Robert Garcia Boxing Academy helps students feel ‘at home’ in Riverside

A school of higher learning has taken a foothold in the hillside area of Orangecrest. But it’s unlike any other school in the vicinity. Their specialty is the art of boxing.

It’s called the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy and two of its prized students Michael Perez and Jonathan Navarro will be showcasing their skills at Fantasy Springs Casino on Friday Sept. 30. The Golden Boy Promotions fight card will also be televised on Estrella TV.

The main event features Perez (24-1-2, 11 KOs) facing Petr Petrov (37-4-2, 18 KOs) in a lightweight title elimination bout set for 10 rounds. In a six-round undercard, Navarro (6-0, 5 Kos) meets Larry Carrillo (5-1, 2 Kos) in a welterweight bout. Both Navarro and Perez are mentored by trainer Robert Garcia.

Perez, 26, was born in the hard streets of Newark, New Jersey but always preferred the calmness of his roots in Puerto Rico. So when he was asked to train in Riverside, he was more than willing to give it a try.

“I like Riverside. It’s secluded. I trained in Oxnard and its more city life, there is more to do. But Riverside is more “rancho.” It’s like a ranch. We got horses in the back and chickens,” said Perez. “I used to spend three months at a time in Puerto Rico. Every summer I would spend it in Puerto Rico. I’m straight “campo.” I’m used to it. I like it. Riverside makes me feel at home.”

He’ll be facing another recent transplant in Petrov, a hard-charging fighter born in Russia but who spent 13 years of his boxing life toiling in Madrid, Spain.

“All of it is a learning process. The new diets and boxing technique in every country are different in all the gyms. I try to learn what works for me in every country,” said Petrov, 33, who now trains in nearby Santa Fe Springs, Ca. “For me the United States is the Mecca of boxing. And it’s where I want to be to achieve my dream of being a world champion.”

East L.A.’s Navarro understands why both Petrov and his stable mate Perez made journeys that took them away from home. They all seek to learn that little bit extra that can mean a world championship. Sometimes being away from your natural comforts can help.

“Robert (Garcia) said he was making a camp for fighters and asked if I wanted to stay there. I always wanted to be in a real boxing camp like up in Big Bear. I wanted to experience that. To get away from everything and just train boxing,” said Navarro, 20, who grew up in the Boyle Heights area across the L.A. River. “I love it over there in Riverside because it’s really quiet. There are sometimes nine or 10 fighters up there so it’s a real nice experience.”

The East Los Angeles native has only fought near his hometown so far. Now he will be traveling to Indio to face a Texas prospect. Navarro is confident that the lessons learned in his Riverside training camp give him advantages unavailable to other boxers.

“It’s been different learning new stuff and sparring with Mikey Garcia, Michael Perez, Hector Tanajara and Alexis Rocha. Its real tough sparring,” says Navarro. “It’s like going to college.”

Navarro and Perez think their school of hard knocks can lead to better and shinier things like a world championship belt.

“I have Mikey (Garcia) and (Jonathan) Navarro in sparring. It most definitely gives me an advantage because you’re in there with top athletes and you make yourself better. I believe,” says Perez. “I’m very grateful to be a par…

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