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Libaro Andrade: From Burgers To Filet Mignon

The website for "Jack In The Box" restaurants proudly states, "Jack in the Box pioneered a number of firsts in the quick-serve industry. It was the first major fast-food chain that started as a drive-thru, and it was also the first to introduce menu items that are now staples on most fast-food menu boards."

If Librado Andrade defeats two-belt champion Mikkel Kessler in Denmark on the March 24 edition of HBO's "Boxing After Dark," the fast food chain should think about updating its website with another first: "hamburger-flipper becomes super middleweight champion."

For 10 grueling years --1995 to 2005 -- the 28-year-old Andrade spent more time up close and personal with a spatula than he did training in the gym.

"I would go to work at Jack In The Box at 6 a.m., then to the gym from 3-7 p.m. When I came home, I would watch a little TV and then go to bed. I was too tired to do anything else," Andrade said.

For most of those years, both Andrade and his eventual promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, considered him little more than a good club fighter.

"I was just fighting to make a little extra money," said the Mexican born, California-raised Andrade (24-0, 18 KOs). "I never thought it would change. If you saw my first fight, you would have said, here is a kid who is going nowhere. My goal was just to win a California state championship. I really didn't think much of myself." In truth, he didn't have much reason to, as far as boxing is concerned. Before making his pro debut at the Los Alamitos racetrack -- more known for quarter horses than fighters -- Andrade had 16 amateur fights, of which he lost 14.

Probably the only reason Andrade finds himself in position to challenge the undefeated Kessler (38-0, 29 KOs) for a world title is that there just happened to be a gym down the street from where he grew up in La Habra. Andrade and his younger brother, middleweight contender Enrique Ornelas, would pass the La Habra Boxing Club, but only on their way to somewhere else. One day on a whim, Andrade made the gym his destination. Soon after, his brother followed.

"Boxing is just something that happened to us," Andrade said.

A less-inspired, rags-to-riches story line you would be hard-pressed to find.

By Jack In the Box standards, the money from boxing was "good." "If I made $700 for a fight, I would say, 'Wow! $700!' The most I ever made was $2,500, and I remember saying to myself, 'Wow! $2,500."

A funny thing happened to Librado Andrade on his way to boxing oblivion: he kept beating people. With power in both hands, and a jab that could take your head off, Andrade started to leave a trail of bodies on the canvas.

One night, after yet another referee raised his hand in victory, Andrade had an epiphany: maybe there might be more to him than he had imagined. If Andrade had any lingering doubts of his great potential, they were knocked out when elite manager/advisor, Al Haymon, took him on as a client.

"Al Haymon sat me down and said, 'This is how much you can make as a fighter.' He really loved the way I boxed."

Haymon, one of the most astute judges of talent in the game, has a virtual Who's Who of star boxers under his guidance, including Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Jermain Taylor. Besides the possible financial future Haymon laid out for Andrade, he made some changes in the way the boxer looked at himself in the mirror.

"Shortly after I signed with Al, Bernard Hopkins called me and Enrique and asked us to be sparring partners for his second fight with Taylor," Andrade said. "I really wanted to go and spare with a boxer like Hopkins. But Al said, 'Enrique can go, it will be good experience for him, but not you. You can't have the mentality of being a helper for another fighter. You have to have the mentality of a champion.'"

Andrade turned in his spatula and apron and cooked only for Haymon in the ring. "My brother and I are blessed having Al. He has been like an angel coming into our lives."

""I would go to work at Jack In The Box at 6 a.m., then to the gym from 3-7 p.m. When I came home, I would watch a little TV and then go to bed. I was too tired to do anything else," Andrade said."

At about the same time, Andrade made two decisions which would alter the course of his life. The first was to move from La Habra to the boxing capital of the world, Las Vegas. The second was to hook up with first-year trainer and former world bantamweight champion, Wayne McCullough.

In many ways, McCullough was a perfect fit. Who better to train a Mexican than an Irishman who boxed like a Mexican?

