- Mikey Garcia has seized control of his career in a way that few fighters can. Will his heavy gamble pay off against a bigger opponent, Errol Spence Jr.?
The boxer Mikey Garcia knows the consensus. He’s not immune to social media, not hiding from the blogs. He’s aware that people look at his next fight, this Saturday against Errol Spence Jr. inside the palace known as AT&T Stadium, and see a match-up that is not only lopsided but potentially dangerous.
“I totally understand why,” Garcia says. “I’m moving up two weight divisions, and not just to fight any welterweight, but Errol Spence. At first glance, it seems nuts.”
This, what Garcia is attempting, happens rarely in boxing, especially in recent years. Back in July, he topped Robert Easter Jr. by unanimous decision to defend his IBF and WBC lightweight titles. Both Garcia and his opponent could weigh no more than 135 pounds. That night, he hinted at the possibility he might fight Spence and, for the most part, people laughed. Spence is a welterweight who can max out at 147 pounds, which is no small increase. Garcia could have stayed at lightweight, fought the IBF mandatory challenger in Richard Commey and considered future possibilities—like pound-for-pound king challenger Vasiliy Lomachenko, an elite fighter who is closer to his size.
Instead, as Garcia (39-0, 30 knockouts) weighed his options, consulting with his trainer and older brother, Robert, he kept returning to the same name. Crazy as Spence sounded. That Spence is often ranked among the top handful of fighters on the planet, regardless of weight class, only added to Garcia’s intrigue. That Spence is 29 years old, long limbed, undefeated (with 21 knockouts in 24 win), and had flattened Kell Brook, stopped Lamont Peterson and knocked out Carlos Ocampo in his last three fights, those were not warning signs for Garcia. He saw those wins, Spence’s stature and even their size disparity (as much as 20 pounds on fight night) as positives. It will mean more, Garcia says, “when I prove everybody wrong.”
Few took Garcia seriously, at least until he and Spence signed the fight contract, agreeing to scuffle at the home of their favorite football team, the Cowboys. Spence is from the Dallas area, but Garcia came to love America’s Team while growing up in California, when a relative gave him a sweatshirt with the ‘Boys logo splashed across the front. Last year, he watched the Saints game at the stadium where he will fight this weekend and even met with owner Jerry Jones, who told him “you’re my good luck charm” when the Cowboys pulled off the upset.
Garcia would like to replicate his favorite team’s performance with an even greater shakeup victory. He’s aware that oddsmakers installed Spence as a heavy –500 favorite, despite Garcia’s status as an undefeated four-division champion. Spence, he says, will enter the ring bigger and stronger. But he won’t possess better timing, reflexes, or footwork, Garcia says. He adds: “I’m searching for greatness.”
That, too, doesn’t happen all that often in boxing, especially in recent years. Because certain promoters won’t work with other promoters, or because some want to protect their top fighters rather than test them, it’s rare to see two boxers generally ranked in pound-for-pound top 10 actually step into the ring to face each other. Both Ward-Kovalev bouts come to mind. But it’s not a long list, not since Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s reign started.
Garcia cites the heavyweight Tyson Fury as a recent example. He turned in a career performance against Deontay Wilder in early December, rising from the canvas after nearly being knocked out, winning the bout on many scorecards but receiving a draw from the judges. Most in boxing assumed the men would fight again and in 2019; the fight was that good, the rematch that obvious. But then Fury recently signed with Top Rank, which announced his next fight would not be against Wilder. That was #boxing, more or less. “That fight should have been made,” Garcia says. “Instead, they’ll fight other people. It’s very frustrating to boxing fans.”
That’s why Garcia has seized control of his career in a way that few fighters can. It wasn’t easy, wasn’t smooth. His split from Top Rank took 2 1/2 years, costing him most of 2014, all of ’15 and half of ’16. His brother and other confidants suggested he move on, to resume his career more quickly. He did not listen to them. Like with the Spence fight, he weighed his options and made his own choice, even if it was not the popular one. The first decision worked out in his favor.
As for the second one, Garcia has been training out of Northern California, with former BALCO president Victor Conte, in a move sure to raise some eyebrows should he topple Spence. He says their goal is to add some size without sacrificing speed.
At nights, after workouts, Garcia visualizes his upcoming bout, the one he’s expected to lose. The rounds, scenarios and combinations change but never the results. Garcia always sees the impossible overcome, his hand raised in triumph, his legacy cemented, the possibilities spreading endlessly before him. “That’s where I will be,” he says, firmly, and at that moment it doesn’t seem to matter if anyone else believes him.