Why every boxer should strive to be more like the fearless Mikey Garcia

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia face-off at the Fox Sports and Premier Boxing Champions Press Conference Experience on Nov. 13, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia face-off at the Fox Sports and Premier Boxing Champions Press Conference Experience on Nov. 13, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

The size discrepancy between Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia is enormous, much more than it looks on television. Spence is wider, thicker, taller and larger in every dimension.

Add to that, Spence is one of the great fighters in the world, unbeaten with an 87.5 percent knockout ratio and the hype that comes with having been dubbed the next Sugar Ray Leonard while still an amateur.

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There is nothing Spence can’t do in the ring. He’s got exceptional footwork, his punches are like mule kicks and he’s a master at controlling distance.

Garcia, who began his career at featherweight and has racked up world championships at featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight, beams as he listens to this long list of accolades about Spence.

That, Garcia said, is exactly why he wants to fight Spence.

He’ll do so on March 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Fox Pay-Per-View with much of the boxing world admiring his courage while at the same time questioning his sanity.

“That’s why,” Garcia said with a grin. “Big puncher. Big guy. He’s going to be the toughest opponent for me. It’s going to be challenging for me because of that size, you know? He’s a terrific fighter. He’s got great skills. The apparent thing is that size advantage he has, and that’s why I’m taking it.”

Some people are wired differently. Firefighters are heroes because when everyone else is fleeing a burning building, the firefighters are running into it. As a four-division champion, Garcia doesn’t need to fight Spence. He’s 39-0 with 30 knockouts himself, and seems on a path to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Spence knocks good welterweights stiff and in the process, probably scares off a few others. But Garcia sees that and reacts like the firefighter running into the burning building.

“I want to prove to everybody that I can overcome those types of challenges,” Garcia said. “I’m always looking for the toughest fight out there, for the most challenging opponent. He’s the guy right now.”

On Jan. 20, Spence was fighting Lamont Peterson at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Garcia and his brother/trainer, Robert, were among those watching the Showtime broadcast that night. Mikey had a March 10 bout for the IBF super lightweight title planned with Sergey Lipinets.

“I told Robert, ‘Hey, let’s get Spence after the Lipinets fight. Let’s do this,’ ” Garcia said. “He said, ‘Really?’ He tells my Dad [Eduardo], ‘Hey, he wants to fight Spence!’ And my Dad says, ‘Why? What are you talking about? He’s a welterweight. You got no business up there.’ ”

That’s the prevailing notion in boxing. He’s a prohibitive underdog — Spence opened as a minus-400 favorite on Thursday at the Westgate sportsbook in Las Vegas – and there is the possibility, and maybe even the likelihood, that Garcia could put on the best performance of his life and still lose.

You don’t, though, get to be 39-0 and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world without believing you can do things that others think are all but impossible.

It’s the kind of attitude so rare in boxing now, and often when fighters develop it, promoters and managers encourage them to suppress it. Garcia, though, answers to no one but himself.

After he sat out more than two years to get out of his deal with Top Rank, Garcia gathers all the advice about his next fights and then makes his own decisions.

It’s leading to better and more compelling fights.

“You have to respect what Mikey is trying to do,” Spence said. “How can you not?”

Mikey Garcia enters the ring for his lightweight title fight against Robert Easter, Jr at Staples Center on July 28, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
Mikey Garcia enters the ring for his lightweight title fight against Robert Easter, Jr at Staples Center on July 28, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

Nobody acted on Mikey’s words as they watched Spence dominate Peterson. Mikey then went out and blew out Lipinets, and still he talked about fighting Spence. He signed to fight Robert Easter Jr., but he’d talk to his father and brother about Spence.

On the day of the Easter fight, it began to leak out that he was considering Spence as his next opponent. Spence, who was in the house to watch Garcia-Easter, looked like a guy who could barely believe his good fortune: He’d get to fight a highly regarded opponent almost universally regarded as one of the elite fighters in the world, in what would be a major payday, with little risk given the size disadvantage.

Garcia, though, is daring to be great.

“After I got through Lipinets and then Easter, I still kept talking about it and they were like, ‘He’s for real with this. Why?’ ” Garcia said of his family.

The answer was simple: Garcia want to prove he’s better than anybody.

Garcia is in that discussion, along with Spence, WBA-WBO lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko, WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford, undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and WBA bantamweight champion Naoya “The Monster” Inoue.

Beating Spence will go a long way toward separating him from that pack.

We may think he can’t do it, that he is going to be ridiculously overpowered. The fight may well play out that way.

But what Garcia is doing deserves our everlasting respect. He’s pushing boxing forward by taking a fight he’s not guaranteed to win, one he may well wind up on his back looking at the lights.

This is when boxing is at its best, when a boxer gets this audacious idea that he can lick any man around, and then sets about proving it.

So spare us the criticism of the size disparity in this fight and look at Garcia for what he has become: One of the most important figures in boxing.

He’s exactly what every fighter should aspire to be.

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