When Alex Garcia arrived in Beaumont, Tex., last week for the U.S. amateur boxing championships, no one considered him a threat to take the title. In fact, hardly anyone knew who he was.
“They saw me getting off the bus and they didn’t know if I was a fighter or if I was just there to watch,” the 24-year-old boxer said.
Garcia had fought only nine times before the tournament. Even though he was unbeaten, his police record was more noticeable than his boxing record. A former gang member on the streets of San Fernando, Garcia had taken up boxing only after serving five years in state prison for stabbing a man to death.
Boxing fame was a dream for the immense, soft-spoken young aman. More importantly, training in a Van Nuys gym kept him off the streets and out of trouble. Until last week, Garcia had struggled in anonymity.
Now the boxing world knows who Alex Garcia is.
The 6-2, 217-pound fighter swept the super heavyweight division in Beaumont, upsetting three veteran fighters, then decisioning the defending champion in a title bout that was televised on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
The win qualified Garcia for a mini-tournament beginning tonight at Lake Tahoe that will determine the U.S. representative to the World Amateur Boxing Championships in May. He will fight two bouts against Wesley Watson, the same man he beat in the national finals. Garcia must win either tonight or Saturday afternoon to make the team.
Regardless of how he does at Lake Tahoe, Garcia, now 13-0 with eight knockouts, has almost certainly locked up a spot on one of two American boxing teams that will travel to Moscow for the Goodwill Games this summer. And he has been invited to work out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., for 3 1/2 weeks this spring.
“Alex impressed a lot of people in Beaumont,” said Lefty Pendleton, a member of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation’s board of governors. “Here was a guy who came in totally from the cold and won the gold medal.”
Garcia is only slightly less surprised than the rest of the world that success and notoriety have come only 16 months after he first tried on a pair of boxing gloves. He has trained diligently, living with his parents in San Fernando and working part-time at the same gym in which he works out.
“Boxing comes natural to me. I knew this would happen sooner or later,” he said. “I just didn’t think it would happen this soon.”
Garcia won his fights in Beaumont with a style greatly changed from that which earned him eight knockouts in his first nine fights. A heavy hitter by nature, he switched gears after watching films of amateur fights, where a knockdown punch scores no more than a well-placed jab.
At the nationals, Garcia threw as many as 100 punches per round, about 70 more than is usual for super heavyweights. And he concentrated on hitting to the body, most often with a straight right, followed by a left hook to the head.
The unusual strategy was questioned by boxing experts, who wondered if a big man could throw so many punches and stay strong over four days of tournament fighting. But Garcia’s punches remained sharp and remarkably accurate through the final bout.
“I was amazed to see a big guy come along and do that well, especially with Alex’s inexperience,” said Roosevelt Sanders, the assistant U.S. boxing coach at the 1984 Olympic Games and head coach for the upcoming Goodwill Games.