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STALKING TALL : Loss to Stevenson at World Championships Won’t Slow Alex Garcia’s Assault on Boxing

Alex Garcia did not want to leave his dressing room. Not for post-fight interviews, or even for the awards presentation at which he was to receive a silver medal as the world’s second-best super-heavyweight amateur boxer.

It didn’t matter to Garcia that no one had expected him to qualify for the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Reno. The 24-year-old San Fernando boxer was relatively unknown when he won the U.S. championships last month to earn a spot in the tournament.

It didn’t matter that, once in Reno, Garcia upset three better-known, more-experienced fighters to reach the finals against Teofilo Stevenson, the three-time World and Olympic champion.

And it didn’t matter that he was not the first American fighter to taste defeat at the hands of Stevenson. Garcia merely joined a list that includes Duane Bobick, John Tate and Tyrell Biggs.

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With the final bout over, called on a technical knockout midway through the second round, Garcia could only think of the sting of his first important loss and a Stevenson right that sent him to the canvas.

“I wanted to beat him. I had my heart set on it,” Garcia said. “I was real disappointed and I was embarrassed because I got knocked down.”

Blinky Rodriguez, Garcia’s trainer and close friend, pushed his fighter out the door to meet the press and accept the silver medal. Later, Garcia paced his hotel room until the early morning hours, re-running the fight in his mind.

The weeks back home with family and friends have eased the pain of loss for Garcia. Rodriguez has given the boxer a week off from gym work. It is the first week Garcia has taken off since he began boxing a year and a half ago.

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“I was down about the fight. Then I realized that I should be proud of myself,” Garcia said, after several days of reflection. “I didn’t think I was going to do this well.”

Garcia is a newcomer to the ring. He took up boxing at age 23 after being released from Soledad state prison, where he served five years on a voluntary manslaughter conviction in the stabbing death of a rival gang member.

He entered last month’s world championships having fought only 15 bouts. With such scant ring experience, some American boxing officials didn’t give him much chance to make it past the first or second round in international competition.

The 6-2, 217-pound boxer may have been the first to reach the finals with so few fights under his belt, said Lefty Pendleton, a member of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation’s board of governors.

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“Here’s a guy with less than two dozen matches involved in a world championship tournament,” Pendleton said. “Everyone else in the tournament had at least 150 matches. You just don’t go up against that kind of competition with a beginner’s lack of expertise. We were ecstatic about Alex’s performance.”

Garcia said he wasn’t bothered by the pressure of facing international competition for the first time. He slept well and ate three meals a day. But he was forced to change his style against the veteran foreign fighters.

At the U.S. championships, Garcia won by throwing as many as 100 punches per round. At the world championships, which concluded May 18, he found that experienced international fighters box at a slower pace, somewhat like professional boxers.

So Garcia took a more cautious approach, throwing fewer punches and fighting more defensively.

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But caution did not stop Garcia from beating his first three opponents--fighters from South Korea, Yugoslavia and Italy--in two rounds or less. Unfortunately, neither did it protect him from the famed Stevenson right.

“When he hit me the only thing I remember was getting up,” Garcia recalled. “My head was clear, but there was still a little tingle in my body.”

Seconds later, Garcia was knocked down again. He made it to his feet again, but the referee stopped the bout. Rodriguez said that after the fight, Stevenson told him, “Take care of (Garcia), he’s going to be a great champion. Many have ended up much worse. They didn’t get up.”

Garcia, who has a 17-2 record, said he isn’t physically sore or tired from the world championships, but he might skip the Goodwill Games in Moscow in July. He was scheduled to travel to the Soviet Union with the American team, but may want to stay home instead to rest for the U.S. Olympic Festival in Houston in August.

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Either way, he’ll be back in the gym this week. Rodriguez will work Garcia on moving his head more and strengthening his left hand for punches to the body.

“But what can we complain about?” the trainer said. “This kid has everything--the heart, the chin, the punch. It’s a no-lose situation.”


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