News September 2013

Israel Garcia "Even Sugar Ray had to stop to watch my gym wars with Tua"


By Michael J Jones

Fight fans will probably best know Puerto Rican heavyweight Israel Carlos Garcia for a three-round defeat to Chris Arreola back in 2008. That bout in California was probably Garcia’s biggest fight but aside from that loss, Garcia also had a respectable 23-bout record and served as a top-class sparring partner for some of the best heavyweights of the modern era.

In various training camps, Israel traded power-punches with the likes of reigning world champion Wladimir Klitschko, then-WBA champion John Ruiz as well as murderous-hitting contender David Tua. Israel earned a reputation as a tough sparring partner though endured a frustrating stop-start career of his own.

After finding boxing late, the 6’3” Garcia turned pro shortly after his 28th birthday in 1998. After racing to 10-0 (7), he would drop a decision to Taurus Sykes over six rounds to lose his unbeaten record.

Garcia, nicknamed “King Kong”, had several bouts of inactivity due to managerial problems but did enter the ‘Thunderbox’ tournament in 2002. The New York based Garcia would beat former world champion Tim Witherspoon in his first bout before being edged by eventual winner Maurice Harris in the semi final.

Five years ago, the Puerto Rican contender finally got his big fight at 38-years-old against Arreola, who was 24-0 at the time. After the three-round defeat, Israel would suffer another inside reverse in Germany to Denis Boystov. After a win in New Zealand in March 2010, Garcia has remained inactive while focussing on his new role as a personal trainer in New York.

The 20-3 (11) Garcia, now 43-years-old, insists he may yet comeback to fight again and Livefight caught the friendly former contender in good spirits in a recent call to discuss his fight career.

LF) Let me start by asking are you planning to fight again or are you retired now?

IG) No I’m not retired (laughs). I was supposed to fight in New Zealand again recently but it got cancelled. I was going to spar David Tua again but he pulled out of his fight with a torn muscle so the show got scrapped.

LF) I hear at the start of your career you had an unusual mentor?

IG) Yeah Jackie Tonawanda, she was one of the first ever female pro boxers and was really good with me. She was always there to give advice and pretty much got me into boxing to start with. I was working in a building where she lived and that’s how we met.

I didn’t start boxing until I was 26 and turned pro when I was 28. Jackie died a couple of years ago but she was always there for me.

Note: Tonawanda, nicknamed “The Female Ali” was much respected in her career from the late 70’s to mid 80’s and was said to have sparred Muhammad Ali as well as beating two men during her 36 fight career.

LF) You won your first ten fights but lost a decision to Taurus Sykes to end your unbeaten run?

IG) Taurus Sykes wasn’t a good fighter but he just got me frustrated before the fight and you can’t ever go into a fight angry. For some reason before the fight we ended up in the same locker room; I’ve never heard of that happening before. He had all of his friends in there and they were saying stuff.

I got in the ring and I was just swinging instead of boxing, he was also hitting me on the back of the neck but the ref’ didn’t say anything. I wanted a rematch but he refused to fight me again.

LF) Early in your career you had several long spells of being inactive was there a problem with your management at that time?

IG) Yeah I kept having the problem of promoters not keeping me active enough. I started with Cedric Kushner, then I was with Don King but I beat one of his other fighters and I couldn’t get another fight. I was then with Lou DiBella but I kept taking fights without being ready. That’s what happened with the Arreola fight, I took it as I was getting married and needed the money but wasn’t in shape.

I probably lost five or six years of my career because of all these problems.

LF) One fighter you beat twice was Kenny Lemos who’s just nearly beaten James Toney?

IG) Did he really? Wow he was a tough guy (Israel won on points in two bouts in 2002 and 07’ respectively). I hit him with everything, I even broke his nose in the first fight but he wouldn’t go down. Tough guy.

LF) In November 2002 you competed in the ‘Thunderbox’ tournament in Atlantic City. You beat Tim Witherspoon before losing to eventual winner Maurice Harris. Tell me about that experience?

