By Lem Satterfield
WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman speaks for many when assessing Mikey Garcia’s chances against left-handed IBF counterpart Errol Spence.
“Errol Spence is a lot bigger than Mikey Garcia, and as the smaller guy who never has fought a world class welterweight the size of Spence, I don’t know where Mikey’s confidence comes from,” said Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), who will end a 22-month ring absence with his defense against Josesito Lopez on January 26.
“But Mikey wants to prove to the world that he sees something which allows him to coordinate his hands and feet to out-perform a world-class welterweight named Errol Spence Jr. I like Mikey’s boxing, but there’s a part of me that sees him getting stopped, part of me sees it going 12 rounds, but there’s not a part of me that sees him dominating or beating Spence.
The 5-foot-10, 29-year-old Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) is pursuing his 12th straight knockout and third defense against the 5-foot-6, 30-year-old Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), of Oxnard, California, whose 147-pound debut is an attempt at a fifth crown in as many divisions at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys’ training center near Spence’s hometown of DeSoto.
Garcia is 10-0 with six KOs against current or former world titleholders, and his 126-, 130-, 135- and 140-pound titles rank in modern boxing history with Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.
By defeating Spence, Garcia would join an exclusive class that includes Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather and Thomas Hearns as five-division world title winners.
“You know, I think both of these guys are phenomenal fighters in and around their respective weights, but I just believe that weight classes matter,” said Paulie Malignaggi, a 38-year-old Showtime ringside analyst and former 140- and 147-pound champion.
“Mikey became a champion four lower divisions, and he did very well as a super lightweight [140 pounds,] but I just think at this point, he’s kind of going too far when you’re dealing with someone that much bigger than him and with as much skills as Spence has.”
Leonard analogized Garcia’s task to that he accomplished on April 6, 1987, when he dethroned southpaw Marvin Hagler as 160-pound champion after rising from 147 pounds. Leonard un-retired after a nearly three-year absence (35 months), having been floored in the fourth round of his previous win over Kevin Howard, a ninth-round TKO in May 1984.
“Being the smaller man, Mikey’s gotta pick his shots based on footwork, moving in and out, and finding out what works best against Spence’s strong and weak points toward breaking him down. Garcia will feel that size difference. Spence's punches will be harder for Garcia than I believe he will have faced in his career,” said Leonard.
“The biggest thing for Garcia will be poise and composure, which is everything for guys moving up and taking risks against bigger guys. Garcia just has to be selective with shots and make Spence feel uncomfortable with his timing. On the other hand, Spence has gotta go in there believing he’s facing the baddest son of a bitch in the world.”
Spence will end a nine-month ring absence since his last fight in June, ending with a first-round body shot that dropped and stopped Carlos Ocampo (23-1, 14 KOs) at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys’ training center near his hometown of DeSoto.
“The Truth” was coming off January’s eighth-round stoppage of two-division champion Lamont Peterson, and Ocampo represented his second defense of the crown won by two-knockdown, 11th-round KO of Kell Brook in May 2017 in England.
"[Mikey Garcia’s] daring to be great. He wants to move up and try to dethrone me and it’s not going to happen. It’s definitely not going to be an easy fight. He will be pound-for-pound No. 1 if he beats me, but it’s not going to happen. He’s technically good, I’m technically sound, too,” said Spence.
“I have speed and power, but I don’t see him hurting me at 147. I’m a 147-pounder, he’s a 135-pounder, and there are weight classes for a reason. [Mikey Garcia] will be a challenging fight because he has great skills, but I see myself winning. I don’t really see anything that concerns me. I just see me winning the fight, period.”
To that end, Garcia, trained by his brother Robert, has aligned with strength and conditioning guru Victor Conte, working at his first training at Conte’s Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC) facilities in San Carlos, California, an organization that supplies legal sports nutrition products and supplements.
Conte spent four years helping athletes to circumvent Olympic-style drug testing policies until BALCO was raided in 2003, and served a four-month prison stint after pleading guilty to orchestrating the distribution of illegal performance-enhancing drugs to athletes in some professional sports. But since his release in March 2006, Conte has gone legitimate with SNAC.
"I hear people saying they're going to put 12 pounds of muscle on Mikey and he's going to be slow, but we do heavy duty bungee and over and under hurdle drills among other things," said Conte of Garcia, who will conclude traditional sparring and gym work with Robert Garcia in Riverside, California.
"We have masks, we have chambers where he's breathing low oxygen equivalent to a 10,000-foot elevation. This is higher than Big Bear at 6,700, and Mexico City at 8,300. This is about increasing Mikey's explosive power, speed and endurance. We're on a mission to help Mikey beat the so-called 'Boogey Man' of boxing, Errol Spence."
Garcia earned an one-knockdown unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Robert Easter in July, adding Easter’s IBF title to his WBC crown. Garcia twice fought at 140-pounds, earning unanimous decisions each time. In those bouts, Garcia defeated four-division Adrien Broner in July 2017, and Sergey Lipinets in March, scoring a seventh-round knockdown in the latter to secure a fourth world title in as many weight classes before returning to 135-pounds to face Easter.
Garcia won world titles at 126 and 130 pounds in 2013, earning the first by three-knockdown eighth-round technical decision over Orlando Salido in January, and the second by eighth-round, knockout of Roman Martinez, who floored him in the second round in that November.
Following a unanimous decision victory in his 130-pound title defense against Juan Carlos Burgos in January 2014, Garcia’s prolonged legal battle with Top Rank kept him inactive for 30 months until returning in July 2016 with a fifth-round TKO of former 126-pound champion Elio Rojas, and then, scoring a third-round knockout that dethroned previously unbeaten WBC 135-pound champion Dejan Zlaticanin (January 2017).
“A lot of people doubted me when I fought Dejan, only my second fight back after a two-and-a-half-year layoff, and he was a knockout artist at the time. A lot of reporters were picking Dejan. He was a dangerous opponent. When I fought Adrien Broner, they said Adrien Broner was too big, too strong and too fast for me, that I’m a small guy, I’m not fast enough, I’m not skilled enough, but I beat him easily over 12 rounds. But then after that, it was, ‘Oh, Broner was trash,’ and, ‘He didn’t show up,'" said Garcia.
"But ask him how good I was. When I fought Easter, they said I was avoiding him and that’s why I went on to fight Lipinets and this and that. Well, I took care of both guys. Now I’m taking on another one. That’s my third undefeated champion that I’m going after, back to back – Lipinets, Easter and now Spence. And if you count Dejan, he was also undefeated. Eventually, I’m going to have to get the credit that I deserve. Leading up to the fight, they can all say what they want. But after the fight, I’ll have changed their opinion.”
“I know Mikey believes he can be a better puncher by rising in weight, but Errol Spence is a phenomenal puncher at welterweight,” said Malignaggi. "I do believe that there are welterweights that Mikey Garcia can beat, but I just don’t think Errol Spence is one of them. I think it’s going to be a really nice, tactical fight to watch for a while, but I think Spence is going to be too big and he gets Mikey in about round six or round seven.”