Jaime Garza was a scorched-earth kind of fighter. Once he declared war, he left absolutely nothing standing.
In his 40 fights, he had knocked out 38 opponents. His destructive dominance was unparalleled.
Then, in the second defense of his World Boxing Council super-bantamweight title, he was knocked out in the first round by Juan (Kid) Meza. There went the title. There, too, went some impressive self-confidence.
Now, Garza's reaction to defeat is hardly classic. Certainly, he won't go down in the books with Floyd Patterson, who after losing to Sonny Liston, added a makeup man from Poughkeepsie to his entourage. Patterson, to judge from the many accounts, appeared on the streets in everything but drag, so ashamed was he.
But to stay out of boxing for more than a year? Garza's was the most famous disappearing act since D.B. Cooper, who presumably took more money with him.
Garza's lengthy layoff finally will end Feb. 24, when he fights Arnel Arrozal at the Irvine Marriott Hotel.
That's more than 14 months since violence, for a change, was visited on him. Whether he has the same confidence he had before he discovered he wasn't invincible is the question he will now answer for himself, as well as the rest of us.
Like most boxers, who cannot afford to admit to vulnerability, Garza is coy about harboring self-doubts. He wasn't out all that time nursing his savaged ego.
"I needed the rest," he said. "It wasn't the defeat. That was nothing. A fluke. I was just a little burnt out."
But his manager, Bennie Georgino, who patiently awaited Garza's return to the gym, has said there is little doubt that the surprising knockout contributed to Garza's absence from the ring. Knockouts, contrary to what many believe, really make one think.
Garza, of Pacoima, does admit that in his year-plus away from the ring he didn't accomplish a whole lot. Three or four trips back to Texas to see his family is about all he can account for. The year just kind of vaporized, as if Meza had punched him through 1985.
He always knew he'd be back, though. "It was never a case of was I going to quit," he said. "I'm a fighter. If I was going to quit, I'd have done it when I was undefeated. I like to win."
And as Georgino said: "All he has are those two hands. What else was he going to do?"
Garza returned to Georgino and the gym in December and promised to work himself back into championship shape. He sees a title bout within three or four fights, one of those being with Meza.
But this time, he plans on incorporating some safety tips into his game plan. "I'm going to box more, rather than go out and slug," said boxing's version of the minute egg.
So if he doesn't remind us of the pre-Meza Garza, he won't remind us of Meza Garza, either. Boxing Notes The Fight for Life card at the Forum, a high-ticket benefit for the victims of the September earthquake in Mexico, has been rescheduled for Feb. 25. Reason: Azumah Nelson, who is to defend his World Boxing Council featherweight title against top-ranked Marcos Villasana, is having trouble getting here from Ghana. Nelson is hardly a promoter's best friend. He once caused two postponements at the Forum before finally being dropped from the card. Also on the Feb. 25 bill are a series of four-round exhibitions with such former champions as Carlos Zarate, Alfonso Zamora and Pipino Cuevas. Olympic silver medalist Hector Lopez is scheduled in a 10-rounder, as well. . . . The Country Club in Reseda will have a rare show the same night. For once, there will not be a Ten Goose fighter on the card. Instead, Mark Wills will box Mike Jameson for Stan Ward's vacated California heavyweight title. Reseda star Michael Nunn, meanwhile, is still keeping busy. He will fight Charles Carter Feb. 10 at the Forum, then box Carl Jones on the undercard of another middleweight bout between Robbie Sims and John Collins March 9 at Caesars Palace. Another Ten Goose fighter, Frankie Duarte, will get his licks in on March 17 at the Forum against Mike Moreno in a bantamweight tournament. . . . World Boxing Assn. bantamweight champion Richard Sandoval of Pomona will finally make that defense against Gaby Canizales. Sandoval, who has fought twice since winning his title nearly two years ago, will fight on the undercard of the Marvin Hagler-John Mugabi and Thomas Hearns-James Shuler show March 10 at Caesars Palace.