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Thursday, May 2, 2013
Updated: May 3, 10:06 AM ET
In the end, Guerrero gets his man

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Robert Guerrero made his remarks short and sweet when he got to the podium Wednesday afternoon to speak at the final news conference at the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theater ahead of his showdown with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr.

"I'm ready. That '0' has got to go. He's gonna have his first loss," Guerrero said. "You better believe that because I'm ready to go and I can't wait. I'm excited for this fight. I've been working hard to be here, and we're going to get it."

Guerrero couldn't have spoken for more than a minute or two, but that in no way represents how long a trek it was for him to get the fight and the risks he took to land it.

When Guerrero first called out Mayweather more than a year and a half ago -- which was followed by a seemingly never-ending stream of media releases blasted out by his publicist -- the notion of the fight was laughed at and mocked by many.

At that point in late 2011, few could possibly have taken the fight seriously. Yet here Guerrero is, ready to challenge Mayweather for his welterweight world title Saturday (9 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime PPV) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

And you know what? Nobody's laughing now because Guerrero earned the shot with his actions in the ring, not just by making noise about wanting the fight.

"He's persistent. He's a guy who knows what he wants and believes in his abilities," Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya said. "He was barking and barking until, hey, you're now in the cage."

Guerrero, 30, won two world titles at featherweight -- 21 pounds south of the weight at which he'll meet Mayweather (43-0, 26 KOs) -- and a world title at junior lightweight (17 pounds south), plus a pair of interim belts at lightweight (12 pounds) when he outpointed Michael Katsidis in April 2011. In August 2011, Guerrero was due to face Marcos Maidana in a junior welterweight title bout but pulled out just a few days beforehand after suffering a torn rotator cuff in a sparring session.

Robert Guerrero
Robert Guerrero, a former two-division titlist, jumped a weight class to welterweight in July for a shot at Floyd Mayweather Jr.

So when he was recovering from surgery and, at that point, never having fought at more than the 138 pounds he weighed against former lightweight champ Joel Casamayor in July 2010, folks thought he was nuts for calling out 147-pound Mayweather.

Who the heck is this Guerrero (now 31-1-1, 18 KOs), of Gilroy, Calif., to be calling out a man two divisions heavier while on the shelf because of a serious injury?

But Guerrero had a strong belief that he eventually would get the fight.

"We're here now. I truly believed I would get it," he said. "That's why I kept on, that's why I stayed on it. I kept fighting the fights I had to [so as] to get in position to make it happen, and here it is."

Rather than just keep calling out Mayweather, Guerrero and co-managers Bob Santos and Luis DeCubas Jr. put a plan in place. When Guerrero's shoulder was healthy and he was ready to return in July 2012, they decided he would skip junior welterweight altogether. Instead, Guerrero would go straight to welterweight, a move not made by an elite fighter since former lightweight champ Shane Mosley did it more than a decade earlier.

The other part of the plan was for Guerrero to fight a serious opponent -- not just take some tuneup fight at 147 pounds. The Guerrero camp pressed Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer to find a real opponent and wound up with undefeated contender Selcuk Aydin, a quality fighter from Turkey who has tremendous physical strength and whom few were interested in facing.

Guerrero looked strong, soundly outpointing Aydin to win an interim welterweight title. It was an impressive performance and proved he could tangle with a legitimate welterweight, especially considering he was coming off a 15-month layoff and the surgery.

But then came the fight that really opened everyone's eyes and made them believers that a Mayweather-Guerrero fight was no joke but rather a legitimate prizefight.

In November, Guerrero took on former two-time welterweight titlist Andre Berto and didn't just defeat him -- he beat Berto down in one of the best fights of the year. Guerrero scored a pair of knockdowns and outfought one of the best welterweights in the world.

