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Boxing: Salvation of Israel

Boxing: Salvation of Israel

Name the man involved in the David Tua-Friday Ahunanya bout next month who has fought the toughest international boxing opposition. Clue: It’s not Tua. Nor Ahunanya.

Israel Garcia, Tua’s sparring partner for this fight, heads the undercard for the Tua bout and his clash with former NRL rugby league star Solomon Haumono will be interesting. As Garcia has fought heavyweight title contender Chris Arreola and upcoming Russian puncher Dennis Boytsov.

He has also sparred with titleholders Wladimir Klitchsko, John Ruiz and Oleg Maskaev and, while Garcia predictably rates Tua as the toughest fighter he has sparred with, Garcia himself is an intriguing story.

Raised in the tough, poor Brooklyn suburb of Bushwick, predominantly black and Puerto Rican and ridden with crime, Garcia is a guns-to-gloves tale of how boxing can be a salvation.

Arrested and convicted of drugs and gun charges in his early 20s, Garcia served a year in New York’s Rikers Island prison.

He is now 34 and, after clearing the crime hurdle, he is now faced with another – trying to get a boxing career back on line after his career stalled for five years when he struck promotional problems getting decent fights.

“In my neighbourhood, you either used drugs or sold them,” says Garcia. “I never used them but you needed the guns for protection. It was a tough life but it was all I knew at the time.

“But a year in jail helped me to grow up. I just knew I didn’t want to be there and, over a year, I saw so many come and go that I worked out there were two ways – you could get out and never come back or you just kept showing up in jail, again and again.”

The clincher was being inside for his daughter’s first birthday.

“Man. That was a heartbreaker,” he says. “I knew then what I had to do. Get out and stay out. I then met someone who got me interested in boxing [his trainer George Cosme].”

He also got a job outside boxing – he is a building superintendent with a small stable of buildings under his control – and is almost as proud of his stable life outside boxing as he is of his boxing career.

That moved along nicely with 10 victories until his first defeat, to the reasonably well-performed Taurus Sykes (who beat, among others, Friday Ahunanya).

Even then, he put together another run of four wins over little-known opposition before hitting the promotional freeze when he didn’t fight at all for nearly three years.

He then managed only five fights over the next three years before taking on Arreola, the promising heavyweight who was given a boxing lesson by the other Klitchsko, Vitali, in a recent title bout.

Arreloa beat Garcia by TKO after three rounds and Garcia lost by TKO again, in two rounds, to the 24-year-old Boytsov’s power.