Mikey Garcia is unquestionably one of the world's greatest fighters, but it seems like he's walking into a trap.
He'll face the 30-1-2 Juan Carlos Burgos on Saturday for the WBO super featherweight title in the main event of an HBO-televised card at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
But little talk is centered on Burgos, who after winning 30 of his first 31 fights has, oddly, drawn the last two.
Rather, much of the pre-talk conversation about Garcia has been about big fights down the line, primarily one against Manny Pacquiao.
It's not out of the question that Garcia, 33-0 with 28 KOs, could wind up facing Pacquiao later this year or early next. Pacquiao is having difficulty finding an opponent for his April 12 date in Las Vegas, and assuming he wins against whomever he fights, it won't be easy to match him when he opts to fight again.
Though Garcia is fighting at just 130 pounds now and Pacquiao is at welterweight, Pacquiao himself has proven it is possible to make that jump.
On March 15, 2008, Pacquiao edged Juan Manuel Marquez in a bout at 130. He moved to lightweight to defeat David Diaz in June, and then in December, he utterly destroyed Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight.
There's an eerie similarity between the Pacquiao-De La Hoya fight in 2008 and a potential Garcia-Pacquiao bout in late 2014.
In 2008, Pacquiao was the rising fighter who was opening eyes and zooming up the ratings. He was facing the veteran De La Hoya, who had been in decline and was looking for one final big payday.
Now, the roles are reversed. It is Pacquiao who is much closer to the end than the prime of his career, and it is Garcia who is making the big name for himself and is looking to move up in weight.
Despite his many talents, Garcia is not as acclaimed as his physical gifts suggest he should be. He's a low-key guy who doesn't attract much attention to himself and he's been content to toil in the shadows behind some of the bigger names who fight out of his older brother's gym.
Robert Garcia trains fighters such as Brandon Rios, who just met Pacquiao, and Marcos Maidana, who upset Adrien Broner in December.
Mikey Garcia is without a doubt the class fighter in that gym, but he's not boastful and hasn't captured the national media's imagination. He's still primarily a West Coast fighter, which is why Top Rank is making an effort to expose him to audiences in the East.
He destroyed Orlando Salido in New York last January and is favored to defeat Burgos on Saturday.
But all the settings for a trap fight are there for Garcia. Burgos is virtually anonymous outside of the extreme hardcore fan base, and he's coming off back-to-back draws. One of those draws was with Rocky Martinez, whom Martinez knocked out in the eighth round in November with one of the great body punches of 2013.
It would be easy for Garcia to look past Burgos, particularly with the lure of a bout against Pacquiao down the road.
Garcia, who got ill trying to make featherweight for his fight with Juan Manuel Lopez on June 15 and lost the title on the scale, said he's no longer even considering fighting at 126. He said he's looking up in weight.
"Right now, I feel really good at 130," Garcia said. "I could probably come down to 126. Even in my last fight, everything was going real well and the weight was coming off and I thought I could get to 126.
"But everyone – Robert, my dad, [conditioning coach] Alex [Ariza], Top Rank – would like for me to stay at 130 or move up to 135. I think the plans to come back to 126 are no longer there. I think there are better things at a higher weight class."
If Garcia were to fight Burgos 100 times, he's good enough that he'd probably win at least 95 of them. But Burgos isn't a fighter to be easily dismissed.
This is the biggest fight of Burgos' life and he'll likely be primed for it. That's in contrast to Garcia. For him, it's just another fight on the road to becoming a superstar.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum already has big plans in mind for him.
"It's one fight at a time, [but] a lot is happening in boxing and it happens really quick," Arum said. "Mikey is one of the few American stars in boxing. We have Mikey and Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather and Timothy Bradley, and there are not many other Americans who qualify as superstars. … Mikey is taking on a lot of these non-Americans in really big fights, and where that takes him I am not sure. Does it take him up in weight to 135 or 140 [and] then a fight with Pacquiao? Or does it take him to a tremendous confrontation with [Vasyl] Lomachenko if Lomachenko proves himself with Orlando Salido [on March 1] and goes forward?
"Lomachenko, based on his amateur background, was the greatest amateur of all time. Will he be as successful in the pros? And if he is, will Mikey Garcia be his biggest fight? A lot can happen, so we go one fight at a time. Whether he goes up, stays at 130, that's going to depend on what's happening in boxing."
Garcia was in Macau when Pacquiao beat Rios, and he made it clear to anyone who would listen that he felt he could beat Pacquiao now.
That said, Garcia is a smart young man who knows that a loss would derail any hopes he has of getting Pacquiao into the ring. Pacquiao could afford another loss and still face Garcia, but it's difficult to imagine it the other way around.
And so, Garcia insists he'll do his job and won't be distracted by any future fights.
He systematically breaks down his opponents and says that is what he'll do to Burgos.
"I am a thinking fighter in the ring," he said. "I work to pick my opportunities. I don't watch any film of my opponents. I don't only look at offense, but I look at defense also and that allows me to be the fighter that I am. When I got knocked down against Martinez, I got back up and went to work.
"I don't get too excited either. I try to keep focus on the game plan and I do what I have to do to win the fight."
If he keeps his focus on Burgos, Garcia will be fine.
But if he steps through the ropes dreaming of Manny Pacquiao, Garcia may be in for a long night Saturday.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manny Pacquiao
- Juan Carlos Burgos
- Mikey Garcia
- Oscar De La Hoya