Robert Garcia stood next to the ring inside La Colonia Boxing Club in Oxnard, where he trains fighters along with his father, Eduardo, and their assistant, Francisco Navarro.
One look at Garcia, and it’s obvious he is still very young. Thirty-two, to be exact. Incredibly, the former super featherweight champion has been retired for six years. In other words, he hung up his gloves at the ripe old age of 26.
He could come back and fight. And if he did, he would probably do well. But unlike so many other fighters who can’t seem to stay out of the ring – see Bernard Hopkins – Garcia said that will never happen.
Garcia on Saturday will try to guide Steven Luevano to his first major championship when he takes on Nicky Cook for the vacant World Boxing Organization featherweight title in Cook’s homeland of England.
Garcia, nicknamed “Grandpa,” spoke with us on the Fourth of July as he was watching Luevano spar with a couple of mean hombres. A very personable man, Garcia discussed his early retirement, his foray into training and how he has avoided the urge to get it on again.
“After my last fight (in September 2001) I started coming to the gym, helping out my dad with the kids, then I started getting with the pros,” Garcia, of Oxnard, said. “Ever since, I’m enjoying it. At first I thought about taking a year or two years off, come back at 28, still be strong.
“I was 26 when I had my last fight. And everybody thought I would come back. And even I thought, ‘If I ever decide to do it again in a year or two years, I’ll do it. I’m still young.’ I just never wanted to do it.”
Many boxers who come back after supposedly retiring say they miss the rush they get from fighting, and the adoration that comes from their followers. Not Garcia.
“It just didn’t get to me,” said Garcia, whose good friend is former junior middleweight champion Fernando Vargas. “I’m in the gym every day, I run every morning with the guys and everything. But I just don’t have the desire to step into the ring and fight.”
Garcia recalled a conversation he had with another former champion, Chicanito Hernandez, more than two years ago. He said Hernandez, who turned 43 in May, called him to tell him he was thinking of making a comeback at the age of 40.
“I said, ‘How old are you?’ Garcia said. “He said, ‘Forty.’ I said, ‘And you want to make
a comeback?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, Robert. There’s (Erik) Morales, (Marco Antonio) Barrera, (Manny) Pacquiao. There is a lot of money out there.’ ”
Hernandez then inquired about Garcia’s age, and when Garcia told him he was just 30, Hernandez told him he should make a comeback.
“He’s like, ‘Robert, why wouldn’t you do it? We are ex-champions and we can easily get a fight for a big payday,’ ” Garcia said. “But that’s not me.”
Furthermore, Garcia has difficulty understanding why any fighter would want to stay in this sport beyond his best years and risk permanent damage.
“About two weeks ago, I see Yory Boy Campas fighting,” he said of the 35-year-old veteran with 99 pro fights. “Why? Why go in there? Because you are trying to get another title shot? What for? Whoever he goes in with is going to hurt him. I see that in a lot of fighters and I feel bad.
“(Jorge) Paez, he has a very hard time speaking. Terry Norris. It’s bad to see something like that. I just hate to see that.”
That will never be Garcia. He has four children – two boys and two girls – and he has a goal of beating “my dad’s record of seven.” But he can’t do that if he goes back into the ring and suffers a debilitating injury.
“I love what I’m doing,” he said. “I enjoy being with my kids. I enjoy taking my kids to soccer practice, taking them to soccer games, taking them to school in the morning and picking them up after school. I would rather do that and enjoy my life, than having to go back to camp and having to risk getting hurt in the ring.
“Going into the ring, you are risking your life. I don’t want to end up like other fighters that have a hard time speaking and have a hard time with their balance. I don’t want to do that. I want to be able to have a soccer game with my kids. I want to be able to play Nintendo and be able to beat them on a Nintendo game and not just be there not being able to do it.”
Garcia is able to more easily stay out of the ring as a fighter because he invested his money wisely by purchasing property. Besides, according to Luevano, Garcia is a very talented trainer. This is Luevano’s first fight under the guidance of “Grandpa.”
“Robert’s a great trainer,” said Luevano, of La Puente. “It’s pretty much the best thing that could happen, to be trained by an ex-world champion.”