Giovanni Cabrera fighting for boxing’s greater good

Giovanni Cabrera aims to win a world title, but his goal extends beyond personal glory. He hopes to use his title to advocate for a union in boxing, seeking to secure basic benefits for fighters that they currently lack.

Cabrera will take a step toward this goal on July 6 when he faces undefeated lightweight William Zepeda at the Toyota Arena in Ontario, California.

Cabrera (22-1, 7 KOs), who trains with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing club in Los Angeles, has taken a hard road to this point. The 29-year-old defeated seven undefeated fighters and prospects before suffering his only loss, to Isaac Cruz in a split decision. It’s a loss he feels he didn’t deserve. Zepeda (30-0, 26 KOs), 28, is one of the most active and challenging fighters in the lightweight division, with a ranking worthy of a world title shot – but no one is eager to give it to him. Cabrera sees the contest as a gateway to his bigger goal of helping fighters across the sport.

“I want to be champion of the world,” said Cabrera. “I want to get my dream and to be the lightweight champion of the world. I would really like to, in some form, start an organization or boxing union to give healthcare and retirement benefits for fighters, because boxing doesn’t have that.

“Since the founding of the sport, boxing has been the most exploited form of entertainment. Fighters were referred to as a stable of animals that people would bet on. It’s always been the struggling immigrant class. We’re the least educated and most taken advantage of. I think everyone who profits from boxing, including TV networks, promoters, venues, sponsors and alcohol sales, can afford to give one percent to the athletes who have given them their riches.”

For Cabrera, step one is winning the world title. Step two will be a call to arms. He envisions organizing fighters through a petition to unite them under a common cause.

“Boxing is a short-lived career. The only ones who will look out for each other are us, the fighters,” Cabrera said. “We can be great rivals in the ring, but later we become great friends because we remember the wars we went through together. Boxers need to come together and start an organization. It doesn’t have to be called a union, but it should be universal across all promoters.”

Cabrera points to the NBA and NFL, where players’ associations fight for the players’ best interests. Boxing, by contrast, operates under free-market capitalism and survival of the fittest. Cabrera, originally from Chicago, added: “I was stuck in a contract with my old trainers and managers before I was able to get free. One of the main things I wanted was transparency in boxing. Many managers and promoters don’t want to educate the fighters and just say, ‘Worry about the fights.’ Everything now is about your social media following. Who’s teaching fighters about sponsorship, setting up an LLC for taxes or creating a financial plan? Literally nobody.

“This is a message to the people who work for nonprofits, lawyers and union leaders to come together and do something historic for the people in boxing, who should be treated as sports heroes, not cannon fodder.”

In 2022, Cabrera returned to the ring after a three-year hiatus with a new team, training at the Wild Card with Roach. He signed with Top Rank, going undefeated in three fights before becoming a free agent again. He then signed with Fighters First Management, a company that aligns with his values and aims to prioritize fighters’ well-being.

Reflecting on the business of boxing, Cabrera expressed frustration with how it operates.

“They’ve tricked us into chasing followers,” Cabrera said. “Everything is about legacy for me. I’ve always looked up to great fighters like [Muhammad] Ali. He changed the political tide of the Vietnam War. He did so many things for the civil rights movement. And Manny Pacquiao, who did so much by building so many homes and feeding so many people. Everything starts with a grassroots movement, and I think no boxer would say no to healthcare or retirement funds. We sacrifice so much, and when it’s over, we’re usually left with nothing.”

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