Unbeaten featherweight contender Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia has clearly hit his stride.
An Oxnard, Calif., resident who turns 25 in December, Garcia (30-0, 26 knockouts) flattened Argentina’s rugged, former titleholder Jonathan Victor Barros (34-4-1, 18 KOs) in the eighth round of Saturday’s HBO-televised bout, a win which represented Garcia’s eighth straight knockout victory and his 14th stoppage in his past 15 fights.
Barros, 30, was knocked out for the first time in his career, this, after having lost his last fight by unanimous decision to IBF junior lightweight titleholder Juan Carlos Salgado (26-1-1, 16 KOs) in August.
In addition, Barros had split route-going bouts with former beltholder Celestino Caballero and gone the distance with unbeaten former featherweight titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa, a Cuban Olympic gold medalist.
The triumph set up a likely title shot against Mexican WBO beltholder Orlando Salido (39-11-2, 27 KOs) on Jan. 19 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, an HBO-televised matchup that should happen on the undercard of a defense by Kazakhstan-born WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin, according to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum.
“That’s a definite. Salido was at the fight. Garcia comes from a real boxing family, which helps,” said Arum of Garcia, who is trained by his Mexican-born father, Eduardo Garcia, and his older brother, ex-titleholder Robert Garcia. “You know, they understand. They’re good people. They’ve been involved in the sport for a long time, and so that makes it easier.”
But Salido will represent the toughest task for Garcia by far, having stopped his past five opponents, including knockouts of southpaw ex-titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez in the eighth and 10th rounds in April of last year and March, respectively.
“Mikey said, last night that now, finally, he’s going to get his opportunity to be a champion,” said manager Cameron Dunkin.
“Mikey said that ‘it’s going to mean so much to my wife and my kids, financially, against the guy who is the best featherweight in the world.’ That’s just Mikey, and that’s how he is. He’s so focused and determined on achieving his goals.”
Garcia had endured a period frustration during which potential high-profile bouts with Caballero, Salido, Lopez and even IBF beltholder Billy Dib failed to materialize.
The Barros fight, for example, materialized after Salido suffered an injury to an index finger that forced the postponement of his defense against Garcia that was slated for Nov. 10.
Through it all, Garcia remained gracious, all the while expressing confidence that his shot at a title belt would someday come to fruition.
“We’ve been looking for the big fights, and we’ve been trying to land the title fights. But I think that it will happen soon. I think that that time will have to come in the near future. The opportunity is certainly a lot closer now than it was a year ago or six months ago. I just have to be patient,” said Garcia during an interview with RingTV.com.
“I want to thank all of my fans and everybody for staying behind me and being patient also. I understand boxing, and the poltics of boxing and the business of boxing, but we’ll get there. Just continue to have faith in me, and we’ll get it done. And when I do get it done, and when I do become a world champion, everybody will admire what I have as far as my skills as a fighter as well as what I’ve accomplished.”
Manager Cameron Dunkin is not surprised.
“Mikey’s been up and down, and he’s had opponents fall out, but he’s a real professional. Mikey has always been very disciplined and smart, and there’s a lot to be said for that. When I first talked to Mikey when he was, like, 17, I was laughing,” said Dunkin.
“I said, ‘Robert, he’s like you. With both of you guys, it’s like talking to 40 or 45-year-olds.’ I mean, they don’t talk about clubbing, and playing, and horsing around. They were talking about going to school, opening the gym, they’re like talking to real adults. So Mikey’s always been like that — very patient and very smart. Graduated high school, junior college, the police academy.”
A bilingual American who lists five-division, eight-belt titlewinner and defensive wizard Floyd Mayweatther Jr. as his favorite boxer.
Garcia eschews what he calls the traditional Mexican “brawler” or “close quarters” style for a more comprehensive, cerebral approach which employs his defensive skills, power and range.
“What he did against Barros, that was a real statement. He was very cautious, and he didn’t want to risk losing the title shot,” said Arum, referring to the tactics of the nearly 5-foot-9 Garcia against Barros.
“That was the right way to approach it. So he fought a very intelligent fight, I thought. So, I liked his performance, and he clearly won just about every round. Overall, it was a very good night for him.”
Garcia’s effort effectively calmed Dunkin’s nerves.
“I thought that he looked really good. He was really cautious. I was getting nervous because he was going so slow, but Robert told me that they weren’t going to take any chances. We’re not going to do anything to hurt our chances of fighting in January for the title. So we’re not going to get into exchanges, and we’re going to counter him. We’re going to be smart and really go to win a unanimous decision. But the guy, Barros, was tricky, crafty and smart,” said Dunkin.
“Plus, he’s an ex-world champion, and he beat Caballero. He’s a good fighter. But what happened is that Mikey, I thought, was winning, like, five rounds to two. It was competitive. So, Robert said, before the eighth round, you had better pick it up, because you just don’t know. You don’t know what can happen. He told Mikey to throw the right hand more and not just jabbing, and to throw hooks and power shots, and he did, and caught him with that left hook and knocked him out.”
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com