IG) I only got the call two days before the tournament after another fighter pulled out. I knew Witherspoon was a knockout artist so I had to box him and move. It was a good exciting fight and every time he threw a punch you could here the ‘whoosh’ (laughs).

I wasn’t really in good shape but I gave Harris the toughest fight in the whole tournament. He hurt the other guys he fought but not me. The thing with Harris was he had a great jab and was real slick and I needed to be in better shape to beat a guy like that but it was a great experience and opportunity.

Note: Harris would go on to beat Tony Thompson in the final.

LF) After all the inactivity you finally got a big fight versus Arreola. What happened?

IG) I took that fight with very little notice like I said but at the weigh in I knew (Arreola) was about 20lbs overweight. My plan was to take the fight into the later rounds where I knew he’d struggle. I caught him with a good uppercut in the second. In the third he caught me with a good shot and the ref just stopped the fight for no reason. I watched other Arreola fights and he’s knocking guys down six or seven times but they just stopped it straight away in our fight it was bullsh*t.

LF) Just a few months later you fought Denis Boystov in Germany, it was always going to be hard to win over there?

IG) Yeah but also I was really stupid in that fight. I’d taken it on short notice again but I started clowning and dropping my hands and he hit me with a great shot and I suffered the first knock-down of my career. I got up but the ref stopped it again straight away.

God knows what these (European) guys are on they hit like mules (laughs).

LF) Aside from your career you sparred many top class fighters have you any stories you can tell us?

IG) I remember sparring John Ruiz before his (WBA title defence) with Fres Oquendo which was funny as I was supposed to spar Fres! I was waiting to go and spar Oquendo but they didn’t call so Ruiz’ trainer calls me and offers me $1500 a week to spar close to home instead of the $500 I was supposed to get to work with the Oquendo camp in Puerto Rico (laughs).

I was in camp over in Spain with Wladimir Klitschko. Wladimir is a really big guy, always in great shape and really tries to hurt you in sparring. So then one day it’s my turn to spar him. He hit me with a right and it was so hard it sent shocks down my right arm. I was like “oh sh*t I gotta’ move!”

LF) I read that you were seriously hurt by David Tua shortly before your last fight in New Zealand?

IG) No that’s not true the promoter made that up to hype the fight Tua never hurt me. Tua never wears headgear for sparring and I remember when I first got in the ring with him I couldn’t believe his legs. He had the hugest legs I’d ever seen!

David Tua hit so hard a lot of the guys were afraid to hit him back but I was always “if you hit me I’ll hit you right back.” His trainer Roger Bloodworth later told me that after the first round we did Tua went back to his corner and said “man this guy is trying to kill me” (laughs).

We had some real gym wars and I remember Sugar Ray Leonard coming over to do some promotion work and stopping by the gym. He said he’d stop to watch one round of sparring between me and Tua and he ended up watching our whole five rounds.

That’s where I got my fight experience was in all those sparring sessions. I only ever had eight amateur fights before turning pro.

LF) On the night when Tua knocked out Shane Cameron, you had your last fight against Brett Smith. He hit you low, head-butted you, body-slammed you and finally got disqualified for trying to throw you out the ring. It was more like the WWF than a boxing match?

IG) Yeah he was an MMA fighter who came in at late notice. He couldn’t do anything with me so just kept (fouling). He was in the wrong sport!

LF) In your own career is there anyone you wish you’d had the chance to fight but didn’t?

IG) Evander Holyfield. We were very close to fighting a year after the ‘Thunderbox’ tournament but he asked for too much money so it never happened. He was one of my favourite fighters able to take a punch and give one right back.

LF) You are a personal trainer now do you incorporate boxing into your workouts?

IG) No, I built my gym in my cellar and it’s not a boxing gym. I work mostly just getting people in shape. I do one-on-one sessions and it’s pretty intense. I’ve even had body-builders struggle to keep up. I push hard but if someone can get past that they’ll feel better for it. I had one guy 55-years-old who had suffered for years with back trouble. He said he’d never been able to run up the stairs but, after working with me, he can now.

I’d like one day to study to become a boxing trainer but I’m happy doing what I’m doing for now.

LF) Israel it’s been great talking with you.

IG) Thank you anytime.

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