Mikey Garcia carries on tradition in a boxing family

Thursday January 23rd, 2014

Mikey Garcia (right) will put his undefeated record on the line on Saturday night. | Photo: Eric Gay/AP
Eric Gay/AP/SI

NEW YORK -- Boxing is the family business, but for a long time Mikey Garcia didn't want anything to do with it. In the late 1970's Eduardo Garcia, who had come to the U.S. as a teenager from his native Mexico, moved his young family to Oxnard, Calif. There, Garcia founded La Colonia Youth Boxing Club. He didn't have much experience, save for a solid amateur career, but he loved the sport. And he wanted to teach it to others.

That included his two oldest sons, Mikey's big brothers, Danny and Robert. Feisty and a fast learner, Robert took to boxing quickly. Though, as he recalls, he didn't have much of a choice.

"I was at the gym at age four and in amateur fights at five," Robert told SI.com. "Being the son of a dad who loved boxing, it was something you had to do. But I loved to train. I had a lot of friends who would come to the gym around the same time. We would travel for tournaments and hang out together. It was a great experience."

Robert turned professional in 1992, and proved a quick success. He won his first 32 fights, 24 by knockout. In 1998, Robert won the IBF super featherweight championship. He defended his title twice, including a win over John John Molina on the undercard of Mike Tyson's fight against Francois Botha.

But from that point Robert's career went south, quickly. He lost three of his next four fights, all by knockout. In 2001, Robert, then 26, faced journeyman John Trigg. Before the fight, Robert remembers having little interest in even being there. As he walked to the ring, he remembers he wanted to turn around and walk back. He knocked Trigg out in the fourth round. When he got back to the dressing room, he told his family he was done.

"I got sick of the sport," Robert says. "I had my first kid when I was 20. At 26, I had two boys. I was tired of going to Big Bear to train. My dad was the kind of trainer who always thought you should stay away from home when you were training for a fight. I was basically living in Big Bear. I was sick of traveling, sick of being away from home. I missed my kids' first day of school, I missed my kids' soccer games. So when I got back to the dressing room, I told them, 'I hope you enjoyed my career.'"

Mikey Garcia never wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps. As a child, Mikey dreamed of a different life. He wanted to be a police officer or a lawyer. He participated in the family rituals -- watching Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson fights at home, traveling to fights to support his brother, watching as his father's most famous charge, Fernando Vargas, became one of the best junior middleweights in the world -- but he never invested himself in the sport. When Eduardo brought Mikey to the gym, according to Robert, Mikey would often cry.

When he was 13, Mikey went to a show to watch his nephew Javier. One of the kids on the card didn't have an opponent. Robert signed Mikey up. Wearing borrowed gloves, shoes and headgear, Mikey won easily. From there, his career took off. Intelligent, with near flawless technique, Mikey rose up the amateur ranks quickly. He won the 2004 National Junior Golden Gloves Championships and the '05 National Police Athletic League Championships. In '06, he turned pro.

"Boxing, it started to get more interesting," Mikey says. "I liked the competition, the adrenaline, beating your opponent one-on-one. At 15, 16 years old, I was winning some of the national tournaments. And I was very inexperienced. I had very few amateur fights. But I was competing with guys who were at a very high level. I really liked that."

While Mikey was discovering a new career, Robert was searching for his next one. After he retired, he took a few classes at Ventura College. He thought about becoming a police officer until he went on a ride along and became disenchanted with the job.

Before long, he started thinking about boxing again. He went back to his father's gym and asked him about becoming a trainer. Eduardo gave him two young fighters to work with, and Robert helped develop them into winners. He fell in love with training. All the things he hated as a boxer -- the travel, the hard days training -- he enjoyed as a trainer.

"As a fighter, everything is hard," Robert said. "Having to make weight, not being able do much with your friends, not being able to fly back home. As a coach, I don't have to make weight. I can go out and get to know the city I'm traveling in. I never enjoyed my youth. I had no choice but to fight. I didn't have a beer until I retired from boxing. Coaching gave me new experiences."

Eventually, Robert started working with Mikey. Eduardo was the lead trainer, but as the years passed, Robert began to take a larger role. For Mikey's three fights in 2013, Robert was the lead trainer. The Garcias have molded Mikey into a 130-pound wrecking ball, a smart, patient, skilled tactician with crushing power. And as Mikey (33-0, with 28 KOs) prepares to defend his WBO super featherweight title against Juan Carlos Burgos (30-1-2) on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET), it will be Robert again taking the lead in his corner.

Both Mikey, 26, and Robert, 38, swear that the relationship has been flawless, that the lines that separate brothers and the fighter and trainer are never blurred. Robert believes that his decision to run a more relaxed training camp out of Oxnard, which allows Mikey to see his family during training, has helped make the relationship smoother.

Yet there is still one thing that separates the two. As successful as Mikey has been -- undefeated, a two-division titleholder with a possible showdown against Manny Pacquiao looming in the next year or so -- Robert does not see the same passion for boxing in Mikey that Robert once had.

"I still think he doesn't really love it," Robert says. "He looks like he enjoys it and you got to love that. I think it seems like it's still not in his heart. He's so good at it, that's why he is doing it."

And Mikey?

"I never dreamed of being a fighter," Mikey says. "Right now, I wouldn't change it. I'm glad I chose this career. It's what I do best, so why change it? I haven't told my brother yet, but I plan on maybe retiring in four or five years. At 30, I plan on doing something else. For now, I will just do what I do best."

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