Floyd Mayweather Jr. the prize for Robert Guerrero's slow rise
Dressed in an oversized gray T-shirt and with a smirk creasing his face, Robert Guerrero stared down Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Wednesday with the look of steely determination. After all the distractions, which included an arrest for gun possession in New York last month, after all the talk, which included Mayweather mocking Guerrero's faith for his decision to pack the pistol, finally, mercifully, the biggest moment of Guerrero's career was nearly upon him: A date in the ring with Mayweather, whom Guerrero will challenge for the WBC welterweight title on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET).
"We're going to go after him the whole fight," Guerrero said. "Whether the fight ends early or if it goes 12 rounds, we're going to go after him the whole fight."
This is what fans like about Guerrero. He craves a physical fight. Last year Guerrero (31-1) jumped up two weight classes to take on Selcuk Aydin, a powerful, undefeated welterweight contender who had knocked out two of his last three opponents. Guerrero took some hard shots, handed out more and won a unanimous decision. Four months later Guerrero took on Andre Berto, a two-time welterweight titleholder who carried into the ring with him a significantly higher profile. Guerrero dropped him twice en route to another one-sided decision.
In the Al Haymonized world of boxing, fewer and fewer fighters earn their stripes. Opportunities are gift-wrapped. Having a good manager has become more important than having a good resume. Guerrero is different. He fought on undercards and off TV. He was a low priority for the premium networks. He was a low priority to his own promoter. He took on bigger, stronger, more complicated opponents, accepted the underdog role because he knew that was the only way he was going to secure a big fight.
"Having the proper experience to be in the ring helps build a fighter the right way," Guerrero said. "Then you get the chance to fight different types of styles, so you have different experiences. Then when a fighter gets to the top they're ready for it, and they stay there. Having the mental experience outside of the ring, inside of the ring, putting all that together as a package, it's a deadly force."
Indeed, Guerrero has been hardened by trials, both in the ring and out. In 2007, Guerrero's wife, Casey, the love of his life, the girl he met when he was 10, began dating when he was 14 and married when he was 22, was diagnosed with leukemia. Guerrero wanted to put his career on hold. Casey wouldn't let him. While she went in and out of remission, Guerrero soldiered on, winning featherweight and super featherweight titles. It wasn't until Casey needed a bone marrow transplant that Guerrero, temporarily, hung up his gloves.
"I look back at my whole career, my whole life, the trials and the tribulations I've been through to be able to become something huge in boxing and I've always had to drop two steps back and go a different route," Guerrero said. "But I've always known that there's a positive and I've always looked at it [like] it's a blessing in disguise with whatever happens. It's God putting you through the fire to refine you, so when He puts you in that moment, you're ready to take off and glorify Him.
"And this is the moment right here. This is the moment, with a guy that nobody thinks can be beat, where everybody's looking, oh, he's unstoppable, he's the best ever, blah, blah, blah, this and that. It's time, it's time. God's putting me in this position for a reason and God's groomed me and prepped me for this time to take over boxing"
Guerrero believes he has a number of advantages. He's a southpaw, a style Mayweather (43-0) has, at times, struggled with. "If DeMarcus Corley and Zab Judah didn't get tired, they were winning their fights [against Mayweather], and I believe that," Guerrero said. He says he will be the stronger fighter ("A lot of people underestimate how strong I am in the ring," Guerrero said) and that training in high altitudes will make him the better-conditioned fighter in the later rounds.
Like many of Mayweather's opponents, Guerrero has been critical of who he has fought, particularly when coming off an extended break.
"When he's had those year layoffs and come back, everybody was handpicked," Guerrero said. "He picked a small guy with [Juan Manuel] Marquez. He took [Miguel] Cotto, who he knew he could get away with the foot speed and the hand speed. Victor Ortiz, he just took advantage and took the [sucker] shot, which if you're so confident, you wouldn't need to take a shot like that."
For months Guerrero called out Mayweather in interviews, issued press releases, demanded the fight to any reporter within earshot. He believed Mayweather was beatable then, and he believes it even more now.
"You got a lot of people out there that think Floyd's like a god, the way he acts, the way he lives, the way he spends money, the way he boasts about stuff," Guerrero said. You got everybody thinking that he's unstoppable, that nobody could beat him, that with Floyd, there's no blueprint to beat him. You can't break him down. But you know what? Being a big believer in God, there's a blueprint for everybody. There's a way to beat anything. There's a way to conquer anything."