Guerrero-Escobedo for Bragging Rights!
Story by David Robinett
Photos by Chris Cozzone
In recent years, fighting out of Northern California has meant few competitors for the recognition and support of the boxing fans.
However, for much of this decade, former two-division titlist Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero - from Gilroy - has played second fiddle in the region to 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward - who was born in San Francisco but is now fighting out of Oakland - and Vicente Escobedo, also a member of the 2004 U.S.A. Olympic team - who is from Woodlawn, right next to the State's capitol of Sacramento.
Times have changed though, and while Ward has become the WBA super middleweight champion and Escobedo has lost his standing as the next "Golden Boy," it is Guerrero - a former two-time world champion - who has become the most popular fighter from Northern California.
Guerrero (27-1-1, 18 KOs) faces off this Saturday against the once streaking prospect Escobedo (22-2, 14 KOs) in the televised co-feature of Saturday's HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” event.
Ironically this West Coast "turf war" is taking place on the East Coast at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Despite the rivalry between the fighters, Guerrero says not to expect a grudge match.
“There’s no bad feelings between us,” explains Guerrero. “We fought each other in the amateurs, three times actually. But we’ve always been respectful of each other, growing up in the same area and facing each other in the ring. Now its just time to do it in the professional ranks.”
Nor does Guerrero hold any jealousy towards his opponent even though Escobedo was once compared to Oscar de la Hoya as the next "Golden Boy" while Guerrero toiled in relative obscurity.
“He [Escobedo] worked hard and earned everything that people said about him,” said Guerrero. “I know how hard he worked through the years and how dedicated he is. There’s no chip on my shoulder about the publicity he got at the start. He worked his way through the amateurs, made the Olympic team; he deserved everything that came to him.”
Escobedo's momentum as the next "Golden Boy" went astray when he lost a close decision to then relatively unknown Daniel Jimenez in April 2006. Escobedo came back with some good wins over solid opposition, including a couple of former champions but then he lost a split decision in September 2009 during a brutal brawl with Michael Katsidis for the interim WBO lightweight title.
Guerrero's promising career was also waylaid when he lost a split decision to journeyman Gamaliel Diaz in September 2005. After a "tune-up" fight, Guerrero avenged his only career loss with a brutal sixth round knockout over Diaz (June 2006).
Guerrero has had his up-and-downs inside the ring the past few years but he has remained unbeaten.
This Saturday is a crossroads battle for both fighters. Although Guerrero is considered the favorite, he expects to have his hands full with Escobedo.
“I’m expecting him to come 100% ready,” said Guerrero. “This is his chance to get right back into the mix for a championship fight and I’m excited about that because I know he’s not going to be a pushover. That makes me hungry for the fight too, and motivates me to be at the top of my game.”
Guerrero also credits his recent victory against the great, albeit faded, Joel Casamayor in July for giving him added confidence as he marches towards another championship opportunity.
“You learn a lot from a guy like Joel Casamayor,” explained Guerrero. “Someone who’s so crafty and has so much experience behind him. You learn how to stay composed and stay focused all the way through your fight. And it’s a huge confidence builder, you know, getting you ready for those bigger fights.”
Guerrero also learned what it was like to taste the canvas for the first time, suffering a flash knockdown in the final round against Casamayor that had little bearing on the outcome.
“I dominated the whole fight, then the last round I slack off and get put down by a shot I never saw. It was more embarrassing than anything else,” acknowledged Guerrero. “You have to brush stuff like that off though. You can’t let it eat at you and get into our head. That’s why I can laugh about it now. Earlier that day in the fighter meeting we were even talking about how I had never been down in sparring, in the amateurs, or in my pro career and then I end up getting knocked down by a jab.”
Guerrero continued, “That’s boxing though, one shot can change everything; that’s why you have to stay composed and focused all the way to the last bell.”
Fortunately for Guerrero, one less thing he has to focus on outside of the ring these days is the health of his wife Casey, whose battle with leukemia has been well chronicled in boxing circles. Guerrero reports that Casey’s cancer is in remission and her outlook is good.
“Everything is going great with her,” says Guerrero. “Thank God that she’s doing well. Its made it easier for me to get ready for fights and to train and focus on boxing the way her health is going. I’m excited about that and happy the way things are going for her.”
The Guerrero vs. Escobedo is the televised co-feature for this Saturday's HBO "After Dark" series which is headlined by Zab Judah (39-6, 27 KOs) vs. Lucas Matthysse (27-0, 25 KOs). The telecast begins at 11:15pm ET/PT and is presented by Main Events, Super Judah Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions.