By Lem Satterfield
Three- and four-division title-winners Abner Mares and Mikey Garcia have two things in common, the first, being that each is a massive underdog trained by Garcia’s brother, Robert, entering their next fight.
The second is that they’re rising in weight to challenge younger, left-handed 130- and 147-pound champions Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) and Errol Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) who are perceived to have superior advantages in size, speed and power.
The 33-year-old Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) moves up from 126 with the goal of dethroning WBA “regular” champion Davis for his fourth crown in as many divisions reportedly on February 9 at a venue to be determined in Southern California near Mares’ native Los Angeles.
The 30-year-old Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) will fight Spence on Fox at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. ET on March 16 in potentially hostile territory at The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, near Spence’s home in DeSoto, Texas.
“Both Mikey and Abner have decided to move up and face the biggest, riskiest challenge out there, and they made that decision on their own,” said Robert Garcia. “We know they both have the experience and knowledge in knowing that it won’t be easy, but that they can both pull it off.”
Among Mares’ sparring partners will be southpaws Ruben Villa (14-0, 5 KOs) and Isidro Ochoa (6-0, 2 KOs), with Mikey Garcia using 2012 Brazilian Olympic silver medalist Esquiva Falcao (22-0, 15 KOs) and Alexis Rocha (12-0, 8KOs).
In his last fight in June, Mares lost a unanimous decision to three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz in rematch of Santa Cruz’s majority decision win in August 2015, with each of those bouts taking place in the fighters’ native Los Angeles.
"There are a lot of similarities between Mikey and myself moving up and being trained by the same coach," said Mares, who is 5-for-5 (two knockouts) against southpaw opponents since 2008.
"Gervonta might be bigger, faster in some eyes, but there we've definitely done our homework. There are minor things I can do to neutralize his explosiveness, which comes from experience."
A Baltimore native who turned 24 on November 7, Davis is coming off a title-regaining two-knockdown third-round TKO of fellow southpaw Jesus Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs), of Buenos Aires, Argentina, whose 130-pound debut ended a 16-month ring absence since falling in December 2016 by split-decision to Mares and being dethroned as WBA 126-pound champion.
A two-time champion, Davis will end a 10-month ring absence and is confident of earning his 12th straight stoppage victory and successful second defense against Mares, who is an inch shorter (5-foot-4 ½-to 5-foot-5 ½) than Davis with a 66-inch reach compared to “Tank’s” of 67 ½.
In his last fight in June, Spence scored his 11th straight knockout, dropping and stopping Carlos Ocampo (23-1, 14 KOs) with a first-round body shot at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys’ training center.
“The Truth” Spence 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.
Confident of beating of the 5-foot-10, 28-year-old Spence, the 5-foot-6 Garcia vacated the IBF lightweight championship he won by one-knockdown, unanimous decision to dethrone previously unbeaten Robert Easter Jr. (21-1, 14 KOs) in July at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In two appearances at 140-pounds, Garcia, of Oxnard, California, has beaten four-division Adrien Broner by decision and Sergey Lipinets for a third world title in as many weight classes before dropping back down to unify the 135-pound titles with Easter.
"I work extra hard to make sure that we continue that we maintain that undefeated streak against Broner's team," said Robert Garcia, who also trained Marcos Maidana in December 2013 when his two-knockdown unanimous decision dethroned Broner as WBC welterweight champion.
"When it comes to business, I've told him many times, 'Broner, stay away from my fighters,' because you're never gonna beat me. We joke around, but I know that bothers him a little, and [Easter] and Davis are his boys, so we're definitely working hard to take the win[ against Davis.]"
Garcia is 10-0 with six KOs against current or former world titleholders, and has joined Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao as modern-era fighters who have won world titles at 126, 130, 135 and 140 pounds.
Should Garcia pull it of in his 147-pound debut against Spence, he will join an exclusive class that includes Leonard, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Thomas Hearns as five-division world title winners.
“That’s [big man beating a little man] a pretty common saying, but every once in a while, you get these exceptions where the smaller man beats the bigger guy and that’s why I’m doing this and that’s what I’m looking forward doing. I really believe in myself,” said Garcia.
“That’s why I’m able to keep on challenging myself by moving up and down in divisions. I have great skills that most everybody still hasn’t seen, and I think that Errol Spence will be the one to bring those out of me. I think it’s going to be a great fight, and this is one of those going to be one of those occasions where the little guy beats the bigger man.”
In victory over Cuellar, Davis returned to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where a then-22-year-old became the youngest reigning champion in January 2017 with a seventh-round knockout that dethroned switch-hitting IBF titleholder Jose Pedraza.
For his initial IBF title defense in May 2017, Davis traveled to London, where he dropped and stopped previously undefeated southpaw Liam Walsh (21-1, 14 KOs) in the third round in front of Walsh’s hometown fans.
But Davis lost his crown on the scales before his second defense in August, an eighth-round knockout victory over Francisco Fonseca (22-1-1, 16 KOs) on the under card of Floyd Mayweather’s 10th-round TKO of Conor McGregor.
“Gervonta a busy fighter, but I can put pressure on him, make him deal with his insecurities," said Mares. "Plus, We have an advantage of Robert Garcia having beaten two of Gervonta's camp-members in Adrien Broner and Robert Easter who Davis hangs around with."