"Being able to get two fights like that -- one, a pressure fighter and a power puncher [Aydin] and the other guy [Berto] is a power puncher who has speed and has fast hands and who tried to be like a wannabe Floyd, which was laughable," Guerrero said. "I broke right through that in not even a minute. It helps out being sharp. It's the best of both worlds to get ready for a Floyd Mayweather fight, to break in at 147 pounds."

Andre Berto and Robert Guerrero
A slugfest against Andre Berto -- in which Robert Guerrero scored two knockdowns before taking a decision -- opened eyes and paved the way for Guerrero's first megafight.

Those wins made an impression on the Mayweather camp.

"I think he [Guerrero] put himself in this position by beating a very good fighter in Andre Berto," said Leonard Ellerbe, a Mayweather adviser and the CEO of Mayweather Promotions. "It was a very exciting fight, and he proved that he could fight Floyd. I think he put himself in the position where he became more than a viable opponent. He became 'the guy.'"

Said DeCubas: "After the Berto fight, I think it was set in stone. He goes in there and does what he does to Berto, and you look at the landscape and there was only one fighter out there for Mayweather, and that was Robert Guerrero. He earned it."

Mayweather claimed not to have even known who Guerrero was until seeing a bit of the Berto fight, even though Guerrero has been one of boxing's best fighters for years and had even fought on a Mayweather undercard.

"Who hasn't been calling me out? They call me out from the highest weights to the lowest weights," Mayweather said. "When you're at the pinnacle of the sport, you should expect that. It goes with the territory. He's my mandatory, and I guess he's done some right things so far."

Schaefer says he remembers that, immediately after Guerrero-Berto, he got a call from Al Haymon, the powerful adviser who works with Mayweather and Berto. Haymon had been unable to make it to the fight, and Schaefer says he recalls discussing with him on the phone that Guerrero's performance warranted his being placed on the short list of opponents for Mayweather, who was seeking a May opponent.

"Once Robert started to put together those wins at 147, when he was in the same weight class as Floyd Mayweather, everybody agreed that you can send your press releases and your emails because now you made your case and you deserve to be in that fight, and here we go," Schaefer said. "He deserved the fight with Floyd, and now it's up to him."

Said De La Hoya of Guerrero: "He proved his strength with Aydin, but with the Berto fight, he proved he can switch up his style. He can adapt. He can hang in there with speed, because Berto is fast. It's a different speed than Mayweather, but he's fast. Those two fights prove to you that he can be in there. We talked about this before it got made: Who is Floyd gonna fight next? Bingo. He's earned it."

Santos, who has been with Guerrero for his entire career, never had a doubt that Guerrero would eventually earn a megafight. He said he has always been confident that Guerrero can beat Mayweather.

"Nobody could see what we did to [Diego] 'Chico' Corrales in sparring [years ago]. Nobody could see what we did to Manny Pacquiao in sparring," Santos said. "Nobody could see the things that he was doing that all these guys knew, and that's why we were avoided.

Mayweather/Guerrero
Floyd Mayweather Jr. had been in Robert Guerrero's sights for 15 months, and, on Saturday, the challenger finally will get his once-unthinkable chance to dethrone the pound-for-pound king.

"That's why [Juan Manuel] Marquez didn't want to fight us [when Guerrero was the mandatory challenger at lightweight]. So we were confident when we jumped to 147 what was gonna happen."

Santos says he understood why the media and fans disregarded Guerrero's callout of Mayweather and basically laughed about the prospect before the Aydin and Berto wins.

"You don't see him every day in the gym like we do, but we were confident," Santos said. "And at the end of the day, Floyd Mayweather is gonna get beat. You ask [trainer] Freddie Roach what we did with Pacquiao, what we did with Corrales when Robert was 17 years old. I have all those sparring tapes. Floyd is in the toughest fight of his career."

Said Schaefer: "He has wanted this fight for so long. Over the last three or four years, Guerrero kept saying to me, 'I want Mayweather. I want Mayweather.' So finally it is here."

Just where Guerrero always wanted -- and expected -- to be.