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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Oxnard, Garcia Ready to Party

Boxing: Undefeated junior-lightweight will fight Warren tonight in Miami for IBF title.

March 13, 1998|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A fiesta five years in the making might soon be in store for Robert Garcia.

The 23-year-old junior-lightweight from Oxnard finally will fight for a world title when he faces Harold Warren for the vacant International Boxing Federation championship tonight at Miccosukee Indian Gaming Reservation in Miami.

Garcia, undefeated in 29 professional fights and ranked No. 1 by the IBF, fought his first prizefight while he was a senior at Channel Islands High. Yet, progress has come slowly in the professional ranks.

Frustrated for two years under promoter Don King, Garcia severed those ties late last year and will fight for the first time under the banner of Main Events and promoter Dino Duva.

The arrangement pairs Garcia with friend and former U.S. Olympic welterweight Fernando Vargas, who signed a lucrative multi-year contract with Main Events after the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Garcia and Vargas grew up as stablemates at La Colonia Youth Boxing Club and are trained by Eduardo Garcia, Robert's father.

Vargas, undefeated in nine fights since turning pro a year ago, will fight Dan Connolly of Pittsburgh on the undercard tonight. Future fight cards are sure to include Garcia and Vargas.

Garcia, vying to become the first world champion from Ventura County, will claim the spotlight tonight on a card that will be televised nationally by ESPN starting at 5:30.

"It's finally my time, my title fight," Garcia said by phone from training camp in West Palm Beach. "It's every boxer's dream. I feel proud of myself and I'm happy for everybody that has supported me throughout my career. They haven't lost confidence in me."

Nor their affection.

A celebration of grand proportions is planned in anticipation of Garcia's return with the championship belt, beginning the moment he steps off the plane.

Garcia is scheduled to be feted at a local park and will be presented a key to the city by Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez. The city council is expected to honor the fighter at its meeting next week.

All of which makes the soft-spoken fighter a tad reluctant.

"I'd rather just go straight home and relax and spend time with my family and my kids," Garcia said. "I don't really like it all that much, but if they want to receive me with a nice welcome, I'll be happy to have it. The people are behind me."

The welcome rings of Vargas' reception upon his return from Atlanta, despite his failure to win a gold medal.

Vargas, who appears destined for a rapid ascent in the pro ranks, has outshone Garcia in his brief career.

Garcia harbors no resentment.

"I've always understood because the Olympics is a big deal," Garcia said. "Everybody who goes to the Olympics deserves everything. I know how hard it is to make the Olympics. I tried and I couldn't make it. He made it and he deserved a big welcome.

"But me being the first world champion out of Oxnard, I deserve it too."

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