By Jake Donovan
The previous calendar year was a banner run for the Garcia family, even without Mikey Garcia receiving an expected title shot. Robert Garcia was named Trainer of the Year, while star pupil Nonito Donaire received recognition as Fighter of the Year. Brandon Rios came up aces in his first fight with Mike Alvarado, a war hailed by many as among the year’s best.
This year appeared to be a continuation of the success enjoyed by the Oxnard-based camp. Youngest brother Mikey finally received his long awaited crack at a title, dominating Orlando Salido in a four-knockdown wide decision with this past January.
Garcia enjoyed three knockout wins in 2012 prior to facing Salido (one of which came in replacement capacity once his bout with Salido was delayed from its original November date). His success played a supporting role in his brother receiving Trainer of the Year honors. The title-winning effort in January served as his own time to shine.
“I was shown the star treatment everywhere I went,” Garcia admits, enjoying plenty of time to bask in the glow. “We had a small get together at Robert’s gym, and he opened it up for everyone to attend. That was really nice of my brother to do that.
“Then we went to Puerto Rico to receive my belt (at WBO headquarters). After that, RING magazine presented me with their belt at the Tim Bradley fight (versus Ruslan Provodnikov).”
However, that’s where the good fortunes came to an end.
Rios came up short in his rematch with Alvarado this past March. Two weeks later, Donaire was knocked from the top of the super bantamweight perch in a points loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Fortunately, there is still plenty of time left in 2013 to steer the ship back in the right direction. Garcia plans to do that in his very next ring return, when he defends his belt against former two-division titlist Juan Manuel Lopez in their HBO-televised featherweight championship on June 15 in Dallas.
Garcia (31-0, 26KO) was already preparing for his next fight to take place around that time, needing a few months to heal injuries suffered in the win over Salido. Whomever he wound up facing mattered little, as he was fine with the final choices once word finally got to him regarding the potential challengers for his first title defense.
“It was my manager and my brother who talked about it more than me,” Garcia reveals. “I was presented with two offers – JuanMa or (Orlando) Cruz. They felt JuanMa was the better option. I wasn’t going to pick one or the other. It made no difference.”
That Garcia merely just has to train while his team does the rest of the work gives the fighter even more confidence than what comes with growing up in a boxing family. It’s been a while since the 25-year old has been in a competitive fight, and not due to a dummying down of competition level – his last win came over the man (Salido) regarded at the time as the best featherweight in the world.
In the fighter’s mind, it speaks to the recent success enjoyed by his dream team, as evidenced in the most recent year-end awards season.
“It shows that we have a great team and great people around us,” Garcia says of his crew, which also includes manager Cameron Dunkin, arguably the top talent scout in the sport today, which complements promoter Top Rank’s ability to build a prospect better than anyone else.
“Every year, Cameron is mentioned as Manager of the Year,” Garcia points out. “We have a strong team and the right people looking out for my career. We do the right things to get the victory. People can see that and it’s amazing.”
The accomplishments are beginning to catch up to years of hard work performed in the gym by the fighter and his family, as well as behind the scenes by those securing his future fights.
By the end of June, publications will begin releasing stories on where they feel fighters and fights rank among the year’s halfway point. Garcia’s landslide win over Salido was the starting point of what he plans to be a big 2013. A win over Lopez in June would only add to that (as well as stop the temporary bleeding among his stablemates), leaving six more months to keep the good fortunes going – and perhaps even see his own name listed among Fighter of the Year consideration.
“If I could accomplish something like that it would be great. I don’t know how close I am to be mentioned, but it would definitely be great if I’m in consideration for that award,” Garcia humbly states. “It would be an amazing accomplishment. But I have a long way to go before I can begin thinking about that.”
Standing in front of him will be a determined Lopez (33-2, 30KO), who has won two straight since suffering his second loss to Salido last March. The Puerto Rican southpaw was forced to serve a near year-long suspension following slanderous remarks made towards the ring official following the Salido rematch, but is considered a viable contender for next month’s title clash in Dallas.
Just as Lopez was able to gain traction off of his Oct. ’10 win over Rafael Marquez, a similar springboard to superstardom is sought by Garcia. With that in mind, he’s training for the best available – and best remembered – version of Lopez, rather than expecting to replicate what Salido managed to accomplish, twice over.
“He has experience and has fought the best in the division,” Garcia says of his next opponent. “He took some time off (due to the suspension) and is very serious about his career. It’s a big opportunity for him. If he were to win, he goes back to the top of the boxing world. With that, I expect him to be at his very best. I have to be prepared for his best if I want to remain champion.”
A lengthy title run is certainly planned by Garcia, one he hopes will end only with the decision to move up in weight. That discussion hasn’t yet taken place, as he sees plenty of work left to be done in the featherweight division. At just 25 years of age, there stands a chance that he will eventually move up a weight class or two. But that day isn’t coming any time soon. Neither will his first loss, if he has his way in a couple of weeks.
“I don’t plan on losing my title, not in my first title defense,” Garcia insists. I’m the featherweight champ and I’m more than happy to stay for a long time.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox