When I first started writing about boxing in New Mexico it was a new experience for me. I knew nothing about the local fight scene although I was familiar with the accomplishments of Bob Foster and Johnny Tapia. Over the next few months, I learned a lot about both the pros and amateurs. One amateur team in particular, “The Power and Glory” caught my eye. They entered many boxers in every tournament, always competing for the team prize. Their coach was Steve Garcia and he appeared to be very organized.
Some of Steve Garcia’s earliest memories in boxing goes back to the early ’80s at the civic auditorium watching the national GG’s top amateurs participating, including Tommy Cordova and Henry Anaya, Jr. of Albuquerque. He also remembers a Muhammad Ali look-alike from Kentucky by the name of Greg Page. All three men would go on to have success at the professional level. Watching outstanding amateurs like Anaya, Cordova and Page made a positive impression on young Mr. Garcia and he soon found himself at Wells Park.
It was here that he started training under the watchful eye of Henry Anaya Sr. Covering boxing in New Mexico since 2011, I’m amazed at the number of “Duke City” boxers who were trained by the ubiquitous Mr. Anaya Sr. During this time period Garcia also started kickboxing with Tony Sigals, but ultimately the draw of boxing won out. As a freshman in high school, Garcia was now training side by side with the former heroes he had watched in the Golden Gloves. Commenting on his experience Garcia stated: “Anaya Sr., was a taskmaster who stressed the basics. He broke boxing down punch by punch and then taught you how to put them together to throw combinations. In those days there were amateur fights all over the state, so you gained experience facing opponents of different builds, heights, and styles.” Ultimately health problems would terminate his boxing career but open a new chapter in his life.
Garcia continued “I was newly married, and my wife encouraged me to get back into boxing because she could see that I missed it. She thought it would be good for me to teach kids, so I started helping Henry Anaya with his stable of fighters.” Garcia’s amateur experience had given him the confidence and experience that he could become a successful coach. “I quickly learned that Anaya Sr. could teach young coaches as effectively as he trained boxers. Training someone and doing it yourself are two different things. I had to change my mind’s perspective on everything. Every fighter is different; you must work with their style to give them their best chance to win. Teaching every fighter to box the same way doesn’t work.”
“Eventually I started my own gym and I was working with professional fighters, many of them female. We went to Canada, Puerto Rico, Juarez, and Mexico City. I had Brenda J Felter who lost two tough fights to Mia St. John in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We were always on the B side of the posters fighting in our opponent’s back yard. I had to be the cut man in the corner whenever the need would arise. If you don’t stop the cut the fighter is going to lose. The biggest thing is not to show emotion. I was working with Brenda Felter in Canada and she had a bad cut, I couldn’t let her know how bad it was. I had to remain calm or she would have started thinking about the cut and not the corner instructions. The first few times you work on a cut you’re nervous, but after a while, you gain confidence and stay relaxed. Although there are sixty seconds between rounds, you’re lucky if you have forty-five seconds to stop the bleeding. It takes time to get in the ring and exit at the end of the rest period.
Covering Garcia’s amateur teams my first few years in Albuquerque three boxers caught my attention; Jordanne Garcia, Santiago Giron and Lorenzo Benavidez.
Jordanne is Steve Garcia’s daughter and trained alongside the boys at “Power and Glory”. Although she was young, her skills were as good as her male counterparts. She was composed, well-conditioned and well-schooled in the basics. Jordanne’s biggest rival locally was Sharahya Moreu who was coached by her dad, Yoruba Moreu. Moreu is still competing in the amateurs and ranked second in her division at 152 pounds by USA boxing. Their rivalry helped both girls improve their skills. To this day both girls work with each other if either boxer has an upcoming bout. Jordanne had about seventy bouts in the amateurs, capturing Junior Olympics titles twice in Alabama and West Virginia. Unfortunately for Jordanne, many of the local tournaments only allowed boys to advance to the next level. For the woman, winning a state tournament was the end of the road, there were no regional or national tournament to aim for.
The first time I covered one of Santiago’s fights he was thirteen years old. I wrote he was a Hispanic version of Willie Pep. Many young amateurs fight like windmills, with few skills on display. Santiago was different, using lateral movement and defensive skills he was content to figure out his rival before going on the attack. On that afternoon he gave a display in the art of hitting while avoiding being hit. Having seen him fight on many occasions, that afternoon was not an anomaly. He’s a gifted young man with a great deal of talent, the only person capable of dismantling the “Santiago Express” is Santiago himself. Santiago estimates that he has had over 150 amateur fights, winning Silver Gloves and Junior Olympics every time he entered the tournaments. He never won a national tournament but came close on several occasions.
The success that Steve had with his daughter Jordanne and Santiago Giron is a sign of a good coach. Both boxers had a good attitude and willingness to learn but the coach must nurture that talent so it will reach its full potential.
In 2014 I witnessed Lorenzo Benavidez in action at the state Golden Gloves tournament. Standing 5 feet 2 inches, he weighed well over 200 pounds. I thought the Circus must be in town and this was entertainment for the youngsters in the audience. It didn’t take long to realize Benavidez was no joke and he fought with determination for three rounds before losing a decision. Benavidez estimates he has had fifty bouts, winning about half of them. In 2017 he shocked everybody by winning the State Golden Gloves title and making it all the way to the Nationals before coming up short. I witnessed his victory in the NM State GG’s that year and it was no gift. This must be one of Steve Garcia’s best coaching successes, as most trainers would have sent Benavidez home the first time he walked into the gym.
Visiting Garcia’s gym this spring I realized he now was working with several pros and was not just an amateur coach. His daughter Jordanne is now undefeated with a 3-0-1 record in the professional ranks and a live prospect. I’ve seen all her pro fights and she fights behind a strong left jab, forcing her opponents to adjust during a match. Her amateur background has seamlessly transferred to the punch-for-pay ranks. As with most good female boxers, Garcia’s biggest problem is getting quality opposition. There just isn’t a talent pool as big as there is for the men. As a result, Jordanne may have to leave the comfort of fighting in Northern New Mexico to find quality competition. The other option is to pay big money to quality opposition willing to travel to her backyard. Either way, it’s more difficult for a female boxer than her male counterpart to establish a brand name.
Santiago Giron just turned pro, but unfortunately, his first opponent failed to show up on fight night. This was frustrating for the young prospect, as he had trained hard for his debut, only to have it go up in smoke. His only option is to keep training in the gym while coach Garcia looks for a suitable opponent. He hopes to fight at 112 pounds but might be forced to move up in weight to get some competition. The last time I visited Garcia’s gym, Giron was assaulting a heavy bag while waiting for the phone to ring. The alternative would be for Giron to stop training out of frustration, leaving him ill-prepared when the phone finally does ring. But thankfully that is not in his nature.
Lorenzo Benavidez must be the biggest surprise in Garcia’s pro stable having already dropped over fifty pounds. He has a 2-1-0 record against tough competition. In his last fight, he won a decision over veteran Rico Urquizo (5-7-2, 3 KO’s) of Clovis, NM. Like most people, I felt Benavidez had no future as a pro. But Steve Garcia saw something in Benavidez that few others noticed. Now people are taking him seriously as Urquizo is no joke. It appears Benavidez will easily make weight at middleweight and possible welterweight. Steve Garcia’s spends at best three hours a day with Lorenzo, it’s the self-discipline of the fighter that no one else felt he had that’s a big factor in his success.
The fourth pro in Garcia’s stable is former cage fighter, Donald Sanchez. Most cage fighters have difficulty sitting down on their punches in the ring; Sanchez is the exception. He has a pro record of (3-2-0, 2 KO’s) and could always hit with power when boxing. He has now teamed up with Garcia and has been doing a great deal of sparring with hard punching welterweight Josh Torres. No longer is Sanchez taking fights for some quick cash. He is training full time, with the cage in his rear-view mirror. At 160 pounds there are some exciting match-ups for Garcia’s newest charge. In the next two months, Garcia hopes to have all four of his boxers in the ring, with all four scoring victories. If this is the case people will have to start taking Garcia’s pro stable seriously.
Garcia is not into the sport strictly for his own interest. In addition to training fighters, he also gives his time freely as both a referee and judge in amateur boxing.
As with all successful coaches in the sport, it would be impossible to do it all on their own. In Garcia’s case, that person would be assistant coach George Villarruel. Villarruel has the respect of all the fighters in Garcia’s gym. He works well with all the boxers regardless of their level of ability. Villarruel doesn’t go to the gym to poach fighters, the goal is to help each boxer reach their full potential.
During our interview, I asked Steve what he looks for in a new boxer. Without any hesitation, he replied; “The ability to listen.”