By Tyson Bruce
Few fighters have greater expectations going into 2014 than Mikey Garcia. The 26-year-old Oxnard product’s career has been a study in perfection thus far, with his uncommon poise and deceptive punching power making his fights take on a visage of ease and regularity that is rare at the top level of the sport. While just a couple of years ago it looked liked the older and more experienced Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa would become the faces of the lower weight divisions, the failure of their proposed super fight and subsequent implosions have made Garcia the incumbent pound for pound star.
The only question mark with Garcia is what will happen when his aura of almost tranquil perfection is breached. During Miguel Cotto’s rise up the 140 pound ranks he had a very similar mechanical poise, until fighters like Demarcus Corley and Miguel Torres dramatically tested his chin and resolve. Cotto proved in those fights that he was capable of winning when things got uncomfortable. The same cannot be said for Garcia, as apart from a flash knock down against Rocky Martinez, trouble with scales, and a broken nose on an accidental foul against Salido, he has essentially controlled the opposition within his comfort zone.
In fact, the latter mentioned fight against Salido brought out as many question marks as it did answers. Boxing, at its most brutal, can be almost surreal in what it demands out of its participants. While a fighter like Denis Lebedev fought through devastating facial damage including a broken orbital bone in his losing effort against Guillermo Jones, Garcia essentially chose to give up when he suffered a broken nose on an accidental head butt. This might seem like harsh criticism, but it was a fight that he had scored four knockdowns and was controlling with absolute ease. That he didn’t choose to box safely or go for the immediate knockout in order to win the title without controversy raised some potential red flags about his toughness and zeal for combat. Ironically, however, that he had been winning so dominantly actually seemed to help him avoid taking more flak than would have ordinarily been the case with a fighter quitting because of a broken nose—a fairly common injury in professional boxing.
The fact that his decision to opt out against Salido is the biggest question mark on Garcia’s resume is a testament to just how dominate he’s been as a fighter thus far. However, Top Rank has indicated that they have every intention of moving Garcia up in weight and pursuing the biggest challenges that the sport has to offer. So, if he is to go the weight division crusading route of Manny Pacquiao, his toughness and heart will need to be up to par with his boxing ability and punching power.
As evidenced by Adrien Broner’s recent failure at welterweight, just having great skills and ability are not always enough to guarantee victory in the very deep waters of the welterweight division. Also, it must be noted that Garcia has enjoyed a substantial size advantage over every opponent he has fought as a result of his nearly 5-9 frame. At junior welterweight and welterweight he will be fighting guys with similar or larger physical dimensions who possess a natural strength advantage over him. Pacquiao was able to cope with this because of his once in a generation hand speed and Mayweather even more so because of his ability to negate a fighter’s strengths with his superfluous boxing skills. Garcia will also need to possess that extra facet in his game if he is to separate himself from the pack.
In his upcoming fight against the capable but limited Juan Carlos Burgos, likely his last at 130, none of these intangibles is likely to be tested. Burgos, who fights at a comparable level to that of Martinez and Salido, is a showcase fight for Garcia that is designed to help kick start the marketing campaign for what should be a highly ambitious year for the Oxnard star. That said, by the end of 2014 there is an excellent chance that we will know just how high the ceiling for Garcia truly is.