It wasn’t Mikey Garcia’s first dalliance with inactivity.
In fact, the California-born stylist and former four-division title claimant was no stranger to long stretches on the shelf – having taken a 30-month pause from January 2014 to July 2016 before locking down the back half of his jewelry quartet with wins over Dejan Zlaticanin and Sergey Lipinets.
So when the 33-year-old stepped through the ropes in Fresno against Sandor Martin in October, it would have been hard to find anyone in the partisan crowd at Chukchansi Park – or anywhere else for that matter – who expected his most recent 20-month hiatus to create any sort of issue.
But it did.
So much so that the 10-round majority win scored on DAZN by the unheralded Spaniard, a 20-to-1 underdog, earned recognition as Boxing Scene’s Upset of the Year for 2021.
No offense to Martin, who’d arrived in the “Sunshine State” for a U.S. debut with a gaudy 38-2 record across a career spent exclusively in Spain, Sweden and Italy, but he’d never encountered a foe on anything approaching Garcia’s level – topping out with a decision win over one Mauro Godoy in 2018.
Not surprisingly, the once-beaten Garcia saw Martin as a tune-up to kickstart a pursuit of high-end foes like Regis Prograis and Devin Haney, and his pre-fight walk to the ring included a fireworks display.
But once the bell rang, Martin immediately troubled him by boxing off the back foot, using consistent movement and timing his aggression with straight lefts. He scored well from the other side, too, landing the fight’s first sharp shot when he caught Garcia with a check right hook late in the second.
Garcia stepped on the gas in rounds three through five, frequently pinning Martin along the ropes and landing with looping rights and left hooks as his opponent stayed stationary behind a high guard.
Martin, though cut over the right eye, regained his swagger in the sixth and resumed his effective counterpunching while operating off the back foot. He landed snapping right hooks in that round, then followed up in the seventh and eighth and occasionally initiated exchanges, scoring well with his left.
The momentum swung back toward Garcia over the final six minutes as he scored well with right hands in the ninth and worked hard to pin Martin along the ropes in the 10th. Still, it was the less-heralded visiting fighter who accounted for 31 of the last 39 punches that landed before the bell.
Overall, Martin landed 32 percent of the 231 punches he threw – including 52 power shots – compared to Garcia’s 19 percent land rate (60 of 318).
“It’s the biggest moment of my career,” Martin said.
“I said all along that I was going to do it, and I did it. I know myself. I know my ability. I’ve been fighting since I was five years old and always believed in myself.”
As for Garcia, it was a second loss in three fights after a 39-0 start.
He was pristine from 123 to 140 pounds before rising to welterweight and getting shut out by Errol Spence in an IBF title try in March 2019. He returned 11 months later to drop ex-WBO champ Jessie Vargas and win on the scorecards over 12 rounds, but hadn’t fought since as the pandemic scuttled talk of a bout against Manny Pacquiao.
Meanwhile, Martin had won nine straight since losing to Anthony Yigit in 2017, including twice in the preceding 10 months.
“I thought I was ahead on the three cards,” Garcia said. “It is what it is.
“That’s why there’s three judges. They decided he was the one winning the fight. He didn’t beat me up, I’m not bruised up or anything. It was a competitive fight, I thought I was winning the fight in a close matchup but the judges saw it the other way around. I knew he was a very good boxer. That’s why I kept coming forward, but I knew I couldn’t be reckless, either. I still thought I did enough to win.
“He kept moving around the ring. The judges this time thought he was in control. I thought I was in control. I can definitely consider a rematch. I think two more rounds will probably be better, too. I thought I was coming on a little better in the later rounds. But this was the way it is.”
The runners-up for BoxingScene.com’s 2021 “Upset of the Year” award are listed below, in no particular order.
Kiko Martinez-Kid Galahad
Qatar-born Kid Galahad was three months into a reign as IBF featherweight champion and fighting in front of an adopted home crowd at the Sheffield Arena in central England. His opponent was 10-loss former titleholder Kiko Martinez, who’d dropped four straight title fights – including three by stoppage – since reigning at 122 pounds for 13 months across 2013 and 2014. Galahad was carrying the fight and punishing his mid-30s foe through four rounds before going down thanks to a right hook late in the fifth, then out cold from a straight right at the start of the sixth.
Mauricio Lara-Josh Warrington
Speaking of the IBF featherweight strap, ex-champ Josh Warrington relinquished it to go after big fights and expected a bout with Mexican import Mauricio Lara to provide a worthwhile turn-up as he waited. Instead, Lara unleashed a particularly brutal attack, dropping the previously unbeaten Warrington with a left hook in the fourth. He continued to land effective power shots through the middle rounds to the head and body, then connected on another left hook that dropped Warrington again and prompted referee Howard Foster to intervene 54 seconds into the ninth.
George Kambosos Jr.-Teofimo Lopez
Teofimo Lopez had authored one of 2020’s biggest surprises when he unseated Vasyl Lomachenko from his two-belt lightweight throne and added the Ukrainian’s collection to his own IBF title. But when “The Takeover” finally got his subsequent defense with George Kambosos Jr. locked in for Madison Square Garden, he wound up on the short end. The Aussie with Greek roots withstood an early barrage and dropped Lopez with a counter shot in the first, then outworked his higher-profile foe for the balance of the fight on the way a split-decision triumph over 12 rounds.
Yordenis Ugas-Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao was less than two weeks from a long-pursued shot at IBF/WBC welterweight champ Errol Spence Jr., but the Texan’s eye injury prompted a marquee change. In came WBA title claimant Yordenis Ugas, who’d lost a narrow nod to then-WBC champ Shawn Porter two years earlier. And with his arrival, out went Pacquiao’s run as a top-shelf commodity at 147 pounds. The Cuban bamboozled his 40-plus foe with a superior work rate and consistent accuracy on the way to a unanimous decision that’s set up his own date with Spence that’s expected in 2022.
Gabe Rosado-Bektemir Melikuziev
Uzbekistan-born Bektemir Melikuziev was a rising commodity in hot pursuit of a date with former light heavyweight kingpin Sergey Kovalev before the ex-175-pound boogeyman tested positive for a banned substance and the bout was scrubbed. As a result, Melikuziev was paired off with rugged ex-middleweight challenger Gabe Rosado in January at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas. Things went as planned early on, including Rosado hitting the floor, and it was continuing into the third before Melikuziev walked into a right hand that knocked him cold and ended things at 1:21 of the third.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.