Mikey Garcia doesn’t always show all of his skills in the ring. And to his fans that can be maddening. There is a simple reason for it, though.
“I do what it takes to win,” he said.
It is a strategy and a philosophy that has allowed Garcia to build an unblemished record of 31-0 with 26 KOs. It also allowed him to add the RING and WBO featherweight titles to his mantle.
But it drives his fans crazy. They would like to see the many facets of Garcia’s talents every time he steps into the ring. In reality that is what separates good boxers from great boxers.
Perhaps they will get to see more when Garcia makes his first title defense against Juan Manuel Lopez at the American Airlines Center on HBO this Saturday night. Perhaps Lopez, a former champion with much to prove in his own right, will force Garcia to reach deep into his bag and draw out a wide array of skills in order to maintain his championship.
“I’ve always been able to do a lot of things that the general public hasn’t seen,” Garcia said. “I just hadn’t had a chance to show it.”
Consequently there has always been a hint of mystery around just how good Garcia really is. There were flashes. But there was no real clue that he truly had the goods until he knocked out Bernabe Concepcion and Victor Barrios last year.
It was Garcia’s title-winning match against Orlando Salido that erased many of those doubts about his skills. Salido was the man who had altered the course of Lopez’s career arc, stopping him twice by knockout and tarnishing his reputation as the best featherweight in the sport.
Garcia found a way to tame Salido’s awkward style, something that Lopez couldn’t do in two tries. He knocked down Salido four times in the fight and could have possibly stopped him had it not been for an accidental head butt that injured Garcia’s nose and forced the fight to be stopped in the 8th round. Garcia was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee called a halt to the match, and won a technical decision.
Garcia said he used the same measured approach that he always does. As the fight progressed, he reached into his bag and pulled out just what he needed to keep the match under his control.
“I’ve always been a very technical and very patient boxer,” Garcia said. “The way that my father and brother have been working with me, they’ve always told me that it’s best to have a good defense and then work off that.”
Garcia, 25, has a rich boxing heritage. His father, Eduardo Garcia, is a noted trainer in Southern California. It was under Eduardo’s tutelage that Robert, Mikey’s brother, became a featherweight world champion. Now Robert trains Mikey as Eduardo looks on.
“He has a pedigree better than most guys in the gym,” said Bob Arum, Garcia’s promoter. “His people live and breathe boxing. The family really understands boxing. A lot of times kids don’t understand why a trainer does what he does. But he understands completely. He’s seen them work with fighters all his life.”
Though he grew up around boxing, Garcia said it wasn’t his first career choice.
“At 10 or 12 years old I started boxing just to have something to do after school,” he said. “It came natural.”
As his career in the amateurs started to blossom, Garcia said he began to take it more seriously. Even after he turned pro, Garcia was exploring other career opportunities. He attended the Ventura County (California) Police Academy and graduated.
“I went to the Academy to see what all there was to being a police officer or a sheriff,” Garcia said. “But my main focus is boxing now.”
Garcia is in the big leagues now and he knows it. He defeated Salido for the title, which is a great accomplishment. But he will be defending the title against Lopez, a former champion looking to regain his title and his status.
“Right now I know (Lopez is) more motivated than ever,” Garcia said. “He knows what a victory over me will do for him. I actually expect him to be a better boxer than Salido. He’s one victory away from launching his career back to the top.”
Arum said it’s the perfect match for both men. After an initial feeling-out period of one or two rounds, he expects that Garcia and Lopez will go after each other.
“From JuanMa’s perspective, he’s been here before,” Arum said. “He’s a big puncher and you just don’t lose that. You’re talking about a guy who knocked out (Daniel) Ponce de Leon in the one round. And you know that Garcia is not going to back down.”
Garcia fully expects to have to utilize more of the skills that he has but rarely displays. He wants to continue to erase any doubt as to whether he belongs among the small group of world class boxers.
“I expect to put on a great performance so that the people see me and recognize me as an elite fighter,” Garcia said. “This is an opportunity for people to see another side of me. I think they really want to see more of me than I’ve shown in the past.”
Photos: Naoki Fukuda; Chris Farina-Top Rank