I’m moving up two weight divisions, and not just to fight any welterweight, but Errol Spence. At first glance, it seems nuts. –Mikey Garcia
Four-division titlist and counter-puncher extraordinaire Mikey Garcia believes—nay, is entirely convinced—that on Saturday night he will emerge victorious from his encounter with one of the most dangerous welterweights in the world. The California native not only signed up for arguably the toughest fight he could take as his welterweight debut, but actually conceived of the venture himself when he called out Errol Spence Jr. last year, turning his back on the possibility of milking his name and titles for easy money against much more accommodating opposition.
Spence vs Garcia, which will take place at Dallas’ gigantic AT&T Stadium, has featured a refreshingly honest promotion. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that both Errol and Mikey talk the same way they fight: without embellishment or cheap gimmicks, all nonsense swiftly swept away. According to them–and to their promoters–the only thing fans need ponder in deciding whether to shell out for the pay-per-view is this: do you or don’t you want to watch two of the best pound-for-pound fighters test their skills and wills against each other? As Texans would say, what y’all see is what y’all get! No catchweights, no rehydration restrictions (other than the IBF-mandated one), no one-way rematch clause, no clear A-side/B-side crap to tip the scales of justice in favor of one fighter or the other.
And yet, as evidenced by the quote above, even the underdog knows why many of us see his challenge of Spence as downright outlandish, which has to do with the literal scales both will step on before the fight. While it’s true Garcia is vastly talented, maybe as talented as Spence, his frame is significantly smaller than Errol’s. Everything else equal, the old adage holds, a good big man always beats a good little man. The trouble for Mikey is that Spence is not only good: he’s strong, fast, and powerful and he’s busted up full-size welterweights such as Chris Algieri, Lamont Peterson, and Kell Brook. Mikey climbing up from featherweight to face a wrecking machine of Spence’s caliber is seen not as a noble challenge, but as a suicide mission.
Has Mikey Garcia gone mad, then? After all, this is a match he didn’t need to sign up for, a fight no one was talking about. More to the point, it’s a test that even his family–including his brother and trainer Robert Garcia–tried to talk him out of. But Mikey dug in his heels and finally got the truly big event that his career has needed for a long time. And it’s all in the name of legacy, pride, and other such abstract concepts more often than not left ignored by the majority of boxing’s big names.
In the buildup to this weekend’s main event, Mikey has repeatedly talked about what this fight represents to him: a chance to prove his true worth as a pugilist. Early on in Mikey’s foray into boxing, it became clear to himself and to those around him it would be hard to find enough challenges to keep him interested. “It was boring at times because it was so easy,” he recently told Ring Magazine about those early days. This also explains why he wasn’t all that bothered by his two-and-a-half year layoff from the sport in the middle of this decade. And only now, at the beginning of the end of his prime, has he been moved enough by the question of just how good a fighter he really is to take on the most formidable opponent available.
Had Shakespeare’s Hamlet been a pugilist, perhaps his path wouldn’t have been much different from Mikey’s. The Danish Prince would no doubt relate to Garcia’s use of madness–or the semblance of madness–as a tool to learn the truth about himself. Moreover, Mikey’s plan, much like Hamlet’s, promises to culminate in a violent finale, one from which the Californian hopes to emerge not only victorious, but also fully certain of what until now he only suspects: that he is the best fighting talent of his generation.
Hamlet and Garcia also share an introspective, studious nature, a trait which, once it has served their purpose, they can quickly turn into ruthlessness to achieve their ultimate goals. While the Dane put on an antic disposition to confirm his suspicions about his adversaries, Mikey has undertaken some wacky practices as he prepares to confront his. As reported by ESPN’s Steve Kim, if Garcia’s training gives the appearance of madness, there is a method to it: Victor Conte’s method, that is–which includes hypoxicators, management of oxygen levels to the decimals, and even a dome. A fringe benefit of such novel training techniques is that it might have thrown Spence off Mikey’s scent: “I really think nothing of it; I don’t think it’s going to help him once he gets into the fight,” Errol confided to Steve. Hamlet, too, managed to keep his adversaries uninterested in his designs thanks to his feigned aloofness.
Unlike Hamlet, however, Mikey is not seeking to avenge his father, but to instead honour the sacrifices both his parents made for his sake. Roberto Andrade Franco, in a touching profile, gets us closer not to the calculating punching machine fight fans know so well, but to the humble man who has finally realized what it took for him to get the opportunities he’s enjoyed. “Sometimes it brings tears to [my] eyes,” Garcia says while recalling driving past the strawberry fields his parents used to work on. “[I] get emotional, like, ‘Damn, my dad was out here doing this’.”
This realisation is what may have finally pushed Mikey to take a big risk and truly give his all to his chosen profession. Where once he contented himself with winning fights and cashing his paychecks, he now feels the need to cement his legacy and achieve what is becoming an increasingly uncommon feat for top fighters, especially those signed with Al Haymon: fulfilling his potential before it’s too late. Should he pull off the upset this weekend, it will be a victory that will propel him to the top of the sport, the spot where he and his inner circle have always believed he belongs.
And while defeat is viewed by most as the likely outcome, Mikey is already ahead of his competition just by having signed up for such a daunting task. Make no mistake about it, just like Hamlet didn’t escape the bloodbath at Elsinore alive, Mikey might not escape Dallas with his undefeated record; but he may learn more in defeat to Spence than in victory over lesser opposition. And one suspects that as long as the outcome leads Garcia to going somewhere he’s never been before and finding out the truth about himself as a fighter, he will view this huge gamble as one well worth taking. –Rafael Garcia