By Steve Kim: It’s taken 30 professional fights but Mikey Garcia is finally on the doorstep of a major world title as he faces WBO beltholder Orlando Salido on Saturday night from the Theater at Madison Square Garden (9:45 p.m., ET/PT, HBO). By today’s standards, especially in the era of four major sanctioning bodies, this is actually a long and winding road. Nowadays, most talented prospects are microwaved and are fighting for a belt within 20 to 25 fights. A prime example is the gifted Adrien Broner, who, in 25 fights, is already on his second world title (in as many weight classes) and has become an HBO staple. Last year was supposed to be Garcia’s big jump off.
Instead, it was the year that wasn’t.
After coolly dispatching of Bernabe Concepcion last March in Puerto Rico, he was then slated to face WBA featherweight beltholder Celestino Caballero during the summer months. But that fight ended up in “Bolivian” for various reasons. Then Garcia was originally scheduled to take on Salido on November 10th before the rugged Mexican injured his hand while closing the trunk of his car. Yeah, Murphy’s Law was squarely against Garcia in 2012.
But it’s here. Christmas has arrived on January 19th for the calculated counterpuncher from Oxnard.
“I’m very excited; I’m finally here,” he told Maxboxing last week. “Last year, we were looking for a title opportunity, two title shots in front of me, signed, agreed on and it just wasn’t happening. Finally, everything is going well. Right now, the fight is just around the corner.” Garcia is only 25 years old but wise beyond his years. He says of the lost opportunities, “We were really excited to be offered those title shots and then when we hear the news that it’s not happening, it is frustrating. It is a little upsetting that all the hard work, everything is going well and all of a sudden - it’s not happening. It is upsetting; I mean, I understand. Things like this happen all the time and it’s just part of the game and we gotta move forward.”
Even Job would’ve grown a bit impatient with the way 2012 played out.
“It was just one bad thing after another and fights kept falling out for him,” said Garcia’s manager, Cameron Dunkin, who had to be the bearer of bad news a bit too often for his liking. After his appearance on Showtime, Garcia had a tune-up in Mexico versus the ancient and undersized Mauricio Pastrana, which lasted less than two rounds, and then Jonathan Barros, a late replacement for Salido on HBO. What also held up his progress was Showtime’s indecision on whether they wanted to air the Salido-Garcia fight. They took most of the spring and summer to decide that they didn’t want this bout, which sparked claims by Bob Arum that Top Rank had effectively been banned from the network.
But Garcia took it in stride, pointing out, “I also had two fights on national networks and good opportunities for people to still see me and still stay active and busy. I mean, it turned out to be a pretty good year after all.”
The usual template for boxers winning their first belts involves cherry-picking the softest champions. Well, in Salido, they are facing one of the hardest men in boxing, a man who struggled for years on the back lots and fringes of the sport and isn’t about to give up his title easily. Some titles are easier to attain than others. This here might be as tough as Garcia will ever have to fight for. “This didn’t work out the way we wanted,” said Dunkin with a rueful laugh, knowing very well just what type of assignment his guy has in front of him. “I tried to do other guys and it didn’t work out. And then it came to where we knew we could do this because [Garcia]’s with Top Rank and it makes sense. It’s simple. The problem is, he’s right at the top of the best featherweights in the world.”
Sometimes, you just gotta trust the thoroughbred you have and let him run.
“So I had to go to Robert [Garcia] and ask him and he said, ‘We’ll be alright’ and Mr. Garcia, Eduardo, and he said, ‘We’ll be alright’ and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ and they talked me into it. So here we are.”
Juan Manuel Lopez was believed to be the next superstar from the island of Puerto Rico and he was derailed twice by Salido, whose record of 39-11-2 (27) belies the quality of fighter that has been forged throughout the years.
“Everybody knows it; he’s the man to beat,” said Garcia, respectfully. “He’s the champion; he’s a proven champion. He did not just pick up a vacant title and they didn’t baby him. He’s a proven champ; he fought everybody and beat Juan Manuel Lopez. He upset him. He’s the real deal and that’s why we want him. That’s why we were going after him. Beating him would really skyrocket me to the top of the division.”
This is exactly what Arum had in mind in putting this match-up together.
“We thought that Salido was the toughest guy out there and we think that Mikey has the potential - if he beats Salido to become a superstar - and the first step in making him a superstar is for him to have beaten a top, top guy. Now, I don’t give a damn about any of these titles anymore. There’s just too many of them, their interims, their everything. So that’s not what we were looking for. I’m looking for him to fight the top guys. What am I going to do? Put him with this Billy Dib guy?” asked Arum of the Australian who has the IBF title in his possession. “I mean, he’s a nice kid; I guess. But would you give Mikey any credit if he won the title by beating Billy Dib?”