At face value, Mikey Garcia isn’t a man to be feared. His quiet demeanor is paired with a thin, unimposing body and a rather soft countenance. By looking at him, you might think he’d be an easy mark. Oh, how wrong you'd be. What Garcia lacks in an intimidating visage he more than makes up for with the firepower in his fists and a shockingly sharp boxing IQ.
On HBO’s boxing triple-header Saturday, he added to this collection of world championships by knocking out 130-pound titleholder Rocky Martinez. In the process, Garcia took another step toward the elusive pound-for-pound list and dethroned the last champ Puerto Rico had on a boxing throne.
Garcia fought, as always, in a style that mirrors his unassuming demeanor. There is very little that is flashy about him. He employs a methodical boxing approach that is, above all else, calm. There is absolutely no rush in Garcia’s boxing. He fights as if he’s been in the ring three decades — seen it all, tried it all and overcome it all. His adjustments to obstacles, like Martinez’s big right hand that sent Garcia to the canvas in the second round, are small. Garcia didn’t rush back in to prove a point — he’s not Arturo Gatti or Manny Pacquiao. While sitting on the canvass, Garcia took some deep breaths and waited for a full eight count before getting back to his feet. Not because he needed that much time to clear his head, but because as every experienced boxer knows, he’s already lost a point on the scorecards so he might as well take in the brief respite the knockdown has given him.
Garcia’s adjustments were of inches and half-seconds. That’s all he needed. He didn’t become a brawler or even drastically increase his punch output — even though I wish he’d done more of the latter. He tightened up his defense and started timing Martinez with his left hook, which was the beginning of the end. Garcia’s well-placed counters landed hard in the fourth and especially in the sixth, when Garcia landed several leaping left hooks that were reminiscent of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Martinez responded with pride, pounding his chest and asking for more. Two rounds later, Martinez could do little but gasp for breath and writhe in pain as he collapsed at a perfectly executed left hook to the liver. I’m sure Martinez begged his body to move, but the 10 count came before his body remembered how.
So much of this fight was about Garcia’s fight with the scale. In his last outing against another Puerto Rican fighter, Juan Manuel Lopez, Garcia lost his featherweight title on scale after failing to make weight (although he won the fight in spectacular fashion). As graphically displayed on HBO’s “2 Days Mikey Garcia,” Garcia was throwing up violently after the weigh-in, his body in obvious turmoil at what it had experienced trying to reach the contracted 126-pound limit. Now, moving up a weight class, would Garcia’s problems be solved? Or would the move reveal deeper issues?
Garcia and his coaching staff did what many in boxing these days are doing — they hired a strength and conditioning coach. They brought in Alex Ariza, former conditioning coach for Manny Pacquiao. Like many fighters trained by old-school coaches (Garcia’s father/trainer was the man behind Fernando Vargas and Robert Garcia, among others), this was the first time Garcia had had a conditioning coach who carefully plotted out a nutritional plan for him. As Ariza posted pictures along the way in training camp, it was clear that he was making a significant difference.
With the right diet, conditioning, expert coaching staff and his own keen boxing IQ, Garcia is poised and ready to take on all comers. To get the big money, however, he’s going to have to take another step up in weight. At 135 pounds, the explosive Yuriorkis Gamboa might lie ahead, if he’s willing to take on the challenge that is. With Garcia’s recent string of knockout performances, it’s easy to see why he would be avoided. But I’m hoping Gamboa’s drought in boxing might convince him that best way to catapult himself into bigger and better things is by taking the caché of a younger rising star — or trying to anyway.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.