Robert The Ghost Guerrero continues comeback

Robert The Ghost Guerrero is 2-0 since coming out of retirement last November. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Ghost is back. Last November, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero released a statement that he was coming out of retirement to resume his boxing career. Out of action for 18 months, the lifelong Gilroy resident has gone 2-0 in his second act and fights Jerry Thomas in a 10-round match on the undercard of the Errol Spence Jr.-Shawn Porter FOX pay per view event on Sept. 28 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“I see myself breaking him down later in the fight,” the 36-year-old Guerrero said in an interview inside Pound 4 Pound Sports Fitness, the gym owned by Ruben Guerrero, Robert’s father. “He throws punches at weird angles, and overall he has a weird style. He’s a good fighter, and it’s going to take some time to break him down. I’ll have to do it behind a sharp jab and use my footwork to slide in and out and hit him at different angles.”

Guerrero had just finished a 5-mile run when he sat down with a reporter, and he was jovial, upbeat and relaxed. He seemed calm and at peace with his decision to come out of retirement, especially since he received the support of his entire boxing/management team and the most important person of all—his wife, Casey.

“Everyone could’ve said yes and if she said no, it was going to be a no-go,” said Guerrero (35-6-1), whose storied career includes winning world titles as a featherweight and junior lightweight, plus interim belts at lightweight and welterweight. “I had my team assess me and give it to me raw. If I didn’t have it anymore, I wanted to hear it from them. They’re not a bunch of yes-men—they’ll tell it to me straight. They’ll tell me what I need to hear.”

Guerrero trained for a couple of months before finalizing his decision. When Guerrero first had the itch to come out of retirement, he told Casey, ‘My body is feeling great and I’m feeling young again. I think I want to make another run at this.’ Casey was hesitant at first, noting she didn’t like the fights her husband were involved in over the last several years, which included a third-round knockout loss—the only one of his career—to Omar Figueroa Jr. on July 15, 2017.

It was the proud Gilroyan’s fourth loss in six fights, and a couple of days after that defeat, Guerrero announced his retirement. Prior to the Figueroa fight, Guerrero was also involved in what boxing writer Dan Rafael wrote as a “brutal slugfest” with Yoshihiro Kamegai. Even in defeating Kamegai by decision, Guerrero suffered some heavy, heavy damage.

“Casey told me she didn’t like to see the type of fights I had been fighting,” Guerrero said. “I told her, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll make a deal with you. Come take a look at me (train and spar) and if you say it’s a no, it’s a no.’ She watched me and said, ‘Wow, you look great. You look different and you look alive. You’re boxing.'”

That last statement reverberated with Guerrero, who said he had morphed from a dynamic and shifty boxer to a fighter who in an act of machismo slugged it out with fighters who were naturally heavier than he was. If Guerrero came out of retirement, he told himself and his team that he would come back a different boxer. The positive was Guerrero didn’t have to reinvent himself; he said he just had to return to the approach that earned him multiple world titles in a couple of different weight classes.

Displaying deft footwork and fast hands. Making opponents miss by being patient and utilizing fundamental skills. Doing things that earned him one of the best nicknames in the history of sports—The Ghost. Guerrero said as he started moving up in weight classes—he started his career at 122 pounds—he developed a different mentality, that, while exciting to fight fans, probably proved more detrimental to his career.

“I was just trying to act like this big, bad bully guy in the ring,” he said. “The higher I got in weight, the more I tried to show what I could do (power-wise). My boxing skills, the footwork, hand speed and movement—everything went out the door. My attitude was, ‘I’ll take your punch, let’s see if you can take mine’ And at the welterweight (147 pounds) division, you can’t do that. These guys would pick me apart.”

Guerrero was 9 when received his nickname from local trainer Rick Mello, who was watching one of Guerrero’s sparring sessions. As he rose up the junior and amateur ranks, Guerrero was known for his ability to move in and out and dodge punches—befuddling his opponents—and on some occasions he might have even let his opponents know they weren’t connecting.

