Ghost Stories: The Ghost Rises
Robert Guerrero's father Ruben (left) was a top local amateur, twice winning the San Francisco Golden Gloves. (Tom Hogan/Golden Boy)
Editor's note:This is the first installment of CSNBayArea.com’s Ghost Stories, a series chronicling Gilroy’s Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero and his team heading into their May 4 “Mayday” showdown in Las Vegas with boxing pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather.
Wherever Papa Guerrero goes in Gilroy, the passers-by pay their homage.
Today, he’s shaking more hands and obliging more photo requests than usual after his son Robert now stands one monumental upset away from dethroning the great Floyd Mayweather Jr.
With his signature brimmed hat adorning his head (a pachucón, he calls it—a tip to his Mexican roots) and steely smile amongst a sage set of whiskers, Ruben Guerrero truly is the Don of Bay Area boxing. But beneath the mystique is a man whose secret to his success lies in the simplicity of his beginnings.
“We’re a family of 12, and we all used to pick strawberries in the fields around here, about 300 boxes a day from sunrise to sunset,” Guerrero told CSNBayArea.com. “It was more comfortable to do it barefoot because the soil would massage my feet, but also because I only had one pair of shoes.”
That rigid work ethic translated over to the gym, where Guerrero took up boxing to follow in the footsteps of his father, a former pro. In due time, Ruben was a top local amateur, twice winning the San Francisco Golden Gloves.
“I used to fight both in the ring and on the streets in the barrio,” he laughed, recalling his neighborhood scraps outside the organized amateur realm. “My wife knows how much I love boxing.”
Eventually, Maricela, his now-wife of 37 years, accepted that her husband’s destiny was to impart that knowledge of the sweet science to their six sons. Ruben, a diehard Raider fan, christened his club The Silver and Black Attack, and the legend of the Fighting Guerreros was born.
“All his kids could fight,” said Salinas-based trainer Max Garcia, one of Ruben’s closest friends. “They competed at all the amateur tournaments together, and everyone knew who they were. But Robert ended up emerging once he got older.”
Robert, the fourth-oldest, took awhile to get his father’s attention, but once he did, the kid was a quick study.
“Robert used to hit the bag by himself while I would train his older brothers, but I noticed he had talent,” Ruben remembered. “He liked boxing, but he was playing football—a running back for Gilroy High. I told him he was going to have to get serious about picking a career, and he chose boxing.”
Ruben, a fence contractor by trade, made sure his kids learned the value of a hard day’s work by accompanying him on jobs. Unlike other teams, the Guerreros don’t believe in lifting weights or new-age nutritional supplements, so the hard labor doubled as strength and conditioning.
“I used to get the hardest jobs, so that’s how I would keep Robert in shape,” Ruben said. “I had him welding, digging holes, cleaning holes, picking up 50-pound bags in the mountains, putting up barbed wire, poles, you name it. Work, work, work.”
Four weight classes and six world title belts later, Robert has become the living testament to Ruben’s traditional methods.
“Without my dad keeping us busy, keeping us boxing, I don’t know where we’d be, but seeing what’s happened to other kids in the area growing up, it probably wouldn’t be good,” Robert said. “He’s always had our back, and he always tells it to you straight.”
Ask Floyd Mayweather Sr., the trainer and father of Guerrero’s upcoming foe, whose profanity-laced threats to put Ruben in check “if he gets out of line” have infuriated the elder Guerrero to where he doesn’t mind returning to his pugilistic past if necessary.
In fact, Guerrero looked forward to his first face-to-face encounter with Floyd Sr. when their sons met for a Showtime commercial shoot earlier this month to promote the bout, but he left disappointed.
“Mayweather showed up with 10 cars, but his dad never showed up,” said the 55-year-old Guerrero, who impressively doled off several one-armed pushups to demonstrate his might. “All he does is run his mouth. We can do it anytime, anywhere—even in the parking lot.”
According to Ruben, the relationship he has with Robert juxtaposes the one Mayweather Sr. and his son have displayed on-screen.
“Me and my son love each other, and that’s what makes a difference between them two. They treat each other like garbage,” Guerrero said, referring to a well-publicized screaming match between the Mayweathers last year. “When you treat your dad like that, that’s not right.
Perhaps Showtime can offer a two-for-one on the pay-per-view and have the disputing dads trade leather before the main event. Joking aside, Ruben is dead serious about Robert’s chances.
“I know my son like a book, and I know what he can do,” he said. “Mayweather hasn’t shown me nothing, and we’ve got the plan to beat him. You’ll see on May 4.”
CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.