When Mikey Garcia beat Orlando Salido in January to win THE RING and WBO featherweight titles he let the 126-pound division know that a new sheriff was in town.
After a frustrating 2012, the law enforcement graduate took out his frustration on the usually teak-tough Salido, dropping the grizzled veteran twice in the opening round and again in the third and fourth frames to build a considerable early lead. Though Salido was able to dig in with dogged resistance he was a country mill behind on the scorecards at the point the fight was called off after an accidental headbutt from Salido broke Garcia’s nose.
The fight went to the scorecards with the 25-year-old Oxnard, Calif. native convincingly ahead.
“It wasn’t the best way to end it but it’s still a victory,” Garcia said, before adding, “At the end of the day I still feel I was dominating the whole night. I performed extremely well, I feel everyone saw that I was in control of the fight all night long and I was on my way to a stoppage or unanimous decision.”
To his credit he offered to clear up any grievance Salido or his team may have.
“I offered Salido and his team a rematch in case he felt he was cheated or felt he deserved to continue the fight,” Garcia said. “I offered the rematch and the offer’s still there if he feels he wants another shot at it.”
The nose is fully healed, according to Garcia.
“We had surgery two weeks after the fight, the doctor did a great job, he realigned it; broke it, put it in place,” he said. “I just had to wait for it to heal properly and ever since that I haven’t had any problems with it.”
Now it’s time for Garcia (31-0, 25 knockouts) to get back to doing what he does best when he meets two-division titleholder and the pride of Puerto Rico, Juan Manuel Lopez, this Saturday on HBO.
Anson Wainwright: On Saturday, in Dallas, you take on JuanMa Lopez. What are your thoughts on the fight?
Mikey Garcia: Well, we definitely have a challenge in front of us. Juanma Lopez is a former two-division champion so he definitely has experience. He’s been in the big arenas, the big fights. He’s a dangerous fighter. He carries power in both hands; he’s got nothing to lose right now. He wants to be back at the top. Those are the kind of fighters you’ve got to watch out for because they’ll go 100 percent. They’ll leave everything in the ring; that’s the type of fighter he is. We feel it’s a good fight for my career at the moment. It’s probably the best option that was available to us right now. We’re doing everything we can to be in the best possible shape to defend our title.
AW: It’s not the “gimme” first defense some fighters get. You’re in with a very seasoned guy who’s a very real threat?
MG: He is very tough. The only two loses he has were to Orlando Salido, as you remember they were very close tough fights that he was in. He gave his all in both of them. He went out like a true champion, that’s the fighter he is. He’s going to do the same when he faces me. He’s going to leave everything in the ring. If he can hurt me he’s going to jump on me ’cause he wants to regain that title and if I hurt him he’s going to fire back. He’s not going to just take a knee. I don’t think he’s that type of fighter. He’s going to give everything in the ring.
AW: Are you in Oxnard training with Robert or elsewhere in L.A. with your father?
MG: I’m with my father in Riverside (Calif.) and my brother Robert comes from Oxnard. He makes the two hour trip everyday to train me for my fights.
AW: Why don’t you train in Oxnard?
MG: I live in Moreno Valley, which is maybe 20 minutes away from Riverside. We live over here, it’s at a private gym we go work out, it’s where Josesito Lopez and Chris Arreola train and my brother brings sparring partners from Oxnard for me every other day.
AW: Who are you sparring with ahead of the JuanMa fight?
MG – We have a mix of guys. One of them is Jesus Cuellar. He’s from Argentina. He’s a very good southpaw, he’s heavy handed. (Another is) Oscar Diaz from Oxnard. We spar also a local guy from here, Rashad Hughes. We did some work the other day with Joseph Diaz (Jr.) the Olympian from El Monte (Calif.). We’ve got some speed, we’ve got some power but they’re all southpaws. Some are aggressive, some are boxers, we’ve just got to be ready for whatever JuanMa wants to do fight night. That’s why we do everything at the gym. We work with southpaws but they all bring a different style to prepare for the fight.
AW: In your last fight you beat Orlando Salido. You got off to a very fast start, usually it takes you a few rounds to get into the fight. It was almost as though the past year’s frustrations when you were chomping at the bit to get a world title fight motivated you to start fast. You jumped on him straight away dropping him in the opening round, never letting up throughout the fight. Can you tell us about the fight?
