By Lem Satterfield
Five-division champion Sugar Ray Leonard did the unthinkable on April 6, 1987, un-retiring after a nearly three-year absence (35 months) and rising from 147 pounds to dethrone southpaw Marvin Hagler as 160-pound champion.
Leonard said a victory by Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) over left-handed IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) would be analogous to his upset of Hagler.
Shouldfour-division champion 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, doing so 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.
But as the saying goes, “a good big man beats a good little man in boxing,” and although Leonard gives Garcia a fighting chance, he’s leaning toward “The Truth.”
“Garcia will feel that size difference in Spence's punches, because nine times out of 10, when a bigger guy hit me, he would rock me,” said Leonard, 62, who was floored in the fourth round of his previous win over Howard, a ninth-round TKO in May 1984.
“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. From that point, Mikey Garcia beating Errol Spence would be huge, but I gotta go with Spence.”
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.
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, 24-year-old Spence, the 5-foot-6, 30-year-old 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.
Garcia is charting a similar path to Leonard, who won a 154-pound title by ninth-round stoppage over previously unbeaten Ayub Kalule in June 1981, returned to 147 for a 14th-round knockout in a unification victory over the previously unbeaten Hearns in September ‘81, and narrowly defeated Hagler six years later.
Trained by his older brother, Robert, a former titleholder, Garcia joined a short list of boxers who have won world titles at 126, 130, 135 and 140 pounds.
“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 of Spence, who was ringside at Staples Center as Garcia rose to 10-0 with six KOs against current or former world titleholders.
“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.”