Librado Andrade: “Today is the biggest moment of my life.”
By Chris Akers
I finally got the chance to interview former world super-middleweight title challenger Librado Andrade. I said finally, as the original interview was put back a week due to Andrade working for PBC in the run up to the Canelo Alvarez vs Callum Plant bout.
“It was an amazing environment,” says Andrade of the historic contest. “It was a great atmosphere. It was fun.
“Canelo brings so much to the table. He brings so much to the boxing world. To become the first undisputed champion from Mexico to hold all of the belts at super middleweight. That moment was huge.”
Throughout my interview with Andrade via Zoom, despite the places he travelled and the high calibre of opponent he fought, he comes across as humble. A man who is grateful for the opportunities that boxing has given him. Maybe this was due to the beginnings of his life, living in two different countries and experiencing two different cultures before he reached high school.
“I grew up in America. I was born in Mexico,” recalls Andrade. “When I was 10 years old, we came to the United States and that’s basically where I learned how to box and grew up in La Habra, California and since then I’ve been in the United States.”
Crossing the border into the States, Andrade and his family were put into a hotel. It was then that he saw amenities that those living in America and most of the Western world would take for granted.
“That was the very first time I’d seen a shower and a bathtub. We’d seen tv in colour in Mexico but that was the first time I saw one that was available all the time. It was very exciting and everything was new to me because in Mexico we didn’t have any of those luxuries.”
The first six years of his stay in La Habra, Andrade struggled to learn English. Yet he persevered. At around the same time, he started going to a boxing club, near where he was living, which was situated in an abandoned church.
“It was a building that belonged to the city. The city gave Dave Martinez permission to use it as a boxing club, to get kids and get them together. That program started in 1982 and it was very successful. So, they kept it open and that is where I grew up.”
Dave Martinez was Andrade’s first trainer. The one that helped him helped him focus on boxing, as opposed to the other activities that were at the club.
“The club had a football and pool table. There were a lot of kids waiting in line for our turn at the pool table. While we were waiting, we would grab some gloves and start hitting the bag. One day Dave approached me and said ‘Come here. Let me show you how to throw the correct way.’ I moved to the centre of the ring and he showed me a jab and a right cross. I got hooked that day. I started going every day and I don’t want to go play pool. I want to go hit the bag. For an hour and a half, I would just hit the bag and within six weeks, he put me in a tournament, because I was sparring with a kid that was really good. And he would beat me up! But it was so exciting, it was so different.”
It was not long before Andrade fought as an amateur, though he was not initially finding success in the ring.
“I was a horrible amateur fighter. I fought within a month and lost, but it was so exciting as I made the kid bleed from the nose. It felt like a real accomplishment for me! Then I fought again within a month and lost again. Then I lost and l lost and I lost.”
In the next 10 years, Andrade would only fight once a year. At this point, he had fourteen amateur fights and lost them all. High school beckoned and Andrade took a break from the sport for the next two to three years.
“I started working at a fast food restaurant and I started gaining weight. I didn’t know how to do any other exercise than to box. I went back to boxing just for the exercise.”
Andrade’s perseverance came to the fore during the training sessions and he was entered into another amateur contest. This time he won. Things appeared to be on the up in his amateur career. Yet outside forces dictated that no matter how hard he worked, he would have no future in the amateur ranks.
“At the time I was an illegal immigrant, so I couldn’t go further with my amateur career. Some people said that in Mexico there are no amateurs, would you send them to Mexico. But they couldn’t send me to Mexico as I was an illegal immigrant and if I went back to Mexico, I wouldn’t be able to come back to the United States. I only won one fight as an amateur. There was no future as an amateur.”
Another boy he had grown up with, who himself had success as an amateur at the highest level, was to change the trajectory of Andrade’s boxing career and life in general.
“What changed everything was a kid I grew up with named Julio Gonzalez, was doing very well. He went to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He lost to the Russian Tiger Vassiliy Jirov in the first round, but Jirov went on to become a gold medallist.
“Julio came back from the Olympics and started training to be a professional. Nobody was able to take the punishment from Julio when they were sparring. I knew him from when we were kids, so I started sparring with him. He used to beat me up. He used to put a beating on me. One of those days I said that the next time Julio comes back, I was gonna kick his ass! I started running and I made running my best friend.
“When Julio came back after a few fights for some sparring, I was ready for him. I wasn’t going to get tried. And I beat the crap out of him this time! My trainer was said that I trained so hard and that Julio is already 8-0 as a professional. Why don’t you try and be a professional? I said that I would try it.
“That month, because at that time I was newly married and had a daughter, I ask how much will they pay me? $400. Alright, I’ll do it. That $400 was what I earned in a week at Jack in the Box (fast food restaurant). I go over there, I fought and I won. It was at a racetrack, so they would do a race with the horses and then a boxing match. When I came down out of the ring, everybody was so excited, saying ‘Oh you fight like Rocky!’.
