A year ago he rode into the sunset, a brilliant flash of light that burned out all too quickly.
Jaime Garza won his first 40 fights, 38 by knockout, giving him one of the best KO percentages in boxing history. All this and the World Boxing Council super-bantamweight title by the age of 25.
Then he took a wrong turn, running into Juan Meza. More specifically, Meza’s left hand.
Defending his title in Kingston, N.Y., Garza already had dropped Meza once in the first round and was moving in for the kill when Meza countered with a devastating punch of his own.
It was pure Rocky.
Garza went down that night in 1984 from Meza’s fight-ending punch and has never really come back.
Oh, he continued to fight for four more years. But starting with the Meza fight, his record is a mediocre 7-4. Garza was knocked out by unheralded Darryl Thigpen. He lost a decision to Georgie Navarro. And finally, in his most recent fight, he was knocked down three times by Marcos Villasana at the Forum.
The third knockdown blow, a left that sent Garza under the ropes to the edge of the seats, ended the fight. And, it was thought, Garza’s career.
Garza, a former Pacoima resident, went back to his roots in Texas, journeying to the Rio Grande Valley south of San Antonio where his family owns a ranch.
He spent a long, hot summer trying to figure out where he had gone wrong and where he ought to go from here.
“I was lost,” Garza said. “I was just taking it day by day.”
He thought about opening a restaurant.
Then, he thought better of it.
“I’m just not ready for that,” he said. “I still feel I have a lot of fight left in me. People think I’m washed up, but that’s not the way it is. I don’t think I’m burned up. I haven’t had a lot of hard fights.”
So Garza was ripe for the call he received last fall from Harry Kazandjian. A Valley car salesman who became the first fighter of the Ten Goose Boxing Club of North Hollywood back in the early ‘80s (“I put Ten Goose on the map,” he says with a smile), Kazandjian wanted to see Garza come back, literally and figuratively.
Garza returned to the Valley in October, got right back into the ring and will have his comeback fight tonight at the Hollywood Palladium where he will take his 47-4 record into a 10-round main event against Rocky Alonso (33-23-1, 17 knockouts) of Bakersfield.
There already have been bumps along the comeback trail. Garza, looking for new direction, has broken with longtime manager Benny Georgino. The contract between the two is currently in arbitration with the State Athletic Commission, and a decision is expected within a month. Kazandjian and trainer Pat Goossen would like to take the reins of Garza’s career.
“I felt I should have fought for a title in 1986,” Garza said. “I was ranked No. 1, but nothing happened.
“After that, I lost my desire to fight. I lost my desire to train. I lost my desire to win. I was slacking off mentally. I was only about 80%, but I still think I fought good. The thing was, if I lost, I would go home and forget about it. My attitude was, if I win, I win. If I lose, I lose. It was no big deal.”
But it is now. Garza figures he will fight two or three times in the next four months. Then, if all goes well, he will get another title shot.
Still only 29, Garza already has been fighting professionally for 11 years.
“It seemed like after I lost the championship, it all went by just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “But that’s history.”
Is it? That depends on which Garza shows up tonight, the unbeatable battering ram of the pre-Juan Meza days, or the lost soul who stumbled through so many fights in the years since. Which will it be?