Written by: Alejandro Hernandez
Ranked as one of the top eight Lightweight fighters in the world according to the International Boxing Federation, Giovanni “El Cabron” Cabrera is well on his way to becoming a household name in the boxing world. Boasting an impressive 21-1 record, Cabrera is truly a student of the game with the confidence of a champion, and it’s easy to see why when one looks at his resume, beating more undefeated boxers than anyone else in boxing at the time.
Fighting as a southpaw, he drew his style by mimicking many of the sport’s greatest left-handers like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Pernell Whitaker, and Manny Pacquiao. Combining elements from all the greats while incorporating his own skillset, he’s developed a unique, awkward style that’s difficult for opponents to keep up with. And it's precisely that style that earned him the respect of both Pacquiao and legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach, who Cabrera currently trains under out of Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles.
I had the chance to sit down with Cabrera to learn more about his story, including his introduction to boxing, cultural pride, and how his second-day training under Roach led to him sparring one of boxing’s all-time greatest fighters.
Thanks for taking the time to speak today. For the readers who have yet to become familiar with you, who is Giovanni Cabrera?
Well, right now I'm one of the best fighters in the world. I'm one of the best Lightweights in the world. I just fought Pitbull Cruz in one of the most historic pay-per-views of the modern era with the main event being Errol Spence vs. Terence Crawford. I fought Pitbull Cruz to a split-decision loss, making it my first split-decision loss. And you know, it's pretty incredible because I was ranked number eight in the world [before the fight], but then I got bumped to number 10. Then today I was just reranked the number eight in the world by the IBF. I don’t know if God works mysteriously, but I believe that I won the fight. I knocked him down in the 11th round and it was a very close fight. I think it should have gone my way, and many people in Mexico see it that way. The scorecards on Box Azteca had me winning, Skysports all over Europe had me winning the fight as well too. So it's nice to see that I didn't really lose anything as I have the same ranking now.
When and how were you introduced to the world of boxing?
Growing up, I moved around a lot when I was a little kid. I was born in Seattle, then from age 1 through 10, I moved back and forth between Seattle and Mexico. Then my parents got separated I moved to the South Side of Chicago, I lived in Bridgeport, Canaryville, bouncing around through there. Growing up, I had little run-ins with gang activity, and once my pops came back in the picture he said we gotta get the f*ck outta there, so we ended up in suburbs. So for high school, I went to Downers Grove which is like the west suburbs, and that really kind of saved my ass. Being the new kid on the block, I always had to defend myself. I was a smaller kid too, but I had the spirit of a big kid. I wasn't taking sh*t from anyone. I was escaping that gang experience I had in Chicago and I was like ‘you know what? I’m not going to try and fit in here or fit in there.’ Well, what better way to become my own person and form my identity than through boxing?
I was at a friend’s family party in 2009, and everybody was cramming into this basement to see this fight. I was like ‘what’s going on?’ and it was Manny Pacquiao fighting Miguel Cotto. Everyone was talking about Pacquiao who had trained from a Flyweight (115 Lbs) into becoming a Welterweight Champion (152 lbs.) and it was so fucking badass that this small guy came in and it didn't matter what size he was. He became one of the most devastating fighters of the era, and I was just so impressed that I said ‘I wanna be like that.’ I set out to become an amateur, and became Golden Gloves champion of Chicago in 2013. After 2013, I moved to LA to train at 19 years old as an amateur. It was hard as hell being a 19-year-old kid moving to a new city. I fought amateur for a whole year but I knew I wasn't ready to turn pro, so I moved to León, Guanajuato, the city where my father was born. I got in contact with a gym called Gymnasio Rocky, and I started training there. I became a state champion in León, then regional champion, and then I won the Bronze medal in the national Olympic tournament. Eventually, I came back to Chicago and started training in the West Side by Franklin Park area at Leyden Boxing Gym. I went on to win 18 straight fights beating more undefeated boxers than anyone in boxing.
You’re currently trained by legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach, What has that experience been like for you?
When the pandemic hit, I had split up with my trainers and managers. I had nowhere to go, I didn't know what the hell I was going to do, but finally, God had grace on me and I met someone close with Freddie Roach. So I packed all my shit, got rid of my apartment and I drove across the US to Las Vegas to meet with Chuck Cameron who was friends with Freddie to see if he was gonna vouch for me. We had dinner and drinks and he thought I was a good kid. He called Freddie Roach and he told him ‘Hey, that kid I was telling you about is a good kid. I’m going to send him to you tomorrow.’ So the next day I drive from Vegas to LA and right as I arrive to Wild Card, I see Manny Pacquiao’s car leaving which was pretty epic. So I go in there and Freddie is waiting upstairs. He asked me what my record is and I said 18-0. He asked how many amateur fights I had and I said about 65. He asked if I ever won any national tournaments and I told him how I won Bronze in Mexico and was Golden Gloves champion in Chicago, and he was not impressed at all. ‘Well kid, if you’re good, you can stay,’ is what he said. Two days later, he tells me ‘Hey Gio, Manny mentioned your name. He wants to meet you and maybe if he likes you, you can spar with him on Saturday.’ Five minutes before Pacquiao gets there, Freddie walks up to me and says ‘Gio, Manny just fired both of his sparring partners and he wants to go six rounds with you right now.’
