge. He is dedicated. He wakes up with my nephews at five or six in the morning. He comes to the gym on time and works hard. But what I like about him is he likes to pick my brain. And when he does, hopefully, I say the right thing. It’s good. I am learning.”
 
Together, the two men have traveled to Mexico for a stay-busy fight this weekend against 18-15-1 (11) Jason Naugler. Guerrero was supposed to be on the undercard of Victor Ortiz vs. Andre Berto II but an injury to Berto postponed the bout. So now he takes the tune-up in Mexico against a fighter with an eight-fight losing streak. Not the biggest test for sure but right now, Guerrero just wants to keep fighting. Sadly, the local Mexican commission could not be reached about the licensing of Naugler.
 
For Guerrero, the future is now. He understands why he lost and is working on correcting it all. The loss seemed to make him understand how fleeting success is and a career can be.
 
“It is just little things that they tell you, ‘You can’t do this.’ Us fighters, we have to be smarter,” said Guerrero, “like watching our money. You see all the fighters in the streets, this and that. My father brought me to America not to be a fighter but to be an intelligent person, be in school. And so I am not one of those boxers that was in streets, not in school, doesn’t know how to read, doesn’t know how to invest his money or is going to go off with the “bling-bling” or whatever. You know what I mean? I am going to do it this way and hopefully, with the grace of God, I am going to make it. And hopefully, I will be able to help out other fighters to do it this way.”
 
In Drug Testing News…
 
On Wednesday, The Ring’s Lem Satterfield reported that Marcos Maidana had demanded performance-enhancing drug testing for his bout next week with Devon Alexander.
 
 
Golden Boy Promotions, who promotes both fighters, readily agreed and left the procuring of a lab and enforcing of protocols to Tim Lueckenhoff, Executive Director of the Missouri Office of Athletics and President of the Association of Boxing Commissions. According to Lem’s story (My attempts to reach Mr. Lueckenhoff were unsuccessful), Mr. Lueckenhoff has hired the services of LabCorp who will be collecting urine samples from both fighters before and after the fight.
 
There’s a major problem with that. LabCorp does not do anabolic steroid testing of any kind. Though their law department refused to answer even the simple question of what kind of drugs they test for, I was able to gather that in fact, LabCorp hands over steroid testing to another lab, National Medical Services, which is WADA accredited.  
 
But there is still a problem.
 
Collecting samples for anti-doping testing is much different than collecting samples for, say, a drug test to determine employment eligibility. Collection officers must be anti-doping certified and trained in those particular protocols. In the day and age of such tactics as fake penises filled with urine from someone else, all manner of masking agents and the best performance-enhancing drugs money can buy, the chain of custody part of the process has become incredibly vital. A certified anti-doping officer would know to make sure a subject goes through the proper procedure while a boxing commission inspector may not. This breach of protocol could be exploited should a sample turn up positive.
 
For example, in order to avoid things like “The Whizzinator,” which is a product made to look like a fake penis (there’s a female version as well) that dispenses clean urine from someone other than the test subject, a certified officer will make the subject lift their shirt halfway up and their pants all the way to the ankles. The subject will then face the officer and dispense the sample into a cup while the officer looks on. It’s invasive but comprehensive. Someone not certified may just hand off the cup, let the subject go alone into the bathroom and then who knows what happens?
 
As they say in the doping industry, test results are only as valid as the history of the sample.
 
Yet another problem is that Mr. Lueckenhoff gave away the protocol of how the samples would be collected down to the time they will be taken. Any doping expert will tell you that knowing the window of testing is an important key to getting around a drug test. In addition, only urine will be taken as a sample. Without blood testing, not every drug that could be possibly used can be tested for. 
 
What is supposed to be a precaution now seems either a dog-and-pony show or a sad commentary on how far behind the rest of the sports world boxing appears to be.
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya 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 Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.


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