Mikey Garcia daring to be great in taking on toughest challenge available in Errol Spence Jr.
Garcia might be crazy or crazy like a fox in choosing to move up two weight classes on Saturday
The story has been told so many times over the past six months that it's starting to feel like a tall tale or a fable.
Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), who has won titles in four divisions, watched closely during consecutive knockout wins for IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs) and came away impressed. Yet, instead of doing all he could to avoid Spence, like most of the big names in the division had strategically done, Garcia reacted differently.
"I was watching him fight Kell Brook and I saw him really turn the fight around and showed to everybody why he's the world champion and why he deserves all the credit," Garcia said during Tuesday's media teleconference. "And then I saw him fight Peterson. And we were watching with my dad [Eduardo] and my brother [Robert] and I told them that after a fight or two, I want to fight Spence.
"And they all thought I was crazy and just joking but I was serious. I told them, 'I'm going to move into welterweight. I will fight and challenge Spence."
Undeterred by the response of his family who train and support him, Garcia spent much of 2018 beginning to plant the seed the seed publicly that he wasn't kidding. One year later, he enters the most dangerous fight of his 13-year career on Saturday (Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET) inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, when he makes his 147-pound debut against Spence.
On one hand, what the 31-year-old Garcia is doing is nothing short of refreshing. It's old school and brash. It's also contradictory -- moving up two weight classes to willingly face the division's most dominant fighter -- to how the average star fighter operates in 2019 when big fights typically take unnecessarily long to marinate, if they happen at all.
It's also because of Garcia's behavior that boxing fans have been gifted with a rare meeting between two unbeaten fighters in their absolute primes, both of whom reside in the top five of most pound-for-pound rankings.
That doesn't mean it isn't recklessly bold at the same time, which begs a series of larger questions asked by everyone from critics to Garcia's family: Is he crazy or crazy like a fox? What does Garcia see in Spence that makes him confident enough to seek out the boogie man two divisions north? What makes him different than any other fighter who felt Spence's heat and got the hell out of the kitchen?
From the standpoint of craft and technique, no one is doubting that Garcia is in the same class of fighter as the less proven but even more dominant Spence, a 29-year-old from outside of Dallas who presents a throwback feel with his well-rounded game and natural toughness. But the size difference simply can't be overlooked.
Not only will Spence hold three-inch height and four-inch reach advantages on Saturday, he's a large welterweight with big power in a division Garcia is completely unproven at. Even worse, Garcia also appeared to hit a bit of a ceiling in March 2018 when he knocked down and outpointed unbeaten Sergey Lipinets to claim the IBF junior welterweight title yet found himself in a real fight in order to do so.
It's not that what Garcia is attempting to do is historically unprecedented as the most natural comparison might be "Sugar" Shane Mosley, who moved up from lightweight in 2000 after a pair of tuneup fights to win a welterweight title from Oscar De La Hoya in their first meeting. But the major difference, Mosley, was that he fought at a higher weight than De La Hoya as an amateur while the smaller Garcia won his first title as a featherweight.
"I think Errol Spence is a bit bigger and stronger and I think it's going to be too hard of a jump [for Garcia] to stay undefeated," Mosley said. "I think the difference is that I was a bigger lightweight going up to welterweight than what Mikey was. Mikey came from 126 and now, trying to go to 147, that is going to be very hard and difficult. He's fighting a guy at 147 who could obviously be 154."
Mosley's opinion is one that has been shared by most experts and fighters. To Garcia's credit, he has used the criticism to fuel him. But the interesting part of Garcia originally agreeing to take a fight so daring is how contrary the decision is to the kind of calculating and patient fighter Garcia was in the smaller weight classes.
Something significant changed inside Garcia, however, during a self-imposed exile from the sport between 2014 and 2016 during a lengthy contract battle with then-promoter Top Rank. Having grown up as the youngest in a boxing family, success had come easy to him but it also felt expected. Because of that, Garcia now admits he had no joy and considered walking away from the sport for good during his two-plus years away.
Instead, not only did Garcia come back more aggressive inside the ring upon a move up to lightweight, he found a hunger inside of him to find out how great he can be that originally wasn't there. His matchmaking decisions as a promotional free agent became more about adding to his legacy than seeking money or fame.
The decision to fight Spence is, in many ways, consistent with that as Garcia has the opportunity for a world title in a fight division and a career-defining win that would give him a strong argument as the best fighter in the world. While others ran from Spence, it was Garcia who came forward knowing full well it would take a challenge this scary to, for the first time in his career, bring out the very best inside that he has to offer.
"When I took on this fight, I was not doing it for any reason other than to prove to everybody that I'm the best and that I can fight anybody and I'm not scared to fight anybody even in the welterweight division," Garcia said. "I think I need a fight like this to get the best out of me. I meet an opponent that will challenge me, that will push me and is matched almost identically to me.
"There is no other fighter moving up in weight and back down and back up and keeping weight classes and fighting undefeated champions. No other fighter is doing that. So when you talk about pound-for-pound, well, I'm actually proving it. I'm doing it in different divisions. That's kind of why people will remember me for, that I was willing to fight anybody in any division."
When he first heard that Garcia had called him out last year, Spence admitted he laughed at the notion of a smaller fighter moving up against someone with his level of power and grit. But after months of listening to Garcia talk about how he feels he's better than Spence in every category, the fighter known as "The Truth" has taken on a much more direct approach and hasn't backed down from his belief that Garcia will regret not taking the original advice of those closest to him.
"I have a lot of respect for Mikey Garcia, but him and his brothers talked a lot shit," Spence said at Thursday's final press conference. "This will be a legendary fight, but in the end it's going to be a one-sided massacre and I am gonna punish him for taking this fight."
From Garcia's standpoint, Spence is just another critic who will find out first-hand on Saturday who special he truly is. Win or lose, Garcia is making the kind of bold move that legendary careers are built upon.
No guts, no glory.
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