There remains a sour taste in Mikey Garcia’s mouth over the way his reign atop the featherweight division ended. When Garcia won THE RING and WBO 126-pound titles in January with a dominant performance against Orlando Salido, it looked as though a new featherweight star had arrived; one who, at just 25 years old, could dominate the division for years.
No one envisioned that Garcia would lose his title just five months later. Garcia shined in the ring that night, knocking out former titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez in four brilliant rounds, but only after weighing two pounds over the limit the day before and forfeiting the WBO belt.
The ordeal was inconsistent with the professional and efficient demeanor that had come to define the Ventura County Police Academy graduate.
Seeking redemption, the younger Garcia harbored desires of making the 126 pound limit once more, just to show that he could.
“I want to do it just for my own satisfaction, but my manager [Cameron Dunkin] and promoter [Top Rank], they’re not really interested in me coming back down to 126,” said Garcia (32-0, 27 knockouts), who is trained by older brother and reigning BWAA Trainer of the Year Robert Garcia. “I asked them if I can come down one last time, but they don’t think there’s any interesting fights for me to come back down to 126.”
The past will have to be left behind for now, as Garcia steps up to campaign for the first time as a junior lightweight this Saturday, when he challenges WBO titleholder Roman “Rocky” Martinez (27-1-2, 16 KOs) at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Tex.
The 12-round bout, which headlines an HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader featuring the rematch between Nonito Donaire Jr. and Vic Darchinyan, as well as Demetrius Andrade-Vanes Martirosyan (9:30 p.m. ET/PT), will afford the younger Garcia the opportunity to win a title in the same division where his brother Robert won the IBF belt 15 years prior.
Training for a step-up in weight, Garcia worked with famed strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza for the first time. Ariza, who had been brought in to help prepare Garcia’s stablemate Brandon Rios for his clash with former Ariza client Manny Pacquiao later this month, clicked with the Garcia camp, and began assisting Mikey as well.
“One thing about Mikey, he’s a very strict and disciplined guy normally, and it completely transfers to how his training is,” said Ariza. “I’d probably rank him as the hardest working and most disciplined boxer that I’ve ever worked with.”
Each morning, Garcia would join Ariza and Rios for strength and conditioning drills, which included plyometric and isometric training exercises similar to the ones Ariza used to help build Pacquiao into a legitimate welterweight, plus swimming and pool exercises.
“I think it was a huge plus with those two working together,” said Ariza. “They pushed each other, they trained together every morning, they ate together and lived together.”
“I see where he’s at right now and that definitely helps to keep my fire going,” Garcia said of training alongside Rios. “I want to make sure that I do everything I can to reach that status, to be headlining a pay-per-view card and be on top of the sport. That’s what every fighter wishes to reach.”
Ariza says that Garcia’s training results were tremendous, but perhaps too tremendous for their goals.
“I started to see his body develop so rapidly,” he said. “He looked like a super hero. I had to pull that sort of stuff out of the program because of how fast his body was starting to put on size so quick. It was affecting our plans for making the weight limit.”
Ariza didn’t come to Oxnard, Calif., alone, bringing with him many of the same specialists that assisted him in his work with the Pacquiao camp. The introduction of Ariza’s dietician Teri Tom brought a new, scientific approach to the way Garcia looked at nutrition.
“Before I stayed away from junk food and ate healthy and the weight would come down pretty comfortably,” said Garcia. “This time, everything was measured, everything was portioned to fuel me for each workout. Everything has to be timed and measured for a strict diet.
“It was a little hard to adjust at first, but after a couple of days into it, I started feeling good. I felt stronger in training and sparring sessions.”
While “the script” may be written for Garcia to emerge victorious in front of a largely Mexican and Mexican-American crowd in Texas, but Martinez has never been one to follow scripts.
The 30-year-old Vega Baja, Puerto Rico native first won the title in 2009, stopping Nicky Cook in four rounds in England. He made two defenses of the title in Puerto Rico before dropping a close decision to Ricky Burns in Burns’ home country of Scotland the following year. Two years later, Martinez recaptured the vacated title by a split decision, and has retained it by two razor-thin split decisions (a draw to Juan Carlos Burgos and a win over Diego Magdaleno).
“He’s definitely a tough guy,” said Garcia. “Even though he’s gotten those tough, close decisions, that shows you he’s a tough guy. He’s not going to take no for an answer. He’s not going to just walk in and hand you that belt, he’s going to fight to the last round, to the last minute. That’s why I think that he’ll be a tough opponent for me.
“He’s not the fastest or the quickest opponent, or the hardest puncher but he is definitely going to be one of the toughest opponents that I’ve faced.”
If so, then Garcia might have to be the toughest version of himself to walk out of Corpus Christi with a second world title.
Photos / Tom Pennington-Getty Images
Video / Dominic Verdin and Daniel Morales
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He 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.