Mikey Garcia proves he belongs at welterweight with decision win over Jessie Vargas

Mikey Garcia reminded those who jumped off his bandwagon 11 months ago why he has won world titles in four weight classes and has been so universally respected throughout the sport.

In just his second bout at welterweight and his first since losing last year to Errol Spence Jr., Garcia overcame a slow start and showed he belonged in the division with a gritty victory Saturday over ex-world champion Jessie Vargas in Frisco, Texas.

Vargas was in command in the first few rounds, and was particularly effective with a looping left that was coming over Garcia’s right and finding a home. But though he was the smaller man, Garcia showed he was the harder hitter. He began to close the distance in the fourth and in the fifth, he hit Vargas with a perfect 1-2 combination that essentially changed the course of the fight.

Vargas went down from the right hand and he was never fully the same after it. Judges Cathy Leonard and Steve Morrow scored it 116-111 while David Sutherland had it 114-113 for Garcia, who is now 40-1. Yahoo Sports had it 116-111 for Garcia.

“I had to make adjustments to his reach and natural size,” Garcia said. “As the fight went on. I started to hurt him, closing the gap, finding my rhythm, and timing. In the end it worked out very well.”

It didn’t look like it was going to be a cakewalk early, as a confident and motivated Vargas started quickly. He was on his toes and firing shots at Garcia that were not only winning rounds but also getting Garcia’s attention.

Robert Garcia, the fighter’s trainer and older brother, said he was simply getting a feel for what Vargas could do.

“We always know that Mikey is a slow starter,” Robert Garcia said. “He uses the first two or three rounds just to figure out his opponent and see what punches they’re actually looking for. He uses that opportunity to see what our opponent is trying to do. He always does that, but little by little, Mikey started landing his punches. The straight right hand is the one that did the damage with that first knockdown.”

Vargas made a late rally, but he had lost a lot of zip off of his punches by the time the 10th rolled around from the punishment Garcia had delivered in the decisive middle portion of the fight.

Vargas, who complained that he didn’t follow his corner’s plan as well as he wished, said his early fast start may have worked against him.

“I got a little [over] confident,” Vargas said. “In the fourth round, I thought I hurt Mikey. I lightened up, but Mikey fought a great fight. I give him credit and don’t take anything from him. It was a learning experience for me.”

Garcia talked about options, but the No. 1 option appears to be a bout with WBA champion Manny Pacquiao. There are conflicting reports about whether Pacquiao is free of his contract with the Premier Boxing Champions. Pacquiao, who once signed two promotional deals simultaneously with Top Rank and Golden Boy, recently signed a management deal with Audie Attar of Paradigm.

But if Pacquiao is available, a fight with Garcia would be a huge bout. And it’s one that would prove conclusively whether or not Garcia is really a legitimate welterweight.

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