Now I was outta fucking shape. I thought my career was over during the pandemic and I got fat partying my ass off. And now my second day in LA, I'm facing one of the greatest fighters of all time, I was shitting my pants. That fear made me move faster than I ever have before. I had God-like reflexes, and to my surprise and everyone else’s, I was able to outbox Manny. I had a weird style and he couldn’t reach me. I get down from the ring and Freddie says to me, ‘well kid, I knew one of two things was going to be true. Either you’re as good as you say are or you’re gonna get knocked out.’
I think the coolest thing about [Freddie] is he just eliminates all the delusions that you have about boxing. We all learn from someone else, and more than likely people are coached by former amateurs who studied boxing for years which is still good experience, but there’s still some things that they’re just guessing on. Freddie Roach's trainer was a guy named Eddie Futch, one of the legendary trainers of all time who trained Joe Frazier, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time who beat Muhammad Ali. Freddie has all this old-school knowledge on the little movements like learning how to shift weight… In terms of power, I’m maturing into a very different fighter. In that aspect, only he can teach that because only he knows for sure, whereas other coaches are only guessing. He’s trained like 20 or 30 world champions for a reason.
What’s a typical day of training look like for you?
Wake up. Drink coffee, meditate, set my intentions, then sparring. We spar Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:30am. We're there at the Wild Card gym warming up, stretching. We have a lineup of the best, hungriest fighters in the world. They'll want to prove themselves in front of Freddie Roach, you know? And for me, it's just fucking Monday at 10:30 in the morning. So it's it's a doghouse for sure. This is the wolf pit. After sparring, I hit the heavy bag, I hit the speed bag, I hit the double-end bag, I jump rope and I finish off with a little shadowboxing. Come back, eat, rest, stretch, get a massage. And then I go for my long run. I usually do about five miles every day and then Tuesdays and Thursdays, same thing 10:30 at the gym, I do my routine with all the heavy bags. We do mitt work with Freddie. And then I go home to chill, rest, stretch, ice and then I do my strength and conditioning back at Wild Card. So yeah, it's two-a-days. I mean, really, it's like the boxing workout then strength and conditioning Monday through Friday, Saturday long run, and then Sunday, rest.
What advice would you give to young fighters today?
Shadowbox. Shadowbox a lot. Don't be afraid to shadowbox because a lot of people are insecure about how they look when they first start shadowboxing. Have the balls, have the courage, believe in yourself and try to emulate the fighters that you look up to because you're never going to be them but it's always going to be your own version of what they do. If you're inspired by the greats, you try to emulate the greats. Your version is gonna be something unique, but it's gonna be inspired by some great things. Don't try to follow all the mechanics that everyone tries to get you to do, although that's important. It's very important to have a stable foundation. But more than anything, what's going to make you you is different than everybody else. It's going to be your style, and it's going to be what inspires you. So pick the best fighters that you like and try to emulate them as best as you can, and have courage. Take risks.
Boxing is such an important part of Mexican and Latino culture in general. How do you feel you represent the culture?
Boxers were the struggling immigrant class of every era. First, it was like Blacks, Jews, Italians, Irishmen, then it was Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, you know. America wouldn’t be anything without it’s Mexican immigrants. Half of America used to be Mexico, so we are the great Americans. We are some of the hardest working people, like we built pyramids, man, you know what I mean? Boxing is the perfect sport to represent Mexican culture. We’re tough, we work hard and we wanna kick ass. We’re some of the bravest fighters in the history of boxing. I just wanna say to all the people from the same neighborhood as my father in León, Guanajuato, if they see me up on the big stage, I want to let them know that it’s possible for them. My father came to this country illegally, and now I’m close to becoming champion of the world. The American dream is true, and Mexicans have been making it true since the immigration wave started. We’re some of the greatest fighters on the planet.
Obviously, Gente Fina is a clothing brand. How does fashion come into play in your life as a fighter?
I mean, come on, you know boxers. We all believe in ourselves. We all have a certain swag and we want to look good. It's part of our persona to be confident and to express ourselves. Clothing is a big part of that, and Gente Fina is such an awesome brand representing Mexican culture. It's elevating taste. It's elevating style and Mexican people, and I'm glad to represent them.
What should fans expect from you moving forward? Any final words you’d like to share?
I think now that I have a platform and now that I'm recognized on the world stage, they should see me looking to become a different kind of fighter in the sport. When I get the title, I will be a people's champion. I have plans to create an organization to help fighters understand contracts, teach them how to pay taxes, and just really do something give back to the people. Give resources so that fighters know what they're doing so they don't get taken advantage of from an early age. I'm also just willing to fight the top fighters in the world. You know, I'm not cherry-picking. I came up the hardest way possible, fighting more undefeated fighters than anybody and I'm gonna continue that culture because that's what boxing is supposed to be. And I just hope to represent Chicago and León, Guanajuato as a true champion.
¡Arriba León, Guanajuato, cabrones! ¡Arriba Chicago! And Pitbull Cruz, I’m coming for your ass.
Alejandro Hernandez is a freelance writer born and raised in Chicago. Growing up in the city gave him the sense of perspective that can be found in his work. With combined experience doing broadcast and written journalism, Alejandro has been actively documenting the stories of everyday Chicagoans for over 6 years.
Photographs by: Laura Lopez @Theartistmeansnothing & Kristina Rodriguez @krod_visuals
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