Carlos Navarro’s careful, spectacular career took a hairpin turn last month, and even now the introspective 19-year-old is barely beginning to realize the consequences.
Internationally proven, Navarro went to the Olympic trials in Oakland as the odds-on favorite in the 125-pound division, and he was considered one of the United States’ best chances for Olympic gold this summer.
For years, Navarro’s angular, left-handed style dominated the amateur ranks, and his path was obvious: Repeat Oscar De La Hoya’s trajectory from Los Angeles roots to Olympic triumph to swift professional success.
Everything in his life was geared toward Atlanta and gold.
Then Navarro shockingly lost twice--a tight decision to Augie Sanchez and a lopsided loss to eventual 125-pound team member, Floyd Mayweather--in Oakland, which abruptly ended his amateur career.
Now Navarro is merely another young fighter in Joe Goossen’s Van Nuys gym, waiting for his pro debut and wincing every time he sees an Olympic commercial or ruminates about what he has lost.
“For three whole years, I was a national champion--and two amateur world titles,” Navarro said this week. “And for me to just all of a sudden stop and not go the Olympics. . . .
“When I lost, my dad and my mom, they started crying. They said it was all right, all I have to do is keep going. But I think I let myself down as well.
“For three whole years, I had it in my head I was going to go the Olympics. Then, it just stopped.”
Navarro took two weeks off after the losses, turned down a request from USA Boxing to go to Atlanta as an alternate and began planning his professional career with his longtime boxing mentors, Gabriel Ruelas (his pro manager), Rafael Ruelas and Joe Goossen (his trainer).
Navarro has flourished in the Goossen camp, sparring against high-level professionals and watching the Ruelases work and fight for world titles. His work there, all observers agree, will make his transition to the pros smoother.
But, considering the highly selective, often-bizarre Olympic scoring system (which counts a clean jab the same as a vicious body blow or knockdown), Navarro suggests that he might have trained too much like a professional and paid too little attention to the amateur style.
In between stints with Goossen and the Ruelases, Navarro worked with Frank Rivera at the LA Boxing Club, then left Rivera about a year ago.
“When I ask myself, ‘What happened?’ I think about the training here, it’s a lot of pro training,” Navarro said of the Goossen gym. “And I guess I needed a little more of amateur training, more speed and a lot of straight punches.”
Navarro says there’s nobody to fault but himself and his family, because they’re the ones who made the choice to train with professionals.
“At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about it, because while I was training, I felt good,” Navarro said. “I was thinking, I don’t think I need anything else.
“But when I was getting close to my tournament, that’s when I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m not working on my speed, I’m not working on my combinations that much.’
“If I would have stayed with Frank, the way he was training me, I think I would have been in the Olympics. Maybe I made a mistake, but what can I do now? What’s done is done.”
The negative-into-a-positive angle of this story is that Navarro can get an earlier start on his pro career. Because he already is used to the pro style, there shouldn’t be a major adjustment period when the headgear comes off and the fights last longer than three computer-scored rounds.
Gabriel Ruelas says he wants Navarro to show him in the gym how badly he wants his first fight before Ruelas makes it happen. Navarro says he’d like to make his debut in late June, but Ruelas (who, like his brother, failed to make the Olympics as an amateur) says it probably won’t happen before July.
“I told him you have a great example in front of you,” Gabriel Ruelas said, referring to his brother and his march from unknown to champion. “See what we did. Yeah, it’s going to take a while. It’s up to you. Just like you didn’t win a medal, you might not win a world title.”
Navarro says one of the toughest things to deal with has been the disappointment of his 14-year-old brother, Ignacio, also a standout amateur who is being pointed toward the 2000 Games.
“He would always tell me, ‘OK, we’re going to make history, two brothers going to the Olympics and we’re going to win gold medals,’ ” Navarro said. “That hurt me a lot. That was one of his dreams, but it’s not going to come true, because I lost, I messed up.”
Lennox Lewis almost lost to Ray Mercer earlier this month, but won the court battle with Mike Tyson and Don King, then settled for a cool $4 million to give up his judge-mandated right to be Tyson’s next opponent. Lewis is signed to fight on Time Warner-HBO, and Tyson is locked up on Viacom-Showtime, and nobody could figure out how to get out of the television commitments. Tyson probably will give up his World Boxing Council belt after his July 13 bout with World Boxing Assn. seat-warmer Bruce Seldon, and Lewis will either fight a designated challenger for the WBC belt or go straight to a long-awaited Riddick Bowe bout.
Jesus Rivero, Oscar De La Hoya’s provocative trainer from Mexico, already has zinged Julio Cesar Chavez as the two sides prepare for their June 7 bout. Rivero recently questioned why Mexicans should consider Chavez a hero, since he supported and received support from the allegedly corrupt regime of former president Carlos Salinas. Chavez responded by saying that Rivero was a liar and could train De La Hoya for three years and still wouldn’t do De La Hoya any good. “Chavez is nervous,” Rivero said through a translator when he heard about Chavez’s comments.
Channel 9 and Forum Boxing resume their boxing series June 1 with Alberto “Raton” Jimenez defending his World Boxing Organization flyweight title against Jose Lopez. . . . Former light-flyweight champion Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez says he will fight once more, although hopes for a rematch against Saman Sorjaturong are slim. . . . After his third-round knockout of Ameth Aranda, powerful junior-welterweight prospect Hector Quiroz, who seems to have benefited enormously from weeks of sparring with De La Hoya, has officially signed with the Forum. . . . Another former amateur standout who lost at the Olympic trials, heavyweight Lance Whitaker, is working with the Joe Goossen stable.
May 30, at the Irvine Marriott:
* Carlos Rubio vs. Carlos Guzman, super-lightweights; Rodrigo Valenzuela vs. Alvaro Soto, junior-featherweights; Santiago Franco vs. Steve Von Schert, welterweights; Malcolm Brooks vs. Nick Martinez, super-middleweights; Moncino North vs. Rick Phillips, heavyweights.