June 27, 2003

Deception And Betrayal: A Trainer’s Disgrace

By Fiona Manning

After almost every fight, the guy who loses quite often has an excuse. On Saturday night, Yoni Vargas, one of the most popular fighters on the boxing circuit, lost a brutal four-round fight to Phillip Ndou.

For once, the fighter in this story had a real and truly disturbing excuse: deception and betrayal.

Would he have won the fight if things had gone perfectly for Vargas? This is something we will never know and that is the problem with deception and betrayal. We – and he – will always be left with questions and doubts; the agonizing legacy of deception and betrayal.

For three months, this fighter trained his heart out with his long-time trainer Manuel “Chato” Robles, even sending the family he adores to stay with relatives in Mexico.

This was literally a make-or break fight for Vargas. Nothing must go wrong. No distractions, no excuses.

Yoni Vargas went against Phillip Ndou, Saturday night without the aide of his trainer, making it a tough night for Vargas.

Nobody in his camp counted on deception and betrayal.

It pains Vargas and the two men he trusts most in boxing, his co-managers criminal defense attorney Norman Kaplan and businessman Mike Jacoby to admit that somebody they believed in and trusted, betrayed their fighter.

Today they came forward and informed La Prensa San Diego that on Saturday night, Chato Robles failed to appear in his fighter’s corner because he was drunk.

“There is no excuse for what this trainer did,” said Jacoby.

Those who know him have repeatedly tried to help this helpless and hopeless alcoholic who has fallen out with many old allies over his habit.

He was once even found passed out on the floor by fighter Israel Vasquez.

“Chato has a problem and I was living in his house when this happened,” Vasquez said today during a break in training at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.

“After what he did, I could not forgive him for falling apart when I am getting ready for a big fight and I could not forget finding him like that. I moved out of his house and I went to another trainer.”

Vasquez saved Robles’ life by calling 911 but remains haunted by the experience.

Today Vasquez and everybody else in the gym can find no excuses for the man who left his fighter in the ring alone and unattended in the biggest fight of his career.

Robles is a man who has earned respect with his abilities, but has lost all of it, because he refuses to seek help. Many have tried.

In a sport which has often received criticism for its cavalier handling of insiders, Robles has had impressive support, not just from the fighters but from their managers who have rallied to keep his dirty little secret while he sought help.

What has he done? Lied, lied some more and still kept drinking. He has never stopped, in fact by all reports, he’s never even really tried to get the help he needs.

He failed to show up to Vargas’ camp the last few days claiming tooth surgery.

When he failed to show up at the weigh-in, Vargas became understandably frantic. For those closest to him, it was heart-breaking to hear how he begged his trainer on the phone: “Chato, please be there. Chato, please don’t let me down.”

This was a tough, tough fight for Vargas and his mind, instead of being on the fight he was to endure in the ring was on his wayward, deceptive trainer who up until the 11th hour, lied to Vargas.

Robles had various family members lie for him saying he got lost, that he went to the wrong hotel. Then the excuse was that Robles was sick.

Finally, his step-son, in a phone call made by Jacoby, 90 minutes prior to fight time, admitted that Robles was at his father’s house drunk.

The question has to be asked: Who is it that Chato honors? Chato was charged with the trust of this young man’s life, yet deceived him.

Yoni believed Chato would be there when he walked into the lion’s den. He believed it because Chato promised.

It’s not the first time he let Yoni Vargas down. He did it before when he faced Brian Adams on ESPN2.

Now the truth can be told that Chato’s behavior was equally horrendous then. He showed up on the actual night after being absent for the entire training camp because he wanted to get paid.

It caused an embarrassing problem for Team Vargas who had brought in another trainer and were forced to pay both men. It also caused unnecessary distress to Vargas in the biggest fight of his career at that time.

This time, Chato not only failed to appear, but left his demoralized fighter wondering what he had done to deserve this again.


A month ago, he did the same thing to “Mighty” Mike Anchondo. You failed to appear at his big fight at the Olympic. Again, these good people, the Anchondos, have stood by the trainer but after this latest fiasco, they say they will probably bolt. And so they should.

Chato Robles cannot be trusted. That is the simple truth.

With all this talk of boxing unions etc etc, why has nobody apart from Kaplan and Jacoby spoken out about Chato Robles’ deplorable behavior?

He needs to be suspended and his training privileges revoked until such time as he can prove that he is capable of proving to be a man of his word.

One of the things one hears about all the time in boxing is how people get ripped off. But this is a story even hardened boxing insiders have a hard time accepting. Yoni Vargas was virtually mugged by one of his chosen few. How is he supposed to handle that?

For Jacoby, the eerie silence that accompanied him as he drove the broken and defeated Vargas home after the fight was followed by Vargas’ emotional entreaties.

“It was awful, just awful,” Jacoby said. “He was more upset about Chato than he was about losing the fight. He was devastated that Robles had stabbed him in the back in the most important fight of his life.”

What has hurt all those involved is that at no time since the fight has Robles contacted Vargas (who was cut over the left eye), nor had he contacted the managers. Chato Robles has gone into hiding.

In the long run, those who know Vargas and his dedication to his sport, will long feel saddened by what may well be his last professional fight. What will leave the worst taste in their mouths however is the knowledge that indeed, he was left all alone in the noblest of sports that on this night was not so noble at all.

What happened to Yoni Vargas should never be allowed to happen to another fighter. Period.

When Chato wakes up from his drunken stupor let’s hope that he gets help. More importantly, let’s hope he remembers and feels some shame for his abandonment, deception and betrayal of a gifted young man when he needed him most.

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