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Fighter tries to reclaim career at Club Nokia

August 23, 2011 |  9:11 pm

Juanito Garcia sparred with world junior-welterweight challenger Robert Guerrero last week in Big Bear.

They were sessions in comfort, not pain.

Guerrero returned to boxing last year after a hiatus to help his wife, Casey, battle cancer.

Garcia, 25, will return to the ring Thursday night at Club Nokia after his 20-year-old fiancee, Whitney Padilla, died of bone cancer last year.

"Robert and I talked about what we've been through," Garcia said this week at trainer Abel Sanchez's Summit Boxing Club in Big Bear Lake. "Robert told me it takes a lot to get through this, and he's right."

Part of the reason Garcia stayed in boxing rather than enroll in college was his fiancee's push for him to continue in the sport despite a stunning three-fight losing streak that took the Phoenix fighter from rising prospect in 2008 to being a failing club fighter after a split-decision loss to David Rodela in June 2009 at Club Nokia.

"She always told me to keep going, she wouldn't let me quit," Garcia said.

Padilla died on the operating table in March 2010, Garcia said, as doctors tried to remove a cancerous tumor from her pelvis.

His layoff led him to change his manager and trainer, joining Los Angeles' Hector Ibarra and trainer Sanchez, who had watched Garcia's surprising knockout loss to veteran Cornelius Lock in Industry in a March 2008 lightweight bout and recalled seeing the boy slump on his father's shoulders at a weigh-in delayed five hours.

"He was basically dead, fighting at too low a weight class, and not strong enough physically and mentally," Sanchez said. "I actually worried he might not survive the fight."

Garcia (14-3, five knockouts) will fight 26-year-old Huntington Park product Hector Serrano (13-2, five KOs) in a 138-pound  main event of Thursday's card. He has told those close to him he's going to "take everything out" on Serrano.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15.

"I've matured, I'm ready to show everything I've worked a year for," Garcia said. "Abel has taken me to a next level. Before, my amateur coach was my pro coach ... you need to step up in preparation. Abel brings out my confidence, and now my mind and body are working together."

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-- Lance Pugmire

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