Mikey Garcia spent all but one of his 23 years with one foot out of boxing.
The featherweight contender from the greater Los Angeles area didn’t follow directly in the footsteps of his world-champion brother — Robert Garca — by competing as a child, instead starting his amateur career as a young teenager.
And, when he was of age, he enrolled at his local police reserve academy while continuing to train as a fighter.
Then, in 2009, he came to the realization that he couldn’t do both and he had to make a decision. He chose boxing and hasn’t looked back, a move that has produced one of the most-promising young fighters in the world.
“I’m a full-time boxer. This is my full-time job now,” said Garcia, who faces fellow prospect Matt Remillard on the Yuriorkis Gamboa-Jorge Solis card Saturday on HBO.
Garcia was a reluctant warrior from the beginning. Robert Garcia remembers a young boy who was taken to the gym as a 5- or 6-year-old by their trainer-father Eduardo and refused to fight.
Mikey, around boxing his entire life, was 10 when Robert and Fernando Vargas – both trained Eduardo — won world titles in 1998 and remembers the excitement. Still, obviously an independent thinker, he didn’t have a burning desire to box himself.
That would come at 13 when he attended an exhibition of amateur fighters and was asked to take part even though he had had very little formal training. He agreed and did well.
“I remember the people applauding, congratulating me. I liked it,” he said.
Garcia, who turned pro at 18, has been a boxer ever since but always left his options open.
Robert Garcia, who has become a successful trainer, always wondered whether his well-rounded brother would stick with boxing because of the other opportunities that lay before him. He wouldn't have been surprised if Mikey went a different direction.
"I always had that feeling about Mike," Robert said. "He had so many other things going on. He graduated from the police academy. He was always smart enough to do whatever he wanted. So I always had that feeling he might just wake up one day and say, 'You know what? I don't feel like doing this anymore.'
"And there would be nothing we could do about it. I never told my dad but I always had that feeling."
The clean-cut young man, training by day and studying by night, ultimately graduated from the academy and began preparation to attend a university, an unusual aspiration for most young boxers. Plus, he was starting a young family. He has a daughter now and a baby boy is on the way.
He was a busy man.
“I was trying to do school and boxing at the same time and it was too much,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t handle everything. I graduated from the reserve academy in January of last year. I could’ve enrolled at the police academy or transferred to a university.
“I chose boxing. I figured it was a once-in-a lifetime type of thing. I was getting exposure on TV, fighting on big cards. Things were going well. So I decided to become fully engaged in boxing.”
Things have definitely gone well for Garcia (24-0, 20 knockouts).
He lives and trains in Riverside, Calif., where he is trained full-time by his father. Robert, who lives about 100 miles away in Oxnard, makes the trip a couple of times a week to add his insight and work's his brother c.
The result is a complete boxer-puncher who has steadily climbed the ladder toward an opportunity to fight for a world title, Remillard (23-0, 13 KOs) representing another real obstacle.
And he carries himself like a fighter who has been around boxing since he could walk even if he got a relatively late start.
In the ring, he fights the maturity of a more-experienced boxer. He’s patient, unexcitable. He’ll gladly outpoint you if that’s what it takes and will rip your head off if that opportunity presents itself, the latter being the case more often than the former.
Outside the ring, he seems to be utterly unfazed by what the future might hold. He doesn’t blink at the thought of fighting Gamboa or Juan Manuel Lopez, two possible opponents.
“It’s normal to me now,” he said. “Growing up, I was involved in the sport with my brother and dad. Being around big names is normal. You have to believe you’re the best just to get an opponent. And I’ve always believed I’m the best.
“The talk about Gamboa and Lopez might make someone who hasn’t been there nervous. It’s nothing new to me, though, just another fight.”
Sounds like a man with both feet in boxing.