By Jake Donovan
There is good and bad in any family business, especially when that business is family in a prize figher’s corner.
Given the journey he’s been forced to endure on the path to his first major title shot, Miguel Angel ‘Mikey’ Garcia knows that the good definitely outweighs the bad in having his family along for the ride.
Saturday’s title challenge against Orlando Salido is an opportunity more than a year in the making, but more specifically a fight that’s been in queue for several months. The two were supposed to tangle in Las Vegas last November. Win, lose or draw, Garcia could have enjoyed the finer things in life in the aftermath while ringing in the New Year.
All he enjoyed instead was more time in the gym preparing for his crack at Salido. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel more excited than anything else. I know it’s been a while to come to fruition, but it’s been worth it,” insists Garcia (30-0, 26KO). “I’m excited to get this opportunity.”
The opportunity was among the year’s most anticipated fights when it was scheduled late last year. That anticipation has grown by leaps and bounds, as it plays a vital part in the first major boxing telecast of 2013. The featherweight bout is part of a televised tripleheader to kick off HBO’s 2013 season, on a show that also includes Gennady Golovkin in a middleweight fight against Gabe Rosado.
Everyone on the show was forced to train through the holidays, though it’s not quite the same as Garcia’s circumstances. The 25-year old has been in the gym non-stop since the summer, taking a tune-up fight in September to avoid going in cold for a November showdown with Salido.
When this particular bout was pushed back to this weekend following an injury suffered by Salido last October, Garcia opted to remain on the HBO telecast and take another fight. He came out victorious and unscathed, dismantling former titlist Jonathan Barros in eight one-sided rounds to preserve his forthcoming title fight.
There was no rest for the weary, as Garcia returned back to the gym almost immediately after posting the 30th win of his career. There was no downtime to enjoy life away from the ring, not even for a quick breather.
Instead, it was business as usual in the gym, regardless of the events on the calendar. There were no extra helpings on Thanksgiving Day. Tradition was broken on Christmas Day, when his family of fighters and trainers respected his journey and strayed from its usual holiday feast.
There was nothing new about New Year’s Day, other than it being the next day on the calendar. Even his 25th birthday (December 15) was put in holds – from a celebratory perspective – while he focused on the task at hand.
Garcia was hardly alone during all of this. It’s where family proves to be an asset, especially when surrounded by family members who have already walked in his shoes.
“I remember what it was like,” recalls Robert Garcia. The consensus 2012 Trainer of the Year serves as chief cornerman for his younger brother, a role to which he has transitioned seamlessly from his days as prizefighter, which included a stint as super featherweight titlist. “I knew – I still know – a lot of fighters who won’t take a fight in January because they don’t want to sacrifice through the holiday.
“When I fought, I had to fight in January. Mikey saw them and lived through those experiences. When the fighter sacrifices, the whole family sacrifices as well. We had Christmas dinners that had to be fish and chicken, food that wouldn’t harm me when I was fighting. It’s the same with Mikey fighting (this weekend). The whole family is sacrificing. We’re all in the same sport and have to be there for him.”
The younger fighting Garcia recognizes the sacrifices made by those around him. In turn, it makes what he does second nature.
“I take my job very seriously. I trained on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It is a big sacrifice you have to do - not just me, but my family around me. They watch what they eat and put near me. I have to watch my diet, The whole family does it with me.”
That type of constant support only leads to confidence in the ring. Garcia carries that in spades. It’s not even about arrogance; in fact, Garcia is humble to a fault. It’s why he didn’t go crazy when Salido was forced to withdraw from their originally scheduled date. He simply asked for an interim fight, was granted his wish and made the most of the opportunity.
“Stuff like that happens all of the time in boxing,” Garcia theorized of the unfortunate postponement. “I’m always in the gym anyway. It was a minor setback. I got the fight with Barros. I wasn’t hurt or injured to further delay. I’m very excited and kept training.”
Plenty of other fighters would have sought an easier road towards the title to begin with. They would have been in an even greater hurry to change course the moment a fighter of Salido’s ilk was no longer available for a contracted date.
Garcia isn’t in the sport simply to collect belts. He had plenty of other options growing up. Boxing wasn’t even on the radar, despite it literally being in his family. But once he chose to go into the family business, there was never going to be any half-stepping. Not just any title shot will do, but one against the widely recognized best fighter in the division.
“There are a few options in every division and we could have easily picked the safest one, whoever that may be,” Garcia reveals. “Salido was the perfect guy. They wanted to work with us to make the fight, plus he’s also with Top Rank. The networks accepted the fight. It’s the perfect opportunity to show the world what I’m capable of.”
Glimpses began trickling down over the course of the past three years. It wasn’t entirely known what would come of his career once he turned pro in 2006. But beginning with his one-round blitzing of Tomas Villa in April 2010 on Telefutura, the boxing world slowly but surely began to take notice.
A clearer picture was painted in his HBO debut, tearing through Matt Remillard in a March 2011 matchup of unbeaten featherweights. The win came two fights after he already clinched a mandatory title shot after stopping Cornelius Lock in 11 rounds, which was the start of his current streak of eight straight stoppage wins.
Despite the sanctioning that came with the Lock fight, it wasn’t until last year’s seven-round drubbing of Bernabe Concepcion was Garcia finally assured that a title fight was well within reach. The bout was strategically placed on the undercard of Salido’s repeat knockout win over Juan Manuel Lopez, with the design to match up the winners sometime in the near future.
When it initially appeared that it wouldn’t happen, Garcia pursued a showdown with another undesired (by his peers) title claimant – Celestino Caballero. A purse bid was set and Garcia was prepared to challenge the string bean titlist – until Caballero began listening to whispers from the wrong people and pulled out of the fight.
Garcia never panicked, confident that his family and his team – arguably the sport’s best promoter and manager in Top Rank and Cameron Dunkin, respectively – would make the right next move in his career.
It was a few more moves than expected, but the moment of truth has finally arrived. There’s no turning back now, although Garcia is the type to actually run towards the bullets.
“Salido is a great fighter,” admits Garcia. “He never backs down from a challenge. “He’s upset a few guys in the past; he’s a warrior and is champion for a reason. Beating him puts me on top, it’s why I’ve trained non-stop since my last fight and through the holidays.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox