Franco, Tanajara and Navarro: From the ranch to the ring
Two prospects from the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy will make their presence known in the first “L.A. Fight Club” card of 2017 and, at Tuesday’s media workout held at the Azteca Gym in Bell, California, they took the time out to speak with UCNLive.com.
Joshua “El Profesor” Franco, a bantamweight out of San Antonio, Texas, will headline the Golden Boy Promotions card on an Estrella TV broadcast (10:00 p.m. ET/7 p.m.). The entire card, hosted at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles tonight, will be streamed live on RingTV.com.
“Not really. I think, under pressure, I fight better and I perform better,” said Franco if he feels any pressure filling the top bill. The 21-year-old has never fought on live television before, let alone in a main event, but when asked to give an example of when he’s felt any pressure before, Franco recalled last September.
“When I fought in Dallas. It was a big card. The Canelo (Alvarez vs. Liam Smith) undercard. I was very excited to fight but I did feel a little pressure because all my family and friends came to see me,” he remembered. Franco, 8-0 (4), ultimately knocked out Bryan Bazan in the fourth round and, tonight, he will fight in his first eight-rounder against Victor Pasillas.
“I’ve seen a couple videos on (Pasillas). He’s tough like every other fighter that I fight. He’s gonna come and try to win and I can’t let him do that,” Franco said about his opponent. Pasillas, 8-6-2 (5), hasn’t fought since April 2015 and hadn’t won a fight in almost a year prior to that point.
As if his night wasn’t special enough, Franco was set to share this card with Hector Tanajara Jr. – a longtime friend, stablemate and roommate at the Riverside, California hub of the “RGBA” but Tanajara’s opponent didn’t make weight Thursday afternoon and the fight was scratched.
“We lived like 15 minutes away from each other and we trained at the same gym,” Franco said about Tanajara, who also fights out of San Antonio. “We always used to train at each other’s houses, train with each other, spar each other, fought each other a couple times and, now, it’s a good friendship. We’re like brothers. We’re growing up with each other. We both went away from home with each other. In Riverside, we stay in the same room. We’re always with each other.”
“It’s like a family atmosphere,” Tanajara told UCNLive about the RGBA. “Everyone is cool and gets along with each other. People always ask me if we fight, you know, staying with guys, but no, never even fought with anybody. We’re like brothers. Everyone pushes each other. It’s also cool being in camp with world champions, Abner Mares and Mikey Garcia. It gives us more motivation.”
Tanajara, 7-0 (4), a 20-year-old lightweight prospect, was excited to share the card with a close friend he’s known the past eight years but Hector also gave good insight in the sparring he’s had with the new WBC lightweight titleholder Mikey Garcia.
“Being there and seeing the things that he does, it’s like, ‘Damn, how does he do it?’ He makes it look so easy,” said Tanajara. “Being with him in camp, I try learning from him. We look up to him because he’s a special fighter.” As for his opinion of Franco’s opportunity tonight, Tanajara said, “I think he’s ready for the bright lights. He’s a special fighter too; I think. So he’s ready for this Friday.”
Franco also gets a front row seat to see Garcia hone his craft. The younger brother of the head trainer and founder of the stable, Robert Garcia, Mikey is a blessing to have around to teach hungry prospects.
“(The) team is good,” Franco said about training there. “We always push each other hard. In the mornings when we wake up to run, it’s always a competition. Everybody wants to be first when we’re running, when we’re swimming. Everybody wants to be first. So it’s good work; we all push each other to be the best.”
While he won’t be able to share a card with Tanajara tonight, Franco has always had big plans for his boxing brethren. “My dream fight is to fight on a big card – main event, world title, Alamodome ( in San Antonio). Me and Hector, we both want to fight. Maybe he’s the co-main event; I’m the main event, both for our world titles.” His dream opponent: Carlos Cuadras or WBC super flyweight champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Filling in Tanajara’s former TV slot is junior welterweight prospect Jonathan “Thunder” Navarro, another young Mexican-American out of the desolate ranch-turned-boxing sanctuary in the Inland Empire.
“It’s like a little ranch with a house, where all the fighters stay in the back with a gym,” Navarro, 7-0 (5), told UCNLive. “It’s lonely, nothing to do. We got horses there and trails. Every week, all of us get certain stuff to do around the house.”
Navarro also revealed that none of the fighters have to clean the horse shit but laughed at the idea of that being a punishment for the losers of sparring sessions.
“I just want to show that, from my very first pro debut fight, I’ve improved,” said Navarro, 20, about what he wants to accomplish tonight. “I changed my style, kind of, but I still got that punching power. I’m not looking for the knockout but if the knockout comes, it comes.”
As for what he’s changed, Navarro explained, “More head movement and more leg movement. Not just throwing that one punch to knock them out. More calm in the ring, stuff like that. Working on my jab more and setting everything up with it. Before, I’d just throw one punch to try and knock you out.”
“Thunder,” of course, derives from Navarro’s favorite fighter – Arturo Gatti – and, just like the late Hall-of-Famer, Jonathan knows he has power in his hands.
“All my amateur fights, honestly, were knockouts. Pure knockouts,” boasted Navarro. “My very first fight too. It had just been two months since I started boxing. Two months later, I’m doing my first amateur fight. I came into the ring, uppercut the kid; he went down and that was it.”
When asked if he has a chin like Gatti, Jonathan replied, “Yeah, I do. It’s been tested. With Mikey (Garcia), Brandon (Rios), a lot of fighters.” Asked to elaborate, Navarro said, “The hardest? I’d have to say Mikey.”
Regarding his sessions with Mikey Garcia, “Every sparring is a whole different session. He’s not always the same person in sparring. One day, he could be boxing you; the next day he’ll brawl with you, and, the other day, he’ll just counter you. He can do that. He’s a great fighter. You’re always learning a lot of stuff from him.”
He also wasn’t afraid to admit that Mikey’s presence is a bit intimidating.
“Kind of, yeah. Because Mikey can always surprise you with something. He’s very dedicated to the sport. He loves it. The fact that he loves it so much, it does get you a little scared, coming in there and sparring with him, because there’s always something new with Mikey.”
Navarro, originally from East Los Angeles, will take on Angel Rodriguez in a six-round junior welterweight bout.
“He’s very tough, very strong,” Navarro said. “From what I’ve seen, he knocked out this one guy (Eleazar Renteria) for the (vacant) Texas (junior lightweight) title (in September of 2009). I know he got in there with Adrien Broner, Diego Magdaleno and he’s actually beat some guys with a 11-0 record (Juan Martin Elorde), 8-0 (Renteria), so he’s beat some undefeated fighters.”
Fighting out of Houston, Texas, Rodriguez, 5-6-3 (4), has been proven to be a tough opponent but his most recent fight was in January of 2012.
“It’s a really great experience training over there in Riverside,” said Navarro. “It’s kind of like going to college ’cause there’s always different fighters there and different styles that you get to train with, spar with and learn from. It’s like going to school.”
El Profesor will lead the class tonight in Los Angeles and Thunder Navarro will hope to add another good performance as the co-feature, hoping to become an extension of the Dean at the RGBA in Riverside.