Mikey Garcia's improbable plan to go after the indomitable Errol Spence Jr.

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Boxer Mikey Garcia has made it loud and clear he’s seeking a welterweight fight with Errol Spence Jr. (AP)
Boxer Mikey Garcia has made it loud and clear he’s seeking a welterweight fight with Errol Spence Jr. (AP)

Anyone who wonders why Mikey Garcia is eager to move to welterweight to challenge Errol Spence Jr. hasn’t been paying attention for the last five years.

Just in that period of time, there are an incalculable number of potentially outstanding fights within a division that haven’t been made.

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How great would a light heavyweight unification match have been between sluggers Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev? It’s a match that would have made the boxing world stand still, but it hasn’t happened, and even though it still would be an attractive match, the smart money says it will never happen.

Of course, we’re still dealing with the fallout of the failure of a deal to be reached between unbeaten heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua that would have been a license to print money.

Garcia is also well aware how difficult it would be to put together the most logical match for him, a lightweight unification bout with Vasiliy Lomachenko. Lomachenko is promoted by Top Rank, which used to promote Garcia until Garcia sued to get out of his contract. After more than two years on the sidelines, a deal was reached and the sides went their own ways.

Top Rank is simply loath to deal with Garcia, and he knows it. Top Rank is in the first year of a deal with ESPN that was recently extended into 2025 and is intent on keeping its big fights in-house as much as possible.

Its officials will, almost by rote, give you a list of other promoters it has worked with this year, but that should come with an asterisk. It is always with the Top Rank fighter as the clear A-side and largely on Top Rank’s terms (i.e. on ESPN).

Garcia is essentially a free agent and could fight wherever he wants, though he’s fought his most recent bouts on Showtime. It would be best for the fighters to have an open marketplace bidding on them, but that won’t happen in this case.

Instead of spending months, like Wilder did in almost pleading for Joshua to fight him, Garcia simply recognized the reality of the situation and sought out a different option for his mega-fight.

Garcia is ranked fourth on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list, behind, in order, WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford; Lomachenko; and Spence, the IBF welterweight champion. Naoya “The Monster” Inoue, who holds the WBA bantamweight title, is fifth.

Garcia wants to become an icon of the sport, like a Sugar Ray Leonard or a Floyd Mayweather or a Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao holds the WBA welterweight title, which he recently won from Lucas Matthysse, and that would be an interesting (and safer) challenge for Garcia than Spence.

A match with Pacquiao would be an intriguing one and would help Garcia, should he win, but it comes with its own set of problems. Several sources have told Yahoo Sports that Pacquiao’s longtime adviser, Michael Koncz, is no longer calling the shots and that the dominant voice in Pacquiao’s camp now is Chavit Singson, a politician in the Philippines.

Manny Pacquiao (left) has also been rumored as an eventual opponent for Mikey Garcia, but his entourage and promotional dispute would stand in the way. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)
Manny Pacquiao (left) has also been rumored as an eventual opponent for Mikey Garcia, but his entourage and promotional dispute would stand in the way. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

Pacquiao is also claiming he’s a promotional free agent, while Top Rank insists it has rights to him. It’s another reason why Garcia is going to steer clear of Pacquiao.

So for Garcia, the only fight that provides the kind of risk/reward scenario he seeks that is makeable is one with Spence. Crawford and Lomachenko are both with Top Rank, essentially ruling them out. Spence and Garcia, on the other hand, are advised by Al Haymon, and both fight regularly on Showtime.

Several fight managers tell Yahoo Sports they believe Haymon is having financial difficulty and is late paying things like fighter camp training expenses, which never used to be an issue. A Spence-Garcia match would give him a lucrative bout that could give him an infusion of cash, though it says here as intriguing as the fight would be in the ring, it’s not going to do significant pay-per-view numbers.

Spence represents to Garcia what Marvelous Marvin Hagler represented to Sugar Ray Leonard: the ultimate threat. Hagler didn’t look great in a March 10, 1986, knockout victory over previously unbeaten John “The Beast” Mugabi, and that got Leonard’s always active mind fomenting.

Fighting Thomas Hearns or Roberto Duran again, Leonard would have made another significant payday, and would have further cemented himself as one of the greats of his day. But going up to challenge, and beating, the invincible Hagler put him in the all-timer category.

In the 10-year period since his last loss, a unanimous decision defeat in Philadelphia on March 9, 1976, to Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Hagler had gone 36-0-1 with 32 knockouts after stopping Mugabi. The draw was a wildly controversial 1979 bout with Vito Antuofermo, which nearly everyone who saw it believed Hagler had won handily.

So Hagler was the most feared man in the sport at the time and Leonard challenged him.

And that’s the choice that Garcia is making. Spence is not only one of the great fighters in the world, he’s also an incredibly hard puncher. He has the ability to knock out quality, legitimate welterweights with one shot.

Against a lightweight like Garcia, who isn’t particularly fast? It’s high danger for Garcia throughout.

That’s what makes the challenge so compelling. There is no area in which Garcia seems to have a decided physical advantage. Spence is a far harder puncher and may actually be quicker. Garcia is a good boxer, but he’s not a defensive genius like Floyd Mayweather, who could use his ability to avoid punches to walk the tightrope and win challenges like this.

Robert Garcia, Mikey’s brother and trainer, is among those who have discouraged him from challenging Errol Spence Jr. (AP)
Robert Garcia, Mikey’s brother and trainer, is among those who have discouraged him from challenging Errol Spence Jr. (AP)

Garcia, though, is a brilliant tactician and is one of those rare guys where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Weight classes exist for a reason, and Garcia may learn a painful lesson if and when he gets into the ring with Spence. He could be beaten and battered so badly that he’ll never be the same.

But Garcia is reaching for the stars, and believing in his talents and the wisdom of his corner. Garcia’s brother, Robert, is his chief trainer, aided by his father, Eduardo. Robert is among the four or five best trainers in the game today, and Eduardo once held that kind of position.

They will give Mikey the best plan and will pick up on subtleties in the fight that require adjustments.

We complain about fighters like Stevenson who duck and dodge their biggest challenges. We moan, and rightly so, when it takes six years to put a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight together.

When a star like Garcia decides to seek the ultimate challenge, we shouldn’t question his wisdom.

Rather, we should praise him for his courage, his bravery and his competitive instinct, and get ready for one of the most compelling bouts in many years.

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