- Marc Lichtenfeld
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Ask people to name some famous ghosts and you're likely to hear "Casper," "Swayze," "Abraham Lincoln" and, most recently, "Kelly Pavlik."
But IBF featherweight champion Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero hopes to be mentioned as often as his middleweight counterpart in the near future -- at least among boxing fans.
In fact, many expected Guerrero to be a star by now. Several years ago, his then-trainer Joe Goossen referred to him as his "child prodigy." Just when it seemed Guerrero's buzz was growing the loudest, however, he let down those vocal supporters.
In 2005, an undefeated Guerrero was upset by Gamaliel Diaz via 12-round split decision. Diaz was a rough journeyman brawler who employed various dirty tactics to get into Guerrero's head.
Despite being just 24 years old, two-time champ Guerrero has an understanding of the big picture. He looks back on the Diaz fight not with bitterness, but with maturity and appreciation. "My management puts me in with tough opponents because those kinds of fights are what prepare you for big-time fights," he says. "Overcoming roadblocks is what makes a fighter."
The Gilroy, Calif., native won his first world title in 2006 after forcing Eric Aiken to quit after eight rounds. Guerrero (20-1-1, 13 KOs) lost the belt just two months later when he was upset by Orlando Salido via unanimous decision.
But Salido's postfight urinalysis showed traces of nandrolone, a banned steroid. Despite a clean test result a day later, the fight was ruled a no-contest and the title was declared vacant.
Is Guerrero concerned that every time he gets near the mountaintop, he takes a step or two backward?
"They're all learning experiences," he says. "Besides, if Salido wasn't on steroids, I would have stopped him."
In February, Guerrero regained his IBF belt by traveling 14 hours to Denmark and stopping Spend Abazi on the Dane's home turf.
Many people agree that Guerrero has the tools to emerge into the upper echelon of the sport. The Ring contributing editor and MaxBoxing.com columnist Eric Raskin says, "Clearly he has talent, but he's been wildly inconsistent but at just 24 and as a tall, strong southpaw, he should be a fixture in the 126- and 130-pound ratings for years to come; he'll make some entertaining fights and hopefully make some decent money."
Guerrero earned the nickname "The Ghost" because he often disappears by the time an opponent's punch has reached its intended destination -- where Guerrero was once standing. But he's not a cutey-pie slickster. Over the past few years, he has developed heavy hands, as evidenced by his past 12 wins, which have all come by knockout.
He registered just one KO in the eight wins prior.
Guerrero hopes his star will rise once again when he defends his title against Martin Honorio (24-3-1 12 KOs) on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Rocky Juarez undercard at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday. Both fights will be broadcast on Showtime beginning at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Guerrero was originally scheduled to face Juarez, who captured a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics. But when Marquez's opponent, Jorge Barrios, pulled out with an injury, Juarez took his place.
The Marquez-Juarez fight was postponed, as well, when Marquez suffered a hand infection.
Guerrero will be fighting an opponent relatively unknown to American fans, but with a style like Diaz, who handed "The Ghost" his only loss. And just because Honorio is anonymous in the United States doesn't mean he can't fight. The Mexican has won five in a row against mostly quality opposition.
Among those victims was current WBO titlist Steve Luevano in a fight that saw Honorio get up off the floor in the second round and eventually take a unanimous decision.
In order to get fans and the media buzzing again, Guerrero knows he must not only win but also look good doing it. The boxer is confident that he is prepared to do so.
"We did our homework," he declares. "He does a lot of dirty, crafty things, so it's about being smart in the ring and luring him into making mistakes."
Guerrero's father, Ruben -- who has been training Robert since he was 9 -- is spearheading the strategy sessions and training. There have been times in recent years when Robert worked with bigger "name" trainers such as Joe Goossen and Freddie Roach, but Ruben was always a part of the picture.
Guerrero speaks glowingly of all the trainers he has spent time with. "It was all part of the learning process of being a professional boxer," he says.
He liked working with Roach, but once the trainer could not commit to traveling to Denmark for the Abazi fight, Guerrero's team decided to put Ruben back at the helm.
Considering their history and Guerrero's stellar performance against Abazi, it's no surprise that he's comfortable with his father running his camp. "Not only has he trained me since I was 9, he learned a lot by working with Roach, Goossen and [John] Bray too," Guerrero says.
If Guerrero does win impressively, he believes the big fights will finally come his way. He's particularly keen on fighting the winner of the Marquez-Juarez main event.
After that, Guerrero envisions opportunities against Manny Pacquiao and other elite boxers at or near his weight class.
"The Ghost" desperately wants to be the star that so many have considered practically his birthright. The married father of two maintains it's not for the money.
"I want to be a role model," he says. "I want to talk to kids and show them that you can accomplish things in this world if you work real hard."
The popularity of the other boxing "Ghost" is undeniable. Pavlik is a crowd pleaser with his aggressive style, powerful punches and blue-collar roots. On Saturday, Guerrero hopes to give a performance that will electrify fans and have them clamoring for more of the other fighter with the spectral name.
Marc Lichtenfeld, who hosts the nationally syndicated Through the Ropes boxing show on the Sports Byline network and Fightnews.com, contributes regularly to Boxing Digest and ring announces boxing and MMA events. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.