MG: Yeah well I thought we did an excellent job of handling Salido’s pressure. We definitely were out boxing him all night long, that’s the way we had trained for, that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We trained for Salido, we practiced all that in the gym. I was able to land good shots in the opening round and drop him. I controlled the momentum from the first round to the very end. Every time he would come in I would catch him and sometimes I’d hurt him, sometimes I’d drop him, sometimes he’d take a few punches and I’d take a step back. That’s exactly how we planned in the gym and that’s exactly how we did it at the fight. We weren’t going to allow him to dictate the pace. I needed to dictate the pace, to be in control. It was the perfect game plan for a fighter like Orlando Salido.
AW: The fight was abruptly stopped after he accidentally broke your nose with a headbutt. Can you tell us about that?
MG: It was towards the end of the eighth round, maybe less than a minute to go in the eighth round when he charged in, threw an overhand right but also charged in with his head first which caught me on the nose. It wasn’t really the pain from the butt that actually hurt, but it broke the nose. I didn’t know it was broken but I did feel the difference in breathing. I felt blood in the back of my nose to my throat and so I knew something wasn’t right, at that moment I thought it was just a little thing but when I went to the corner, Robert noticed it was broken. He called the referee. Robert said “You saw it was a head butt.” The referee said “Yes, we’ll get the doctor up.” He came up and the first doctor said it’s broken, it’s pretty bad. Let me call the second doctor up, the second doctor came up, he said you know what? It’s broken. He told the referee, Benji Esteves, it’s broken, he can’t continue. If there had been a cut they’d have done the same thing. It was an accidental head butt like if it was an accidental elbow or whatever, accidental foul. If it’s where the fighter can’t continue you have to stop the fight. The referee asked the doctor if I was able to continue and the doctor said “No, it’s broken, you need to stop the fight,” so the rules say go to the scorecards. I wasn’t so happy about it but at the end of the day I still feel I was dominating the whole night. I performed extremely well. I feel everyone saw that I was in control of the fight all night long and I was on my way to a stoppage or unanimous decision. It wasn’t the best way to end it but it’s still a victory. I offered Salido and his team a rematch in case he felt he was cheated or felt he deserved to continue the fight. I offered the rematch and the offer’s still there if he feels he wants another shot at it.
AW: How was the nose after that, what was the rehabilitation like?
MG: We had surgery two weeks after the fight. The doctor did a great job, he realigned it, broke it, put it in place, I had a cast around my nose for almost a week, I just had to wait for it to heal properly and ever since that I haven’t had any problems with it. Definitely, the doctor did a great job. I’ve been sparring and I haven’t had any problems with my nose. I can breathe comfortable, I can spar, there’s no bleeding, there’s no puffiness around my nose, so I’m definitely going to be in very good shape.
AW: In doing (beating Salido) you became the WBO and THE RING champion. What did it mean to you to win those titles?
MG: The WBO makes me officially a world champion. That’s every fighter’s goal, to be a world champion, to hold one title from the four organizations. THE RING magazine awarded me their featherweight world championship and that makes me feel very, very good because it’s a very prestigious belt. They only award it to the one’s they feel deserve it in a meaningful way, that makes it more special to me to have that. They feel I deserve to be RING featherweight champion. That’s like champion of champions, that’s what that represents. That’s kind of like having all the belts in the division, kind of like having the undisputed championship. It’s what I wanted to be recognized as; now I have to defend my title and make sure I keep that same recognition and keep increasing in popularity, make sure I keep winning and keep defending the title as many (times) as possible.
AW: Whilst you’re not looking past JuanMa, what are your thoughts on the featherweight division?
MG: It’s probably one of the best divisions in the sport right now. I haven’t really looked through all the records in the other divisions but in my division, the featherweight division, all the champions are undefeated right now. I’m not sure what their records are but I can tell you everyone undefeated. Abner Mares is undefeated, I’m undefeated, Evgeny Gradovich is undefeated, Chris John’s undefeated as well. It’s definitely a tough division. I know there’s going to be some offers there. Hopefully, we can unify the title, maybe with John, because Abner Mares probably won’t happen due to the promoter conflict. Evgeny is with my brother so that probably won’t happen. So the only one that would be available is Chris John or maybe I move up to 130 or someone from 122 comes up, it’s only a few pounds away from bantamweight and super bantamweight and then super featherweight; they’re all close in weight, so there could definitely be a jump up in weight. I just want to retain my title and do what I have to do as a champion and make sure everything is taken care of with (promoter) Bob Arum, Top Rank and (manager) Cameron Dunkin. They decide what the best options are and I’m just there to fight.
AW: You touched on then that you may move up soon to 130. Is this something that is on the horizon?
