On Saturday night, Mikey Garcia will finally get back to doing what he does best when he answers the bell for the first time in some 30 months. It’s been a long road and along the way everyone in boxing has been wondering why this great talent and two-division champion wasn’t maximizing his potential. Locked in a contractual dispute with Bob Arum and Top Rank, a boxer who appeared on the verge of super-stardom in 2013, slowly faded into obscurity. The road back begins on the undercard of Saturday’s showdown between Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton on Showtime, and recently our own Chris Connor had the chance to talk to Garcia as he prepared for his long-awaited comeback.
Chris Connor: So, it’s been way too long since we’ve seen you in action, Mike. How happy are you to be getting back to boxing and not answering questions about contracts and court cases?
Mikey Garcia: I am very excited about my return. Yes, it was frustrating having my contract tied up in litigation with Top Rank and it was frustrating not being able to fight, or to even be able to tell my story. But I am back and on July 30th I am looking forward to continuing my career and returning to where I was a couple of years ago.
You will be fighting Elio Rojas who is also coming off a long layoff. In your opinion, is this a serious challenge?
This is a real fight against a guy who was a former champion in the featherweight divsion, a division in which I was champion. Of course he knows I have been out of the ring for a while, and he’s hungry and wants to prove to people that he still is one of the best in the division. I know he is looking at this fight as a great opportunity and is planning to beat me and move up in the featherweight rankings.
No doubt the skill, power, and work ethic are still there, but how tough has it been for you to get the timing back and so you’re prepared for a real fight again? Because I don’t care if you’re Sugar Ray Leonard or Muhammad Ali or anyone, two years is a long time to not be boxing competitively or training seriously.
Training for a fight is completely different from training to stay in shape. I have been staying active and training just to keep loose and in shape, but I was happy to get a fight date so I could really get things worked out and get my timing. I am coming back with a purpose and I am hungry to get back to where I was. I want to regain my titles and now that I am working in camp again, I am feeling better and sharper. I can feel my timing coming back because I have something to train for and a goal to focus on.
A lot of people criticized you for sitting out your contract and put a lot of judgement and labels on you. What caused you to make that decision and how much of it was frustration over the kind of paydays other boxers were getting compared to yours, despite the fact you had both better ratings and a better record?
No, it wasn’t about what other guys made or that I didn’t like my contract. I just thought my contract was up. No matter what you do, if you’re a cop or a doctor or whatever, if your contract is up, you have the right to renegotiate, or at least to know when your contract is done. According to the contract I first signed, I was supposed to be a free agent after my last fight, and then all of a sudden I found out I wasn’t. But I never turned down any fights; I just never had anything offered to me. I would ask them about possible fights and dates and they had nothing for me. They will claim they offered me fights, but they never did. They kept saying I was under contract, and here is Bob Arum, a former lawyer, saying I had a contract with them, but they never wanted to go to court. When we told them we wanted to go to court, they walked away. That was a big win for me, as no other boxer has done that. No other fighter has taken a promoter to court and gotten their freedom. A lot of them had to make deals under the table, or buy their contract out and pay for their freedom. I won and got my freedom without having to do that.
Many people, including fans, fighters and media, were critical of you and some said you were throwing your career away. How much did it bother you to know that certain people, maybe even people you considered friends, were ripping you for what they saw as you being foolish and greedy.
It didn’t bother me because when people tried to talk about it or criticize me, I would laugh and just walk away because I couldn’t talk about it. But I can talk about it now and I can tell you, like I said, that Top Rank never offered me any fights, which is what some people think. They think I turned down matches, but that’s not true. The last time they offered me a fight was under the condition that my contract gets automatically renewed without any renegotiation. But I refused because I wanted the option of testing free agency or getting a new contract under different terms. But they didn’t want that. They didn’t want to negotiate; they didn’t offer any new terms; they didn’t even want to let me fight out my contract.
You are returning to action on a Showtime Card that’s being put together by Al Haymon. Have you signed with him and what kind of deal have you made with him?
I didn’t sign with him. Right now we have a working relationship but it’s one fight and we are negotiating to see if we can work out a long term deal beyond that. Negotiations are going very well with Al and Lou DiBella, but there are other people that I am talking with too, so we will see how everything plays out.
But is it safe to say Al Haymon is the leading candidate to work out a deal with you, since from 130 to 147 he potentially has so many lucrative matches he could make happen for you?
Yeah, you can say he has the most to offer and he’s been very up front about his interest in working with me. When I first met with him and sat down with my brother and him and his people, I asked him why he wanted to sign with me. The first thing he said was, “Mikey, I have wanted to work with you and am excited to work with you.” I asked him what he was planning for my career, long term and short term, and how he would get me to where I wanted to be. And he explained that he had been wanting to work with me and he talked about what he had in mind for my future fights, and what dates he had in mind. Things are still in the early stages, but it was a positive and eye-opening meeting for me. So, yeah, Haymon is the leading candidate at this point. — Chris Connor