Oxnard: an unexpected destination for foreign boxers

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Photo: Jonathan Bastian

The small, working class city of Oxnard is more famous for producing nearly a third of California’s strawberries than it is for prizefighters. But ask locals, and they’ll tell you that in this primarily Hispanic city, boxing is king. In the past 10 years, fighters from across the globe have moved to Oxnard to live, train, and win world championships.

As soon as you walk into the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy, you notice the flags on the ceiling. They represent the 18 different nationalities of boxers who have trained in this gym over the years.

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Egidijus Kavaliauska of Lithuania has lived in Oxnard for three years. Photo: Jonathan Bastian

One of those boxers is Egidijus Kavaliauska from Kaunas, Lithuania. Jabbing and cutting, ducking and weaving, he drills his fists into the mitts of a trainer. The 27-year-old Kavaliauska has been living in Oxnard for three years.

“It’s nice here. I like that the beach is very close, the weather is good, people nice,” he said.

Still, he misses home, where his family and girlfriend are. But, at least the food’s not bad.

“The food here in America, you have lots of good food,” he said, smiling. “For me, it’s not so good because I always need to be on a diet, so after a fight I eat a couple cheat meals and that’s it.” 

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Russia, Israel, Ireland and Pakistan are among the flags and nationalities represented at Robert Garcia Boxing Academy within the past 10 years. Photo: Jonathan Bastian

Kavaliauska is 11-0 in the welterweight division, and hoping to become a world champion. He’s part of a larger group of 10 fighters, all from from Russia and Eastern Europe, who train together in Oxnard.

Each of them has traveled thousands of miles to work with Robert Garcia, who owns the gym.

“They come into my gym and most of them don’t even speak English,” said Garcia. “But, they know the boxing language and when I’m telling them to throw a jab, they know what I’m talking about.”

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Robert Garcia, who owns the boxing academy, won a Junior lightweight championship in the late 1990s. Photo: Jonathan Bastian

The 40-year-old Garcia was raised in Oxnard, a pro boxer himself in the 1990s. He came of age with a generation of homegrown Oxnard fighters who flourished. The most famous is Fernando Vargas, who competed in the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta.

By the early 2000s, Oxnard became known as a hotspot in the boxing world. Foreign fighters from as far away as Israel, the Philippines and Japan started showing up. Here, they were surrounded by reputable gyms and experienced trainers.

And in terms of location, Oxnard is close to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, two of the biggest boxing venues in the world.

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The academy sits in a quiet, industrial park in the center of Oxnard. Photo: Jonathan Bastian

They also had plenty of sparring partners to help hone their skills.

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“They support each other,” said Garcia. “If one of my fighters is Mexican and he’s fighting, all the Russians go support him and vice versa. That’s something that no one sees in other gyms.”

It helps that many of them choose to live together.

“We have this five-bedroom house. An Argentinean, a Russian and a guy from Cuba, all staying in the same house.”

These days, the foreign pros far outnumber the local ones. Erik Ruiz, 23, is currently the only Oxnard-raised pro training in the gym.

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Boxer Erik Ruiz is the only Oxnard local pro training at the academy. Photo: Jonathan Bastian

“It’s pretty tough, training with them,” he said. “I’m the only local here, so I gotta show them that the locals still got it.”

With an impressive record of 15-4, there’s no question he’s keeping pace with his fellow fighters.

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Either way, they’re all in it together. Round-by-round, fight-by-fight, each hope to become Robert Garcia’s 12th world champion boxer.

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