MG: I want to stay at 126. I want to defend my title as many times as possible but my promoter and manager have already talked about maybe having a fight at 130 with one of the other champions who holds the WBO (130-pound title), which is Rocky Martinez. I told them I’d be ok with that as long as I’m allowed to stay as the WBO champion at 126. Even if I won the title at 130 they need to allow me to come back to 126 to defend my title. Until I’m ready to move up and leave the division then I’ll vacate the title I currently hold. They mentioned a possible fight next year at 130 with Rocky Martinez so that’s why I brought that up, but I personally would like to stay at 126 for as long as possible.
AW: If I can take you back, it’s funny because even though your family was heavily involved in boxing when you were young you never really showed any interest in it at first?
MG: Well we’ve been like you say around boxing my whole life. I actually started boxing at the age of 14. I had my first amateur fight at 14, before that I would go to the gym on the weekend to see my brother train on a Saturday morning sometimes during the summer I’d go two, three days a week just to hang out and watch them train but I never thought about picking up boxing as a sport for me, never mind a career. A nephew of mine was 12 at the time I was 13 going on 14 and he was doing some exhibition fights. I went to see him a few times and one time one of the guys from the gym he was at didn’t have an opponent. He was a little older than me and a little heavier than me but he didn’t have any amateur experience either. I wasn’t training or anything but my brother signed me up. He said “You’re getting in the ring with that guy,” I said “Oh, alright.” I borrowed some shoes, some headgear, cup and shorts, everything. We weren’t ready to do anything. We were there to support my nephew and the next thing (I know) I’m in the ring. So we do the exhibition fight and that’s when I started. It started that spark. I liked it, it was fun, I did pretty well and I decided to start training and as soon as I turned 14 – this was maybe six months later – I had my first amateur fight. I started to compete in the amateurs and a few fights later after 10 or 11 fights I go into my first tournament, the Junior Olympics, and I advanced all the way to the finals at the national level. That was my first loss, actually, in national competition. I ended up being the silver medalist and it grew from there. It showed me I could do something in the sport, so I took it more seriously and paid more attention to it and as time went by here I am and, happy how I choose my career. I wouldn’t change anything about my life.
AW: I guess it was just in your blood and natural?
MG: I would think so. It was meant to be. I’ve been around boxing my whole life, my little nephews and cousins, they’ve all tried it. Some do it a few times and don’t like it or sometimes they have other things to take care of and boxing goes to the side but everyone’s tried it at one point or another. Everybody puts on a pair of gloves at least once.
AW: Let’s talk about you and your life away from boxing. What do you enjoy doing?
MG: In 2010, I graduated from the Ventura County Police in sheriff’s reserves academy. I did it to see what the job was like, to have a better understanding of what the law enforcement is actually like and not just from what you hear on the news. That’s something I wanted to have kind of like as a back-up career maybe. I’m not working for any agency; I’m not working for any police department so I can’t say I’m a cop or sheriff. I’m focusing on boxing, that’s my number-one career, but I do have that training behind me.
I am married. I have a 6-year-old daughter. My boy, he’ll be two years this month. I’ve been married for six years. I enjoy spending time with my family, when I’m not fighting. I take my kids out to theme parks, Disney Land, Lego Land, that’s what I want to do. I don’t just want to focus on boxing and not give any time to my family.
My own personal hobbies would be, I like to watch a lot of movies, I like to go to the shooting range and take a few guns that I have and practice shooting once in awhile. I have also been enjoying driving at the local race track nearby. There’s a few drag race tracks I’ve taken my car to. I don’t compete at any level, just to enjoy the car. You can’t really enjoy the car on the streets, so I do like to take the car to the track. We take a drive over by Malibu, a lot of bikers, it’s a nice drive, a lot of turns; it’s fun. I take a drive out there every once in awhile with a few friends from Oxnard.
I also spend time with all my nephews. We hang out play video games together, just have fun. I enjoy being at home with friends and family, having everyone over, running around, playing with my kids, playing in my pool, things like that when I’m not boxing. When I’m boxing I’m serious but when it’s my free time I want to enjoy everything and have my family enjoy it with me, nephews, nieces and cousins enjoy what I’m able to achieve in boxing. Everybody gets a chance to enjoy together.
AW: Lastly do you have a message for JuanMa ahead of your fight with him?
MG: Not really, I’m sure he’s doing his job in the gym. I wouldn’t have anything to say except let’s have a good fight. It’s a fight a lot of people are expecting to be a great fight and let’s give them what they want. Let’s show them the kind of fighters we both are and make sure it’s one to remember.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda, Scott Kilbride