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Garcia, Vargas Are Firmly in Their Trainer's Corner

October 13, 1996|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — Before the final bell tolls on the boxing careers of Robert Garcia and Fernando Vargas, both figure to stand in more than a few neutral corners, probably in a few far-flung corners of the globe.

But ultimately, neither wishes to roam far from his native Oxnard, or from the watchful eye of Eduardo Garcia, Robert's father and trainer of both fighters since they first laced on a pair of oversized gloves as small boys at tiny La Colonia Youth Boxing Club.

Robert Garcia, 21, undefeated in 25 professional fights, is close to challenging for a world title. Vargas, 18, a former Olympian who fell short in his bid for a gold medal in the Atlanta Games, is poised to embark on a promising pro career.

Boxing already has carried them far from Ventura County, and both are paying the bills these days solely through prizefighting.

Garcia, North American Boxing Federation champion, will fight journeyman Jose Herrera in a junior-lightweight nontitle fight today at Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center. It will mark the first professional boxing program in Ventura County since Garcia fought at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center in February 1994.

With a victory and, perhaps, another tune-up fight, Garcia, ranked second by the International Boxing Federation, probably will fight next spring for the IBF title against the winner of the Tracy Harris Patterson-Arturo Gatti bout in January.

In August, Vargas signed a lucrative four-year promotional contract with Main Events Productions. He will make his pro debut as a welterweight at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center on Nov. 20.

Vargas, who endeared himself to promoters with his swagger while ascending the amateur ranks, declined a lucrative offer to sign with the International Marketing Group before choosing Main Events.

This week, Main Events representatives, bowing to Vargas' insistence to make his pro debut in his hometown, toured the Performing Arts Center before agreeing to schedule the fight there.

Garcia, who has fought throughout the United States and the Far East, was equally eager to put on a show before familiar faces.

"I've been raised here and everybody that knows me is from Oxnard," Garcia said. "I feel like I owe everybody something, a chance to see me live before I get a title fight. Really, I'd like all my fights to be in Oxnard."

Former schoolmates at Channel Islands High, Garcia, soft-spoken and gracious, and Vargas, ever cocksure, are about as similar as a hook and a jab. But on at least one point they are united: Oxnard will remain home. And Eduardo Garcia will remain in their corners.

"People always have said to me, 'When you make it big time, you'll leave and you won't even know who we are,' " Vargas said. "Some people, when they get a lucrative amount of money, they tend to leave their homes and their towns. Since the Olympic Games, I've been saying I'm not going to leave my people."

That includes his trainer.

As their careers have progressed, Garcia and Vargas have enlisted the support of financial advisors and personal managers. But they have remained loyal to Eduardo Garcia, despite suggestions they find a new trainer.

Vargas, who claimed IMG's offer was close to $2 million, said he refused because the group wanted him to relocate to Miami, begin fighting overseas and sever all ties to his Oxnard training staff.

"It took me about five seconds to say 'No,' " Vargas said. "They wanted me to cut Garcia, who is like my dad. Garcia got me to the place where I am today. Why would I ever want to cut him?"

Robert Garcia, who has been under contract with Don King Productions since January, said he was given a similar ultimatum while under contract with Top Rank Inc. He devoted even less time than Vargas to considering the notion of training without his father.

Much of Robert Garcia's inspiration is drawn from his desire to improve his family's quality of life. Two years ago, the Garcia family opened a local restaurant, enabling Eduardo to leave his longtime job as a laborer on a strawberry farm in Oxnard.

"They told me I couldn't have my dad with me," Garcia said. "I couldn't just leave him like that. Everything I know is because of him. It was a slap in the face."

Eduardo Garcia, 51, a former amateur boxer in his native Guadalajara, speaks only a few words of English. But, sitting between his son and Vargas, Garcia's broad smile speaks volumes about the pride he feels for his two proteges.

"I'm very happy for them," Garcia said through an interpreter. "My hope is for them to both become world champions."

Eduardo Garcia admits to being offended by suggestions that he be replaced. But he says he understands that boxing is a business.

"I consider myself a good trainer," he said. "I don't see any deficiencies in their training. However, there's logic in what they were trying to do. I'm not well-known and they might not be confident of my work."

Loyalties aside, Vargas and Robert Garcia insist Eduardo is the best man for the job. And Oxnard is the best place to live.

"Hopefully, I'll make enough money so I can have houses everywhere," Vargas said. "But I think I'll always have a place in Oxnard.

"Hopefully, I'll be very wealthy. And, hopefully, I'll make [Eduardo] rich one day too."

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