"We both fight with our hearts, and we dig down deep when we have to get the job done," said McCullough, who trains four fighters out of a gym he built in the garage of his Las Vegas home.

When he first hit Las Vegas, Andrade went around to several gyms, talking to different trainers, window shopping as it were. None appealed to him, usually for the same reason.

"Wayne is not the type of trainer who will try to change you and then take the credit and say, 'This is what I did for him.' Other trainers before him, they would tell me all the things I was doing wrong," Andrade said.

McCullough, who was trained in the beginning of his career by one of the all-time great coaches, Eddie Futch, was not about to do an extreme makeover for a boxer who came to him with a 23-0 record. It is not his style.

"When he came to me, he had basically been training himself, and had nobody to care about him," McCullough said. "I told him I was going to be a friend and support him. I told him, you did all the hard work yourself and you will be a champion. I am just putting the final touches in."

McCullough's approach has worked. "Working with Wayne, he has kept the things I do. He has not tried to change me, just make me stronger. Wayne is more than a trainer to me, he is a good friend. It helps having a friend in your corner," Andrade said.

It also helps that McCullough has fought in nine championship fights against some of the best names of this era, including Erik Morales, Naseem Hamed, Daniel Zargoza and Oscar Larios. When trainer and boxer had spare time to talk in the gym, they found they had much in common.

"We compared our careers," said McCullough, who also trains Ornelas (25-3, 15 KOs). "I had to fight an eliminator to get my title shot, so did he. We both took step-aside money before we fought for a title, and we both had to travel abroad for our first championship fight."

McCullough had to jet to Japan for a shot at belt holder Yasusei Yakushiji. The Olympic silver medalist won a split decision, no easy thing for fighters with passports in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Andrade's maiden title voyage is no less daunting. Kessler has fought 36 of his 38 pro fights in his home country, where he is a national idol. Andrade, however, welcomes the trip.

"I really like going somewhere else, to another country," Andrade said. "I have never been treated all that well in the States. I know that when I go to Denmark, I will be treated very well."

Andrade will also not be intimidated by Kessler, with whom he has actually been in the ring with before. A few weeks before Kessler defended his title against Anthony Mundine in June of 2005, fate brought the Danish champ together with Andrade.

"He came to La Habra looking for sparring partners. In L.A. at the time, there weren't a lot of super middleweights. When I sparred with him for three rounds, I had just had a fight and had taken two weeks off from training. He had a real good jab, but it was nothing like they are trying to make it out to be, this laser-like jab. And he wasn't as powerful as they were saying. I am not taking anything away from him, he is a good boxer and a champion, but he was nothing like they were describing him," Andrade said.

McCullough, who has the tape of that session in his gym and has watched it several times, is a little less generous to Kessler. "Librado and Enrique both sparred with him. They were out of shape, but Kessler was only two weeks away from his fight. They both handled him with no problem. And while sparring is not a fight, I believe Librado is better in a real fight than he is in the gym. I really like the way he controlled Kessler," McCullough said.

Other accounts of the sparring session describe a typical, stand-up European who seemed confused by the way Andrade moved and attacked from angles.

"Kessler is good at what he does -- double left jab and right hand --" McCullough said. "He does the same thing over and over. He has had success so far, but he has fought guys who stand right in front of him. Librado has more movement."

The former short order cook is going into this fight hungry, but will no longer settle for burgers and pocket change.

"Librado wants this championship so bad," McCullough said. "He is determined to have a better life for himself and his family."

In 1975, the great John Huston wrote and directed a movie called, "The Man Who Would Be King." A movie data base describes the plot this way: "Two British soldiers in India are mistaken for gods."

Andrade, who was mistaken for a short order cook and club fighter, may never be a god, but he has a good shot at wearing a Danish King's crown.

"Librado wants this championship so bad," McCullough said. "He is determined to have a better life for himself and his family."

Posted 12:00 AM | Mar 21, 2007

Mikkel Kessler vs Librado Andrade

HBO BAD - Mar. 24, 2007

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