Photo by Anthony Mair
If you’ve watched a championship fight in the last 50 years, you’ve seen Las Vegas’ Rafael Garcia in the corner. In his trademark Kangol cap, adorned with pins symbolizing the many countries to which the sport has taken him, the diminutive 83-year-old stands out in any entourage.
But it’s the unsung work of the cut man that has made Garcia invaluable to such champions as Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez, Edwin Rosario, James Toney, Iran Barkley and Chad Dawson.
On May 5, he will be at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to aid perhaps the most talented of them all—Floyd Mayweather Jr.—as the mercurial (and undefeated) Las Vegan fights for Miguel Cotto’s junior middleweight title.
“Rafael has played a major, major part in my career,” says Mayweather, who first met Garcia in 2000, when his future in the sport was uncertain because of chronic problems with his brittle hands.
At the urging of his then-promoter Bob Arum, Mayweather brought Garcia on a visit to a hand specialist in Los Angeles. By the time Garcia had wrapped one hand, Mayweather knew he had found his man. In January 2001, in his first fight with Garcia in his corner, Mayweather faced then-undefeated Diego Corrales.Corrales had never before touched the canvas. Mayweather dropped him five times and won by TKO.
“Since then, he’s never had any complaints with his hands,” Garcia says.
Garcia took up boxing as a 15-year-old after getting bullied on the way home from school in his native Puebla, Mexico. In five pro fights as a bantamweight, he was undefeated. His mother, though, pleaded with him to stop fighting. He fought twice more under the name Guadalupe Limon before taking Mom’s advice. Soon enough, he found his way to the corner—and his true calling.
“This really is my life,” Garcia says. “I’m very, very happy teaching a lot of kids. Showing them how they’re supposed to work in the ring. A lot of guys really need me.”
After decades behind the ropes, Garcia has caught some collateral spotlight from the sport’s biggest star. On a recent episode of HBO’s behind-the-scenes, prefight 24/7 series, Mayweather urges Garcia—whose dark hair and fit physique make him look 20 years younger than he is—to perform his patented dance. Garcia quickly obliges, offering up a shimmy to the delight of a large contingent gathered at the Mayweather Boxing Club. Another scene shows Garcia crossing out Cotto’s face with medical tape on a promotional poster for the bout.
But the bond between the brash fighter and his unassuming cut man is more than just hand wraps and high-fives.
“He’s the grandfather I never had,” Mayweather said. “A guy I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”