By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It's not hard to find a boxing fan or media member who'll suggest -- in an era where superstars and promoters tend to pick and choose their fights -- that title belts no longer matter.
Mikey Garcia disagrees.
Already a champ in three weight classes -- and the WBC's incumbent at lightweight -- the newly minted 30-year-old will aim for yet another bauble in March when he challenges Sergey Lipinets for the IBF's share of 140-pound supremacy.
And while Garcia concedes that his 28-year-old Kazakhstan-born foe isn't exactly a household name -- he's slotted 11th in the division by the Independent World Boxing Rankings -- he insists that the buzz created by another championship chase will be more than enough to fuel his competitive fire.
Garcia, incidentally, is the IWBR's top man at 140.
"I could have taken another fight and defended my title at 135 against just a contender, but that's really not as exciting," he said. "When the opportunity to fight for a fourth title in a fourth division is present, I'm going to take advantage of that.
"I don't want to just take on anybody. Make it at least meaningful. Make the fight at least for a world title. It motivates me more."
Garcia said his position on belts evolved as he climbed the ladder to win titles at 126, 130 and 135, and his sights became set on 140 when he weighed a career-high 139 1/2 pounds while outpointing former champ Adrien Broner last summer.
The more he thought of his career as a whole, he said, the more they mattered.
"It wasn't something that I really, really thought was important," Garcia said. "But when you look at careers or you look at legacies, you do want to have accomplishments to show for it. Those belts do that. If you don't win those belts then you cannot really show the accomplishments. You're not going to be remembered as being a four -or five-division champion unless you actually win the belts. You could beat guys at 140 or 147 and be competing in five divisions, but if I never win the belt no one can recognize me as a champion in those divisions."
Once he's got a title, though, he's got no problem quickly moving on to other things.
"It is important to win the belts," he said.
"If you have the belt and the accomplishment in that division then it's not as important to hold the belt because you've already accomplished it."
And that's precisely the plan going forward, presuming things go well on March 10.
Garcia said he anticipates one more high-profile defense at 135 pounds before permanently abandoning the division to pursue bigger foes -- and bigger opportunities -- at 140 and 147.
The finale at 135 was intended to include WBA champ Jorge Linares, he said, but the Golden Boy-promoted Venezuelan seems set on pursuing another multi-belted ladder climber, Vasyl Lomachenko.
"(Golden Boy president) Eric Gomez told me that fight should be on a big show at a different time of the year, not in January," Garcia said.
"(Gomez) suggested we wait, we could make more money and build the fight even more. That's why we decided to take an intermediate fight. (Linares) ended up fighting Mercito Gesta. You've got to take on fights like this sometimes to lead up to something bigger. Now (Gomez is) looking at Linares and Lomachenko. That's great for him. That's what they want to do. I thought we were going to get it done in the summer, but it seems like they're probably going to beat me to it.
"If it wasn't Linares, and Lomachenko was willing to move up and ready, I would do that. If it's neither one of them I might try to unify against another champion at 135, which would probably land on (Robert) Easter. Any of those fights at 135 I would gladly take. That would lead up to moving up to welterweight maybe next year. A couple fights at junior welterweight, then move up to welterweight."
Garcia is 5-foot-6 with a 68-inch reach -- compared to WBA/WBC welterweight champ Keith Thurman's 5-7 1/2 and 69, IBF champ Errol Spence Jr.'s 5-9 1/2 and 72, and WBO champ Jeff Horn's 5-9 and 68. Another potential obstacle, Terence Crawford -- whom Garcia labeled "one hell of a fighter" -- stands 5-8 with a 70-inch wingspan.
Those size differentials, though, will only illustrate Garcia's advantage in athletic and boxing acumen, he said. And within 18 months or so, the full-scale assault at 147 will be underway.
"I have the skills needed to do it," Garcia said. "I may not have the size to hurt my opponents, but I could definitely have the skill to beat them. I think I have great skill that people still haven't seen. I might have to take a couple rounds to make the adjustments and feel out my opponent and feel out the power and the speed and timing and reflexes. I like to take a few rounds, but I think you will see the boxing ability, you'll see my footwork, you'll see my speed, you'll see my timing in effect.
"It won't be long before you'll see the dominance. Sooner than later you're gonna see the difference. For me, the ultimate goal is just getting the general public to see me as one of the best and that's it. Not necessarily (number) 3 or 2 or 1 or 5. It doesn't really matter. As long as fans recognize me as one of the best that's all that I'm really after right now."
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This week's title-fight schedule
Vacant WBO lightweight title -- Reno, Nevada
Raymundo Beltran (No. 1 WBO/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Paulus Moses (No. 2 WBO/No. 31 IWBR)
Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KO): Fourth title fight (0-1-1, 1 NC); Never lost in Las Vegas (3-0, 1 NC, 1 KO)
Moses (40-3, 25 KO): Fifth title fight (2-2); Held WBA title at 135 (2009-10, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: Beltran has fallen short on the top level before, but he's matched well enough here -- with a foe whose best days are long past -- that it should be time. Beltran by decision
IBO/WBA super middleweight titles -- Manchester, United Kingdom
Chris Eubank Jr. (IBO champ/No. 3 IWBR) vs. George Groves (WBA champ/No. 2 IWBR)
Eubank Jr. (26-1, 20 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten above 160 pounds (20-0, 15 KO)
Groves (27-3, 20 KO): Second title defense; Won belt in his fourth title attempt
Fitzbitz says: It's a close fight and both have reason to be optimistic. Groves is rugged, while Eubank is athletic. Go with the athlete here in a compelling match. Eubank by decision
WBC super middleweight title -- Las Vegas, Nevada
David Benavidez (champion/No. 18 IWBR) vs. Ronald Gavril (No. 5 WBC/No. 37 IWBR)
Benavidez (19-0, 17 KO): First title defense; Defeated Gavril (SD 12) to win title in September
Gavril (18-2, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Two losses in 15 Las Vegas fights (13-2, 10 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The first fight was closer than expected, but the guess is that a fully-focused champion will widen the gap in the rematch. Benavidez in 10
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Rakhimov, Berchelt)
2018 picks record: 12-0 (100 percent)
Overall picks record: 933-304 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.