According to Guerrero, one day Mello said, ‘He’s like a ghost,’ and the name stuck immediately. For Guerrero to reach his goal in the second act of his career—fighting for a world title belt—he’ll have to display all of the skills that earned him the moniker, The Ghost.

“I’m getting back to what got me there, what got me to the world championship fights,” he said.

Guerrero said his fundamental boxing skills eroded as he engaged in more slugfests, and he plans on going back to the basics. Work the jab. Stay on the outside. Be light on his feet. Constantly move. When Guerrero retired in July 2017, he said he made a somewhat rash decision.

“I just had a lot of issues going on at the time, and I needed to step away from boxing,” he said. “I had some battles in not putting God first as much as I should even though I knew I should. At the same time, we’re all human and we all slip, whether you realize it or not. Retirement was kind of premature.”

So the question remains, when you’re Robert Guerrero, when you’ve literally done it all—win world championships, go a full 12 rounds with arguably the greatest boxer of all time in Floyd Mayweather Jr. and maximize your God-given talent and abilities—why come back?

With the recent deaths of two boxers in the news and the evidence that repetitive head trauma leads to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)—a progressive degenerative disease of the brain where patients experience myriad cognitive and behavioral problems and eventually progressive dementia—a professional boxer like Guerrero has to ask himself, ‘When is enough enough?’

Teddy Atlas, a well-known boxing trainer and commentator for ESPN, extolled the virtues of Guerrero but wondered why The Ghost would come out of retirement after losing four of six fights, including the one to Figueroa Jr. in which he was knocked down five times in the first three rounds before suffering the first stoppage loss of his career.

“He shouldn’t fight anymore,” Atlas said in a phone interview with The Dispatch. “He’s another guy going too long. I hate to say it that way because he’s a champion. First of all, he’s fighting at a weight class (147 pounds) he shouldn’t be at. And second, he hasn’t shown the ability to win at the level he once won at, and if he can’t do that, why do it anymore? This is not like playing baseball or tennis or other sports, where the worst thing that can happen is maybe you get embarrassed. Well, the worst thing that can happen in boxing is you can get hurt or sustain damage, and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt or sustain damage (that could potentially lead to severe health consequences).

“I know his career and called some of his fights I believe on ESPN on his way up and when he was at his prime. He was a champion, a gutsy kid with plenty of heart. He made the most of the talent that he had, and made himself proud. He won multiple belts in different weight classes. When is it enough? Again, it’s an unforgiving business, and there is a time for everyone to come to the realization to know that your best days are behind you and there is something else for you to do.”

Atlas said he expects Guerrero to beat Thomas to go to 3-0 since coming out of retirement. However, Atlas all of the opponents Guerrero have faced in his second act are nowhere close to being at the elite level.

“Jerry Thomas’ last fight was against a guy who was fighting his first pro fight, so that’s all you need to know,” Atlas said. “He (Guerrero) is fighting another guy he’s going to beat, but what does that mean? What does that mean? He’s won two fights against lower level opposition. Are you in this business to do that? Obviously, he’s looking to do more than that, but it showed before he retired that he wasn’t able to win at that (elite) level anymore.”

By training smarter and changing his mentality in the ring, Guerrero believes he can summon up one last run to championship contention. In the 16 months Guerrero was retired, he analyzed his fights and at times couldn’t believe what he was doing.

“I went from a guy who used his head and skills to just going crazy,” he said. “I developed a reputation that I was this banger guy who could just bang away and would say, ‘Let’s go to war.’ You start falling into that mentality and you end up developing bad habits. So coming out of retirement, I went back to the fundamentals of my boxing skills.”

Only time will tell if Guerrero has what it takes to return to the elite level where he once won and contended for championship belts, or if he’s indeed well past his prime as Atlas suggested. Whatever happens against Thomas, Guerrero said he’ll donate a portion of his earnings from the fight to the victims of the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Guerrero said it was a no-brainer to be generous and show love in tangible ways.

“Gilroy has supported me since I was a kid and throughout my whole career, not just when I turned professional,” he said. “I’m always trying to give back to the community, and it’s great to be in a position to give back. It’s an honor to do that, and I want to help out in whichever way I can.”