Commentary: Can Mikey Garcia handle ‘The Truth’? Let’s find out
Sometimes you can’t win in elite-level boxing. Critics are either on your case for not taking big enough challenges, or they admonish you for going after challenges that they deem too big.
The unbeaten Mikey Garcia knows all about the latter. The supremely talented four-weight world champion is bursting with ambition and doesn’t mind telling you about the fistic miracles he plans to achieve before hanging up the gloves.
Garcia, who is currently rated No. 2 by THE RING at 135 pounds, won his first world championship at featherweight in 2013 and has since collected belts at junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight.
There are many who feel that Garcia reached his ceiling at 140 pounds, where he outclassed Adrien Broner and relieved Sergey Lipinets of his IBF title. The 30-year-old boxer-puncher is 5-foot-6 with a 68-inch reach and the prevailing thought is that climbing any higher could be dangerous. That opinion is supported by the fact that Garcia returned to lightweight on Saturday and unified IBF and WBC titles with a dominant decision win over Robert Easter.
The one man who isn’t worried, however, is the fighter himself. Despite all that he’s achieved, Garcia has crosshairs locked on unbeaten IBF welterweight titleholder Errol Spence. “The Truth”, who hails from Desoto, Texas, is a superbly skilled southpaw who can crack with both hands. He is also massive for the weight and a trip to junior middleweight might be just around the corner.
“Don’t do it, Mikey,” is the cry!
But let’s take a chill pill and look at some facts. While there are weight divisions for a reason, Garcia wouldn’t be the first fighter to play Russian roulette with the scales and emerge with his head intact.
Between October 1937 and August 1938, Henry Armstrong captured world championships at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. Did he have an easy run? All three of his opponents: Petey Sarron (126), Lou Ambers (135) and Barney Ross (147) are Hall of Famers, so the answer to that question is no. Armstrong also held these titles simultaneously, which make his achievement even more astonishing.
More recently, Manny Pacquiao established himself as the modern game’s ultimate division destroyer, claiming world championships (RING, IBF, WBA, WBC or WBO) in eight weight classes. In March 2008, Pacquiao annexed RING and WBC junior lightweight titles when he defeated arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez by 12-round split decision in their second fight. Just 32 months later, the quick-fisted Filipino icon was pummeling Antonio Margarito en route to capturing the WBC junior middleweight championship.
Armstrong and Pacquiao have similarities. Both were offensive whirlwinds who could overcome bigger men with angles, volume and ferocity. Garcia, admittedly, is not cut from that cloth, but the sum of his parts – flawless technique, superb judgement of distance, adept foot movement, accuracy and punch variety – make him a very special prizefighter indeed.
But so is the man he is targeting.
I was ringside in May of last year when Spence came of age in front of 27,000 hostile fans at Bramall Lane soccer stadium in Sheffield, England. His opponent was local hero and IBF titleholder Kell Brook who boxed well over the first six rounds before being worn down and stopped in 11. I was impressed by the challenger’s poise and ability to execute a game plan. The thud of his body shots reverberated around ringside, and whenever Brook landed something significant, Spence paid him back in full and took over the action. It was a very mature performance which belied the American’s inexperience at championship level.
It speaks volumes about Garcia’s self-belief that he is willing to face such a dangerous foe. And his reasoning is probably simple. The unified lightweight titleholder is not obsessed with the sport. He doesn’t box because he loves it, he boxes because he’s exceptional at it. Now established as an elite operator, Garcia probably finds it difficult to motivate himself for anything other than a massive challenge and that is what Spence represents.
Let’s give Mikey a break and allow him to pursue his own destiny. After all, he’s one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in world boxing and is more than qualified to make his own decisions. He is daring to be great against a significantly larger champion and the odds are stacked against him. That attitude should be commended and we should applaud him for it.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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