Mikey Garcia is taking the daring route as he attempts the stuff of legends vs. Errol Spence

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

When Barack Obama was a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, he was asked to deliver the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was a rousing speech that effectively launched his bid for the presidency three years later.

In it, the future president spoke words that seem to describe Mikey Garcia’s situation as he prepares to move up two weight classes on Saturday and challenge IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. in a pay-per-view bout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“… Hope in the face of difficulty,” Obama said. “Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!”

Garcia clearly has the audacity of hope. For the last several months, ever since he called out Spence, Garcia has answered the same question repeatedly: Why?

Why Garcia is moving up 2 weight classes to face Spence

It’s not for the money, though Garcia will make plenty of that, more than he could have possibly ever dreamed when he was born poor in Oxnard, California, as the son of Mexican immigrant strawberry pickers in 1987. At 31, Garcia (39-0, 31 KOs) is already one of the best boxers of his era and seemingly on an express ticket to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He’s a boxer, but he’s not of boxing.

He’s made his money outside of the sport as a realtor who is meticulous in properties he’ll invest in and renovate to flip. He’s got the same group of friends he’s had for years. He lives the safe, sane, boring, middle America lifestyle that is so atypical of the free-spending professional athlete of the 21st century.

The man who one day dreamed of becoming a police officer has held major world championships at featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight and has set the stage for one of the most intriguing matches of the year.

Mikey Garcia (R) lands as he defeats Robert Easter Jr. in their lightweight title unification fight at Staples Center on July 28, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)
Mikey Garcia (R) lands as he defeats Robert Easter Jr. in their lightweight title unification fight at Staples Center on July 28, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

Though he’s held a belt at 140, he’s really never campaigned at that class. Going to welterweight to fight the guy not many are too interested in fighting is a full two divisions above where he seems to belong. He’ll give up four inches in both height and reach to Spence, a 2012 U.S. Olympian who is a devastating puncher and has been compared from his earliest days as a pro to the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

Yahoo Sports ranks Spence the No. 2 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, right behind Terence Crawford and just ahead of Vasiliy Lomachenko. Garcia sits in fourth.

Spence is so big and so powerful that when the Premier Boxing Champions was attempting to lure former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin into its fold, it noted the possibility of a future fight for Golovkin against Spence when Spence would make the jump to middleweight.

And here is Garcia, a guy who as recently as 2013 was dropped by Rocky Martinez, a career super featherweight, challenging a guy big enough to fight at middleweight.

It’s crazy. It’s audacious. It’s Garcia. Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” and Garcia is taking the daring route.

“If you want to be one of the great fighters who ever lived, you just can’t go along and fight the next guy up all the time,” Garcia said. “If you look at boxing history, all of the great ones, they took some kind of risk. They stuck their necks out to try to prove they were the best. It’s what you have to do.

“So, I hear people tell me, ‘Oh, Errol, he’s too big. He hits too hard. He’s scary. He’s a monster. He’s this and he’s that. Why do you want to fight him?’ Why do I want to fight him? Really? I want to fight him for exactly that reason. All these people are saying, ‘You can’t beat this guy.’ I think I can. That’s why I’m fighting him.”

Garcia wants his name to be remembered

Jose Ramirez holds the WBC super lightweight title, and in 2018, he switched trainers and hired Robert Garcia, Mikey’s older brother, to train him. That put Ramirez and Mikey Garcia on the same team.

Not long after getting to work at the Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California, Ramirez quickly understood what the fuss about Mikey Garcia was all about.

“He’s just a smart guy and he demands so much out of himself,” Ramirez said. “He wants to be the best and he trains that way. He knows what he needs to do and he takes care of business.”

Even as the boxing world debates the wisdom of his choice to call out Spence after decisioning Robert Easter in July at the Staples Center in Los AngelesGarcia is calm and methodical.

He built his body under the tutelage of Victor Conte, hoping to add size and strength while not sacrificing speed and quickness.

He then returned to his gym with his brother, where his preparations for the biggest fight of his life, the biggest fight of the year to this point, unfolded smoothly and without drama.

The riches he earns from this fight will further solidify his future, though you don’t know Garcia if you believe he needed this fight to do that.

“Look, I’ve already put away enough money, secured enough money, enough investments, done enough real estate, I’ve done enough to guarantee myself a comfortable life,” Garcia said. “I’m not going to live like a flashy millionaire would live, but I’ll have enough to be comfortable. When I’m already at a level where I’m comfortable and I’m happy with what I have, then the financial reasons to get a fight done aren’t the main factors. I want to take these risks to make a statement in this sport.

“I can afford to do this. I have real estate and other things going for me that I can rely on income from elsewhere and not just from boxing. That’s a reason why I can move around to different divisions and choose the fights that I choose. I don’t have to protect anything. I’m taking this fight and accepting this risk because I want my name to be remembered.”

Garcia’s last five opponents (Dejan Zlaticanin, Adrien Broner, Sergey Lipinets, Easter and Spence) had a combined record of 113-2 with 84 knockouts at the time he fought them.

Garcia spectacularly knocked out Zlaticanin in the third round on Jan. 28, 2017, to win the WBC lightweight title. He won a wide unanimous decision over Broner in a non-title super lightweight bout in Brooklyn on July 29, 2017. He won a clear decision over Lipinets in San Antonio on March 10, 2018, to win the IBF super lightweight belt, and he blew out Easter in an IBF-WBC lightweight unification bout on July 28, 2018.

Mikey Garcia (L) fights Dejan Zlaticanin during a lightweight title boxing match Jan. 28, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)
Mikey Garcia (L) fights Dejan Zlaticanin during a lightweight title boxing match Jan. 28, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

This is a guy who steps up when the bouts are the most significant. Never, though, has he faced a more serious challenge.

Garcia following in Robinson’s, Duran’s footsteps

Sugar Ray Robinson, hands down the greatest fighter who ever lived, tried to do what Garcia is doing and came up short because of sunstroke.

Weighing 157¼ pounds, Robinson knocked out Rocky Graziano in the third round in Chicago on April 16, 1952, to successfully defend the middleweight title. By that point, he’d long since moved up from welterweight, where he became arguably the finest welterweight ever.

Two months after stopping Graziano, Robinson weighed in a quarter-pound heavier, at 157½, to challenge Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight title in 104-degree heat at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 1952. Robinson was ahead 10-3, 9-3-1 and 7-3-3 on the scorecards and on his way to winning when he couldn’t make the bell for the 14th when he was overcome by heat prostration.

In 1980, Roberto Duran moved up from lightweight and outmuscled Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal to win the welterweight title. Seven years after that, Leonard moved up to middleweight to take that belt from the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

It’s been done before, but not by your run-of-the-mill boxers. The fighters who do this are legends. Manny Pacquiao is the only boxer to have held a featherweight title or lower to have then gone on to win a welterweight title. Pacquiao went from flyweight to welterweight.

“Mikey thinks that he’s going to take this huge risk and make his name by beating me,” Spence said. “I get that and it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

So it sets up plenty of drama in the Lone Star State. Garcia is not only going to move up to fight Spence at his weight, he’s going to do it near Spence’s hometown.

“He’ll have fans there for sure, but I’ll have fans, too,” Garcia said. “But let’s be honest: When the bell rings, it’s me and him in there. We’re two of the best. We’ve been around long enough. We’re not going to be intimidated by the crowd. We’ll go out and fight to the best of our abilities and see where that takes us.”

For Mikey Garcia, that path is certain: A victory delivers him to immortality.

And he has the audacity of hope to believe he can pull it off.

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