By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Robert Garcia, to say the least, knows boxing.
He’s seen world champions. He’s been a world champion. And he’s trained world champions.
And as a card-carrying member of the Ray Leonard fan club, he’s certain the guy whose corner he’ll be running on Saturday night has the stuff of the “Sugar” man and the “Hands of Stone.”
You know the drill.
Moving up multiple weight classes. Taking on an unconquerable challenge. Finding a way.
All in a night’s work for little brother Mikey, he said.
“Ray Leonard is my favorite fighter of all time. And Ray Leonard did it,” Garcia told Boxing Scene.
“He did it because he wanted to be great. Duran did it. Did the same when he moved up to fight Leonard. They wanted to be great, and that’s what Mikey wants. Mikey wants to be great. He doesn’t want to be just another champion that defends titles and wins titles here and there.
“Mikey wants to be remembered as a great champion. He wants to be remembered 100 years from now. Just like the Leonards and the Durans. People remember them from 40 years ago and 40 years from now they’re still going to remember them.”
Should he exit AT&T Stadium as IBF welterweight champion, that status will be cemented.
An upset of defending title-holder Errol Spence Jr. would provide Garcia with a belt in a fifth weight class, following previous jewelry wins at 126, 130, 135 and 140 pounds. He’s hardly reaching for the low-hanging fruit this time, though, what with Spence’s 24-0 record with 21 KOs – including three straight title-fight stoppages across a total of just 19 rounds.
Spence is a significant betting favorite, too, but big brother remains unmoved.
Though he conceded at first it wasn’t quite that certain.
“When he first told us it was about a year ago when Spence fought Peterson. Mikey said ‘I’m gonna fight this guy later this year.’ That was last year,” Garcia said. “Mikey wanted it to be before the end of the year, but with different dates and TV and location, it ended up being in March.
“At first we did, like everybody, say ‘What are you talking about, you’re a lightweight and this guy’s a welterweight, are you crazy or what?’ But then, little by little, it changed. We thought at first he might be playing around but he never changed his opinion. He kept saying he wanted Spence. And now as a trainer studying the fights and looking for things that we could do, as a trainer I see why Mikey was so sure of this fight. And now I believe just as Mikey did a year ago.”
Boxing Scene caught up with Garcia at the outset of fight week to discuss his fighter’s mentality, the steps they’ve taken to develop a winning strategy and what success on Saturday night will look like.
Boxing Scene: The general consensus is that Mikey is making a big step toward greatness, but it’s not going to work out. What are we missing? Overvaluing Spence? Undervaluing Mikey? Something in between?
Robert Garcia: No. In reality that’s what everybody should believe is going to happen. A guy moving up two divisions to challenge if not the best, one of the best welterweights in the division, it’s obviously a difficult pick. But we know what Mikey has and what he’s capable of doing and what he’s ready to do.
Boxing Scene: Is it a tangible thing? Does he have a skill set that works against Spence? Or is it something intangible, something that only guys who’ve been on the inside would know about him – that he’s a tough guy, that he rises to challenges, etc. What is it about him that’s going to be able to make this happen on Saturday night?
Robert Garcia: What Mikey has said before is that the boxing world still hasn’t seen the best of Mikey. Mikey still hasn’t really been in the fight that he wants to be in. This is the one to show what he really is about. Mikey still has a lot of things that the boxing world has never seen.
Boxing Scene: So it took you a little bit to get on board with his belief?
Robert Garcia: At first, we see what everyone sees, we see him as a great welterweight, the best in the division, knocking everybody out. That’s what we’re seeing, just like a fan. But once I’m working as a trainer, looking for things to do, that Mikey could do to Spence, and seeing things that Spence that doesn’t do, or doesn’t do as good, or that we still haven’t seen from Spence, that’s when I see things as a trainer not as a fan. As a fan, man at first I was like, ‘You crazy Mikey? There’s no way you’re going to welterweight, especially to challenge the toughest welterweight in the division.” Other fighters have done this, or moved up in weight a couple divisions, but they picked the easiest challenge out there. The guy that’s gonna get knocked out in three rounds. But Mikey went after the toughest one. Not saying that the other ones are easier either. Welterweight is a tough division right now and all four champions are great, but at that moment Mikey chose Spence and now we’re four days away.
Boxing Scene: Since you’ve looked at this as a strategy matchup, there are things that you’ve seen that you think Mikey can do something with?
Robert Garcia: There’s plenty of things. Myself and my dad and my son, Junior, we’ve been going through the fight over and over and there’s quite a few things. I’m not going to give you the game plan but Mikey’s very smart and Mikey’s going to beat him on the outside and on the inside, both. It’ll be on the outside or the inside, but Mikey’s better than him at whatever it takes.
