NEW YORK – Through eight rounds, Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia had fought the fight of his life, dropping incumbent WBO featherweight titleholder Orlando Salido four times to create an insurmountable lead on the scorecards. As the unbeaten contender looked on the verge of a star-making conclusion, an accidental headbutt broke Garcia’s nose and brought the fight to a sudden, yet unsavory ending.
There would be no dramatic ten count with Salido on his back, no conclusive white towel surrender from the corner. The 25-year-old Garcia would have to settle for a technical-decision win in the main event of Top Rank’s world title tripleheader at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, which all three judges awarded him by the scores of 79-70 and 79-69 twice.
With the win, Garcia (31-0, 26 KOs) of Oxnard, Calif., brings his family’s world title count to two, joining his brother/trainer Robert Garcia, himself a former IBF junior lightweight titleholder during the 90s. Salido (39-12-2, 27 KOs) cedes the belt he won in 2011 when he upset previously unbeaten star Juan Manuel Lopez in eight rounds.
From the outset, Garcia’s superior amateur background and boxing ability made the slower, more shopworn Salido look amateurish. A left hook midway through the round dropped Salido early, and before the round ended he’d see the canvas courtesy of the same punch. Garcia looked on his way to an early knockout when moments into the second, a counter right uppercut caught Salido stepping in, putting him back on the canvas. A counter jab would put Salido down in round four as well.
But as the rounds wore on, Salido’s punch resistance improved, and so did his resolve. The native of Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, who has fought just about every notable featherweight over the past decade, began to pressure Garcia against the ropes. Salido’s overhand rights began to land in the seventh and eighth rounds before fate intervened.
The conclusion left a sour taste in Garcia’s mouth not related to his bent nose.
“I would’ve liked the fight to continue,” said Garcia, who admits that he had difficulty breathing following the headbutt. “It would’ve been more fulfilling for me to finish my fight and win a unanimous decision, even if I wouldn’t have stopped him. It’s unfortunate things like this happen, that’s why I told him, just like he gave me the opportunity to fight for a title, I’m willing to give him the rematch.”
Garcia’s brother Robert, who is twelve years his senior at 37, was proud of his brother’s performance.
“He executed the game plan just like we told him to,” said Robert Garcia, who is one of the sport’s most celebrated trainers. “The punches that we practiced were the punches that we hurt him with. Everything that we did in the fight was what we did in the gym.”
Garcia’s victory, which earned him THE RING Magazine’s featherweight title, reconfigures the 126-pound division, with WBA titleholder (the longest reigning in the division) Chris John (48-0-2, KOs) remaining firmly entrenched in Asia, and IBF claimant Billy Dib (35-1, 21 KOs) in promotional limbo due to the rift between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. The WBC titleholder Daniel Ponce de Leon (44-4, 35 KOs) will be honoring the mandatory challenge of unbeaten Puerto Rican Jayson Velez in March.
“I’m willing to unify the titles,” said the confident Garcia. “I’m willing to give [Salido] a title fight just as he gave me a title fight, I also opened up an invitation to [WBA interim 130 pound titleholder] Yuriorkis Gamboa if he wants to come down. He always thought he was the best featherweight but I always thought I was the best, I just never got that opportunity.”
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.