By Corey Erdman
It’s been said that you can’t find true ecstasy in sport until you succeed in a situation where failure was not just possible, but probable. Those are the situations Mikey Garcia has sought out his entire boxing career.
Garcia added another belt to his collection on Saturday night, routing a much larger Robert Easter Jr. to unify the IBF and WBC lightweight titles in his return to the 135-pound division. It was four months after he was experimenting with the 140-pound division, capturing world titles by taking down Adrien Broner and Sergey Lipinets in back-to-back fights. Those wins were fresh off his lightweight title win over Dejan Zlaticanin, which came just one fight after a two-year layoff.
There is a lot to admire about Garcia as a boxer. His pinpoint precision, his devastating power which has carried through four weight classes, his uncanny ability to negate size and spacing with timing and footwork. But beyond all of that, the reason he has been able to cultivate those skills, is because Garcia has an inability to just coast. Even in a sport filled with athletes whose resolve and determination laudable, Garcia stands out. Not only is he determined, but he’s ambitious—even when he doesn’t have to be.
From the very beginning, Garcia didn’t have to be a boxer—in fact, he didn’t even want to be. Garcia’s story isn’t one of grinding poverty like Manny Pacquiao, nor is it one of a fractured and troublesome family like Floyd Mayweather.
Garcia’s genesis in the sport doesn’t fit the common boxing tropes. Mikey’s father Eduardo picked strawberries and trained fighters, including his brother Robert, who went on to become world champion. Robert, of course, became one of the best and most recognizable trainers of the modern era. Mikey grew up comfortably, in a loving family that while steeped in the business of boxing, didn’t force him into it.
Nobody in the Garcia family expected that Mikey would turn out to be a pro boxer—they thought by now he would be a police officer or a lawyer. He didn’t even have a boxing match until he was 14, when he goofed around, stepped in to face a fighter on a card at the family gym as a joke, and wound up winning.
Somewhere along the line, something in Garcia’s mind wouldn’t allow him to just follow a linear path. Becoming a lawyer certainly isn’t easy—it requires dogged determination and focus, something Garcia has in droves, but he also has blessing or curse of always needing newer, loftier goals. Just getting one degree or one job wouldn’t have been stimulating enough for him.
Frankly, merely boxing professionally wouldn’t have been enough for him either. Mikey could have easily just attached himself to the family business and rode the luxuries of name recognition to modest success the way many legacy fighters have in the past. Moreover, he could have stayed in a cushy Top Rank contract and done what many fighters prefer to do—let their manager and promoter call the shots, and fight whoever is put in front of them. Instead, Garcia put his litigious studies to use and battled to get out of his contract.
Whichever side you feel is in the right from a legal standpoint in the Garcia vs. Top Rank battle, one has to admire the underlying reasoning for Garcia wanting ultimate freedom. His career since leaving the company has illustrated exactly why he wanted out—he wanted to make moves and take risks no promoter would be thrilled about taking.
"There's no other boxer who's in a position like I'm in. I want to leave my name cemented in the history of boxing,” Garcia told Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated recently. As far as the public knows on the record, Garcia and his family handle his career totally on their own. While he is a de facto member of the Premier Boxing Champions stable, the understanding is that Mikey is the one making his own decisions.
He has decided now that it wasn’t enough to win a featherweight title, a super featherweight title, a lightweight title, or a super lightweight title. Nor would it be enough to stay at lightweight for a second and go after his former promoter’s golden child Vasyl Lomachenko. Rather, he is determined to jump up to welterweight to face one of the most feared fighters in the sport, Errol Spence Jr.
“There's no one else that excites me enough, that motivates me and that can challenge me other than Errol Spence, and I'm willing to take that challenge, all the way up, because that's the fight that will motivate me the most,” said Garcia at the post-fight press conference. ”I'm here to challenge myself. He is the best. He might feel that it's an easy fight for him, that I'm too small, and that's fine. Let's get in the ring and let's go to work.”
At this point in his career, Garcia is unquestionably one of the very best fighters in the world—perhaps in the top three, pound-for-pound. As a result, he would be expected to beat anyone south of 147 pounds, and that’s not a feeling that makes Mikey tick. He craves the feeling of uncertainty—even when, admittedly, it’s against what his brother and trainer would advise him to do.
“I've always said that we should've move too fast and take that challenge right now, but that's what Mikey wants. He loves those challenges,” said Robert Garcia.