You could talk about all of the things that make Mikey Garcia one of the greatest boxers in the world – his timing, his punching accuracy, his footwork, his intensity – and you wouldn’t come close to naming the one thing that makes him the model for modern boxing.
Garcia has two things most boxers do not: freedom and flexibility. And so Garcia, who on Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Showtime faces Robert Easter Jr. in an IBF-WBC lightweight title unification, is the model for others to follow.
Garcia won a super lightweight title in his last bout, a wide unanimous decision on March 10 over Sergey Lipinets that earned him the IBF super lightweight belt.
On Saturday, he’ll fight Easter for two of the four major lightweight belts and, if he is successful and has his way, he’ll meet IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. next.
Not all fighters are physically gifted enough to do what Garcia is attempting to do. All, though, are more than capable of playing a bigger role in their careers than they currently do.
The path of any fighter’s career shouldn’t be up to Al Haymon or Bob Arum or Lou DiBella or any specific television network.
When a fighter is asked in the ring after a victory who’s next, he should never say it’s up to Haymon or Arum or Showtime or HBO. The best fights, and the most lucrative ones, will happen if the fighter makes it plain what he wants and when.
Garcia fought to get out of his contract with Top Rank to gain that freedom and flexibility, and it came at a great cost. But it’s obvious that he’s using his freedom the right way.
Garcia and Spence, for example, are two of the five best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. If Garcia were to defeat Easter and then challenge Spence for a welterweight title, it would be a monumental night. Those are the kinds of nights that make boxing so popular.
It’s when the best guys are facing no-name, no-hope mandatory challengers and aren’t pushing themselves or their advisers to think outside the box that the life and joy are sucked out of the sport.
Garcia is putting the excitement back into boxing by looking to elevate himself and give his customers what they want.
“I will discuss anything, any options available, any name that’s being mentioned, I have no problem with it,” Garcia said. “It doesn’t distract me from my opponent in front of me. Robert Easter Jr. is a tough fighter who I have to take very seriously and I do, and that’s why we did a nine-week training camp and got the great sparring, got the right training, the right diet, everything.
“But speaking about other opponents, other fighters in the possible future, doesn’t affect me at all. I’m willing to speak and discuss anything with anybody.”
Garcia is 4-0 with two knockouts since his 30-month exile from boxing while he battled Top Rank. Adding Easter’s 21-0 record, the record of his five opponents since his return is 113-4. Starting in 2017, he fought Dejan Zlaticanin for the WBC lightweight belt; met Adrien Broner in a non-title 140-pound bout that had great interest; and defeated Lipinets for the IBF super lightweight crown.
He’ll go back to lightweight Saturday to meet Easter, and if he’s successful is willing to jump to welterweight to take on the great Spence, even though Spence is decidedly bigger.
It’s hard to imagine any one fighter doing more in modern times to making boxing relevant than Garcia.
“I’m looking for the most attractive fights, most important fights for me in my career and I want fights just like this, undefeated champions,” Garcia said. “I’m fighting champion after champion. Those are the fights that will excite me the most and motivate me the most.
“I could easily be defending my title against top contenders in the Top 10, but if they haven’t been champions or their record’s not perfect, it doesn’t really excite me. It doesn’t motivate me. But that’s why I’m facing guys like Dejan Zlaticanin, Sergey Lipinets, undefeated champions. These are fights that really motivate me and excite me because in the end, I want to leave my name cemented in the history books of boxing.”
It’s no easy task to get past Easter, a lanky fighter with significant pop. Easter has 14 knockouts in his 21 wins and will have an eight-inch reach advantage.
But if he gets past Easter, it will be even tougher to deal with Spence, who is arguably the pound-for-pound best in the sport at this point. At worst, Spence is in the top five and is blowing out welterweights.
A win over a guy like that will make fans remember a fighter forever, though. And that’s exactly why Garcia is doing what he is doing.
He’s not getting nearly enough credit for being a leader and showing his peers how it’s meant to be done. It all starts, though, with confidence in himself.
“I always have believed I’m the best and that’s why I’m taking on these fights to prove to everybody that there’s no one else better than me,” Garcia said. “There’s no one else equal to me and these are the fights that excite me the most and will cement my name.”
Guys like Easter and Spence, and perhaps Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko, among many others, may disagree with that. But instead of settling the debate in an interview, Garcia is positioning himself to settle it in the only place that matters.
He’s the model for how it should be done.
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