Boxing Scene: If he quit tomorrow, he’s a guy who’ll be remembered for a while. Does it motivate him, make him mad, make him laugh, whatever, that the general reaction is that it won’t go well for him Saturday night? Is he pissed off, what vibe do you sense it gives him?
Robert Garcia: No, it doesn’t piss him off. It actually motivates him more. He knows what he can do in the ring. He still hasn’t shown everything he’s got. Mikey’s special. He’s not the only one, but he’s one of the few fighters that have that talent. Those skills that when their opponents are that good, to make them showcase what they’ve got. He’s been able to do it moving up in divisions and winning different titles, but nothing to the challenge where he’s going to be against Spence. Nothing compared to that. This is where he’s going to show what he’s really got.
Boxing Scene: You’ve said this is his dare to be great fight. Fast-forward to Saturday night. What is your reaction going to be if he actually pulls this off?
Robert Garcia: We already know the mentality Mikey has. There’s nothing in reality that I’m going to be able to tell him. I believe him. I believe what he thinks. And I believe that he’s going to pull it off. We’re already thinking like that. So it’s not going to be a surprise if he pulls it off. It’s not going to be a surprise for me or my dad or anyone in the family. It’s going to be a surprise for the rest of the world, which is why Mikey is going to be remembered as one of the greats. But for us, we’re already training for it. We’re already prepared for it. We’re already ready for it. We already know he can do it.
Boxing Scene: If he beats Spence, is he a welterweight from now on?
Robert Garcia: Definitely. I think he’s a welterweight from now on. He’s already built his body to that division. Maybe 140 if a huge fight appeared at 140. But all the big fights are at 147 anyway, so I think it would be at 147, and eventually maybe even challenging for another title at 154. I know Mikey has that in mind and he’d probably move up to challenge another champion at 154. It’s obviously not in my mind right now, but eventually I know that’s what Mikey would want.
Boxing Scene: If he beats Spence, it’s going to be tough to say “No, you can’t possibly do this.”
Robert Garcia: Exactly man, exactly.
Boxing Scene: We’re going to be watching Saturday night. We’re going to be looking for some indication, early, that Mikey can hang with this guy and Mikey can beat this guy. What is it we’re going to see right away that tells us that?
Robert Garcia: Mikey’s very smart. He’s going to fight very smart. He’s going to start off very smart. But he’s not going to be getting hit. He’s not going to be getting hit, and he’s gonna be landing – I’m not going to say hard punches, because he’s not going to go all out, obviously he’s the smaller guy and we’re not going to go out looking for the knockout – so Mikey’s going to fight very smart and try to win round by round.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF junior lightweight title – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Tevin Farmer (champion/No. 10 IWBR) vs. Jono Carroll (No. 4 IBF/No. 31 IWBR)
Farmer (28-4-1, 6 KO): Third title defense; Seven decisions in seven Philadelphia fights (7-0, 0 KO)
Carroll (16-0-1, 3 KO): First title fight; First fight in the United States
Fitzbitz says: The visiting Irishman won’t be a cakewalk. But Farmer has built a nice little run for himself on home turf and he needs to keep winning to get big dates at 130. Farmer by decision (85/15)
IBF welterweight title – Arlington, Texas
Errol Spence Jr. (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Mikey Garcia (Unranked IBF/Unranked IWBR)
Spence (24-0, 21 KO): Third title defense; Eleven straight wins by KO/TKO (57 total rounds)
Garcia (39-0, 30 KO): Eighth title fight (7-0); Never weighed in heavier than 139 1/2 pounds
Fitzbitz says: It’s a super intriguing fight and I admire Garcia to death for daring to be great against such a talented foe. But that’s just it. Spence is the best at 147, and Garcia’s not. Spence in 9 (75/25)
IBO cruiserweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Kevin Lerena (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Artur Mann (No. 21 IBO/No. 43 IWBR)
Lerena (21-1, 9 KO): Third title defense; Six straight wins in scheduled 12-rounders (6-0, 2 KO)
Mann (15-0, 8 KO): First title fight; Second fight scheduled for 12 rounds (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Lerena is building some steam among the cruiserweights, and though Mann isn’t a slouch, there’s a reason he’s ranked in the 40s and the champ is single digits. Lerena by decision (90/10)
WBO flyweight title – Gifu, Japan
Kosei Tanaka (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Ryoichi Taguchi (No. 4 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Tanaka (12-0, 7 KO): First title defense; Already held WBO titles at 105 and 108 pounds (three defenses)
Taguchi (27-3-2, 12 KO): Tenth title fight (7-1-1); Held WBA/IBF titles at 108 pounds (seven defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Taguchi might get a favorite’s nod against a lot of flyweights. But Tanaka’s shown elite-level stuff in a dozen fights and he’s just too much of a commodity here. Tanaka by decision (85/15)
Last week’s picks: 3-0 (WIN: Bivol, Porter, Hooker)
2019 picks record: 18-3 (85.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,030-346 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.