“The following month I have another fight and I win. I just keep winning. I couldn’t believe it. But the thing with me is that I wasn’t a great fighter. I was in great condition. I was so relentless, coming forward just throwing punches, it was very tough for whoever fought me. That was the beginning of my career.”
Andrade was still maintaining a full time job while still fighting in the early part of his professional career.
“My regular job was at a Jack in a Box from six to two. I couldn’t change my schedule as I would train from four to seven. I never wanted to change my schedule and I never wanted to get a promotion. I was just a regular employee. Though they would offer me the chance to be a manager, I would say I was fine, as inside of me I knew something bigger was going to come.”
Under the radar, he developed an unbeaten record and put himself in a position to be mandatory for Joe Calzaghe’s belt. But the fight never happened.
“There’s even an article where after we wanted to fight with him, and his words I’ll never forget it, Calzaghe doesn’t fancy you. That was the first time I heard it. I guess that’s a word you use in the UK. Because no one knew who I was. I was mandatory for a year and a half, and they didn’t talk about me.”
Trying to get the Calzaghe fight didn’t work and Andrade ended up on the shelf for one year until 2005. That was when Al Haymon came into his life.
“When I first signed with him, he gave me a deal,” explains Andrade. “I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know where he was coming from. I didn’t know anything about him. I just had a conversation with the man and I said ‘Where would you like me to sign?’ I signed with Golden Boy in 2002 and I signed with Al in 2005. I only asked him one question. I said ‘Al, do you believe in God?’ He said, ‘Yes I believe in God’ ‘Well I think sent you to us, as I can’t believe that you’re giving me a contract.’ He gave me this contract. He helped me get out of my financial situation.
“Before Al, I didn’t care about who I was. I just needed money. I was fighting for pennies. I was behind on my rent. I was barely making it. I was on a Jack in The Box paycheck. When Al came, he changed all of that. He helped me get on my feet. He gave me an allowance each month to get back to where I needed to be. The fights were happening the way they were supposed to be happening.
“The first fight with Al Haymon was against Otis Grant in Canada and I earned about $100,000 in that fight. Something that I never imagined in my life. And it was all thanks to him.”
After beating Otis Grant was a fight against his nickname Richard. At this point, he was mandatory for Markus Beyer’s title. The two of them were supposed to fight in 90 days, but like the Calzaghe fight, this fight didn’t occur. However, an opportunity would arise if he beat Richard Grant -the chance to fight for two belts in his next fight.
“The WBC said to me ‘Listen. This is what’s on the table. Markus Beyer has only a few fights and he wants to unify the title against Mikkel Kessler. If you step aside and let them fight, you will fight the winner.’ So I allowed them to fight.”
Keeping his end of the deal by stopping Richard Grant in one round, Andrade travelled to Europe to face Kessler in March 2007 in Copenhagen, after Kessler had beaten Beyer in the same city the previous October. Andrade knew of Kessler as the two of them had sparred in preparation for Kessler’s fight against Anthony Mundine a couple of years earlier.
His preparation for the fight was disrupted in many ways before the fight, starting with his training.
“When I started training for the Kessler fight, I peaked too early. I did not know I could take a big punch before Kessler. I think I overtrained myself. So when I was over there, my punches weren’t as crisp as they used to be. Every day I woke up, it felt weird. It felt like you’re in another world.”
Staying in Denmark, the cuisine was not to his taste.
“The food was horrible! None of the food there was good. It was open sandwiches. It tasted weird.
“When I got there, I weighed 174 lbs. The fight was at 168, and we were there 50 days prior. It was a mistake that we went that early. It was just me, my brother and a friend. All I was doing was going to the gym, sweating.”
On top of all this, the assertiveness of the media took him by surprise.
“When I was there, the media was all over me. So for 14 days, I couldn’t even work out as they were always on top of me. When I would run, I would run right outside the hotel. There was a lake, so I would make some laps around that lake.
“The weirdest thing was when I got there, they kept on reminding me of my life. Talking about when I was a kid, where I came from. I was not ready for that. I remember every interview time, I used to think back to my life and think ‘Holy shit! How far we’ve come. From being in a small town to being here fighting for a world title. I’ve got a chance. I’m undefeated. I can beat him.’ But every time I would go back to the hotel, I would go back and cry and I didn’t understand why. I would sit there and think about my mom and her troubles because the media kept reminding me of it. I was expecting it to be more hostile. I was ready for that. They did the opposite.
“When it came to the fight, I didn’t want to fight. When I got to the arena, it was big and the moment was just too big for me.”
Being overawed by the occasion affected Andrade’s performance, as Kessler dominated every round.
“When I started fighting Kessler, I thought it was going to be more of a fight, a toe to toe fight. Kessler just kept moving. He was going at angles and I couldn’t keep up with him. I couldn’t adjust. Even though I kept getting hit, I was rolling with the punches.
“The hard part was I wasn’t getting off my shots. I couldn’t time him right. I couldn’t wear him out. It just went on the whole fight like that. At the end of the fight, the only thing I could think was that I didn’t expect to get this far. I don’t know what is going to be like tomorrow, but today is amazing. Today is the biggest moment of my life.”