Whatever Robert Garcia sees from the corner when Anthony Joshua fights Oleksandr Usyk on August 20 in Jeddah, it won’t be the craziest heavyweight fight he’s ever seen live.
When he was still fighting, the Mexican-American was on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s rematch with Evander Holyfield – AKA the bite fight – and it’s safe to say that Garcia knocking out Angel Aldama in the fifth round isn’t what we remember of that night.
Now, 25 years later, Garcia is the perhaps surprising choice to help another heavyweight puncher reclaim his world titles after an upset first fight against a former heavyweight great.
A lot for the coach, as he will have had less than three months working with Joshua before trying to pull off this turnaround – but at least the 47-year-old has impeccable credentials. A former world super-featherweight champion nicknamed “Grandpa” (not the most intimidating nickname in boxing history, but neither is “AJ”), Garcia’s training exploits have surpassed his impressive resume. in the ring.
He has coached 14 world champions and although he has never coached a heavyweight, Garcia’s past exploits can give Joshua fans hope. First because he is a pragmatist who adjusts what he wants from each fighter he works with.
Great news, because there’s no time to rebuild AJ from the ground up, like the legendary Manny Steward did with Lennox Lewis and then Wladimir Klitschko. Not with 32-year-old Joshua and their first game together being the challenge of defeating a man who took him out and beat him last time out.
Garcia is a coach of tweaks and adjustments rather than tearing down what came before. But above all, his charges tend to be aggressive – and he has vital experience in turning boxing careers into a downward spiral.
Perhaps Garcia’s most famous recovery project was Marcos Maidana, a tough, unorthodox puncher who had lost his two biggest fights to Amir Khan and Devon Alexander when he turned to BWA Trainer of the Year. end 2012.
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Garcia immediately set about correcting the flaws in Maidana’s footwork and balance – and making subtle adjustments to his striking technique. The result was a four-fight winning streak that culminated when Maidana stunned previously undefeated Adrien Broner to win his 147-pound world title. The Argentine then gave Floyd Mayweather Jr a handful of unexpected problems in their first fight, earning a lucrative rematch.
The coach has pulled off other world title upsets with Abner Mares, Brian Viloria and Steve Luevano – ideal for Joshua, who will step into the ring as an underdog for the first time in his professional career in Saudi Arabia.
Engineering changes will help, but one area where Garcia can really make a difference is an attitude adjustment (of the non-John Cena variety). If Garcia’s stable of veterans have one thing in common, it’s that nearly all of them are aggressors of one style or another.
Garcia’s confidence is contagious and it’s easy to see why – after Joshua traveled to the States and spoke to Virgil Hunter, Ronnie Shields and Eddy Reynoso – the Briton chose Garcia.
AJ came up with a bizarre game plan in Usyk’s first fight, seemingly determined to dispatch the brilliant southpaw rather than try to capitalize on his size, strength and power advantages. Make no mistake, Garcia won’t be training Joshua to perform a 12-round boxing clinic like he did to avenge his first professional loss to Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019.
“Bring back the will to go out and hurt people,” Garcia said of the main thing he wants to change in Joshua. “The need to come back and go without… I don’t mean ‘fear’, but… More self-confidence.”
Garcia spoke of Joshua’s ‘mad power’ and it’s clear that whatever technical adjustments are made to the camp, the main change will be in outlook and mental approach. “He has to have that mentality, the killer instinct,” Garcia said. “It sounds wrong to say it, but in the ring you want to hurt your opponent.”
One of the most concerning elements of Joshua’s performance in the first fight is that, although he landed a few telltale blows mid-round, it was Usyk’s left hand that bent his legs. ‘AJ. Joshua will need to establish his power, but he is unlikely to fire from the first bell. Abner Mares once said he assumed Garcia trained fighters ‘to brawl and fight on the inside’ – until he worked with him before his surprise victory over Jesus Cuellar, and the first thing which Garcia started with was adjusting Mares’ feet.
Garcia also said that one thing Joshua’s camp liked about their first conversation was that he watched Usyk train, day in and day out. Before Usyk fought Michael Hunter in 2017, his great mentor Anatoly Lomachenko was based at Garcia’s gym in Oxnard, Calif. – so Usyk headed there to train and prepare. Garcia then had the chance to watch Usyk up close.
However, the location of Garcia’s gym is another topic of discussion ahead of Usyk-Joshua 2. Whether Joshua brought Garcia to the UK to help him train – alongside Angel Fernandez – seems questionable. . If Joshua really wanted to get out of his comfort zone, why not train in the United States surrounded by Garcia’s stable and in his gym? A risk, in that he’s never done it before, but it would follow the pattern of Lewis going to Steward or Manny Pacquiao basing himself at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym when they first signed on.
As DAZN commentator Mike Costello asks, “If he believed in Robert Garcia so deeply, why didn’t he move to California to train? I think he’s spent a huge amount of time in Sheffield, where the Olympic team is, and he’s treated like a god…I always thought he needed to go somewhere rougher, where everyone has a professional mindset and it’s harder, it’s harder.”
It’s quite difficult trying to rebuild Joshua’s self-confidence, mindset and approach in one side. Most of the great reconstruction projects of the past, from Steward with Lewis and Klitschko to Roach with Pacquiao, have been slow to get under way. Bringing Garcia to the UK, pairing him with Fernandez and quickly asking him to create a heavyweight that can beat Usyk is a big ask.
As good a coach as Robert McCracken is, it’s clear that Joshua needed a new voice in the corner. And Garcia has over a decade of experience crafting winning game plans in world title fights.
The concern is that even a trainer telling AJ all the right things — that he needs to be less hesitant, to set up and land his bombs without being enthusiastic — might not be able to break through in their first fight together.
“The Rage on the Red Sea” feels less like a fight and more like a ride through a Disney theme park. But Usyk is the exact opposite of a champion Mickey Mouse. If Garcia and Joshua are successful, it will be the greatest achievement of their two careers.
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