By Mitch Abramson
Any idea of what lies ahead for rising star Mikey Garcia was revealed by Alex Ariza, the always chatty strength and conditioning coach, who said that when Garcia faces Juan Carlos Burgos at Madison Square Garden on Saturday for Garcia's junior lightweight title, it will be his final fight at 130 pounds.
The implication was clear: Garcia is big-game hunting, in search of a high-profile opponent later this year, either against Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa or an even bigger fish in Manny Pacquiao.
In other words, Garcia is planning on doing what Pacquiao once did: climb multiple weight divisions with an eye on dominating the sport. Sitting in the corner of the Kingsway Gym on Tuesday in Manhattan, Ariza calmly described the game plan for Garcia moving forward.
“We all sat down and we all discussed this has definitely got to be the last fight at 130,” Ariza said to BoxingScene.com during a public workout for both fighters. “It has to be. It’s not that it’s not easy [to make the weight] but for what he wants in his future to be- it’s hard to take two steps forward and then to have to go in reverse just to make the weight. Let’s make the natural progression and go through these divisions comfortably.”
And though Garcia and his brother and trainer Robert tried to keep the conversation centered around Saturday’s opponent, it's clear the chances of a fight with Pacquiao coming to fruition is more than just wishful thinking. It’s also a fight that Mikey thinks is quite winnable, judging by his comments on Tuesday, when he said that Pacquiao, while still dangerous, doesn’t have the power he once did, a reference to the fact that he hasn’t stopped an opponent since Miguel Cotto in 2009. If Pacquiao gets past Timothy Bradley in April when they will reportedly meet, the thinking is that Garcia and Pacquiao could meet sometime in September, those in his camp say.
“I do picture that happening,” Robert Garcia said. “We’ve already talked about it- we’re focused on Mikey’s fight right now so we don’t talk to Mikey about it. But myself, [manager] Cameron Dunkin, my dad [Eduardo], we do talk about it and it’s something that definitely could happen and I’m sure if everything goes well Saturday and Bradley and Pacquiao fight depending on the results- that could be a very interesting fight."
"It’s all up to Cameron Dunkin, he’s the manager,” added Garcia. “But I think it’s a fight that definitely will happen especially if Pacquiao beats Bradley and that’s going to be a hard fight for Pacquiao to beat Bradley, it’s not going to be easy. But if he does- that fight could happen by the end of the year.”
Mikey is aware of these background conversations but maintains he’s focused on the task at hand, which is to dispatch of Burgos and to do so convincingly, befitting the hype that’s surrounding his headline appearance on HBO’s Boxing After Dark.
“We don’t pay attention to that even though we’re back and forth talks here and there and comments back and forth between Gamboa and my team, it doesn’t really affect me,” Garcia said of trash talk on social media between the two camps. “I’m focused on Saturday night. I’m focused on Burgos. That’s who we have in front [of us]. That’s who we have to beat so that’s the main focus.”
At the same time, Garcia (33-0, 28 knockouts) said it was fun to hear such speculation of a big fight down the road, since a fight with Pacquiao could catapult him to a new level in the sport.
“It definitely does excite me a little bit because it means that I’m being in consideration for big fights like that but that’s not right now,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to finally get there. We don’t even know if it’s going to happen.”
If it does happen, Robert likes the match-up with Pacquiao based on their styles, since Garcia is a shrewd counter-puncher, in the same manner as Juan Manuel Marquez, whose style has given Pacquiao fits over the years. And Garcia believes that his younger brother packs more of a punch than Marquez and that he has the benefit of youth.
And with Garcia and Pacquiao once sparring partners, and those sessions apparently competitive, Garcia is even more confident in the way that match could unfold.
“Look, Mikey and Manny sparred like seven eight years ago,” Garcia said. “Mikey was actually his sparring partner when he fought Morales I believe. And they had great sparring, they sparred six, eight rounds at a time and it was great. We’re not saying Mikey did better or won those sparring matches but neither did Pacquiao. I can’t say that Pacquiao put beatings on Mikey."
"They were pretty good sparring matches but that was sparring. The fighter that has given Pacquiao problems has been Marquez. Everyone knows, a lot of people think that Marquez has won most of the fights that they have fought and I think Mikey’s style is similar to Marquez. He’s a counter puncher. I think Mikey has maybe more power than Marquez. Marquez is already 40. Mikey is only 26. There’s so many differences that could mean a lot during the fight so I think we got a good shot. I ‘m not saying it’s going to be easy but we have a good shot.”
Mikey was in Macau when Pacquiao beat his stable-mate Brandon Rios in November and had this to say about Pacquiao and if he’s changed over the years, if there’s any drop-off for Pacquiao at the age of 35.
“The only thing that I could probably say is maybe his power may not be there as it used to be,” he said. “He used to steamroll over all his opponents, knockout after knockout and he’s had a couple fights now where he hasn’t been able to do the knockouts. So that’s the only thing. But his skills are still there. He’s also fighting better guys so that could be the reason why he’s not hurting them.”
Ariza believes that a win against Pacquiao will do for Garcia what beating Oscar De La Hoya did for Pacquiao- make him an international and cross-over star in boxing.
“I think it’s the same affect that when Manny beat De La Hoya- that’s how big it is,” said Ariza, who’s in his second fight working with Garcia. “I think the advantage for Mikey is that he was a sparring partner for Pacquiao when he fought Morales. So Mikey is not going to be as shocked or not comfortable for that kind of speed. He’s seen it before and that was Manny back then, so it’s a different Manny now and that would go to one of his advantages now. And the other advantage is that Mikey is developing into a 130 pounder, 135 pounder, 140 pounder relatively fast. So it’s not going to be that big of a transition.”
Ariza was complimentary toward Pacquiao, a fighter he once worked with, while giving his assessment of how the fighters stack up against each other.
“I never want to say anything [bad] about Manny because he’s such a tremendous athlete despite what his training may be like or whatever,” he said, a reference to Pacquiao trainer, Freddie Roach, who is feuding with Ariza. “He’s still very very capable and dangerous of being Manny. But I don’t think anybody can disagree with that Manny has problems with intelligent fighters- fighters that are thinkers, that are counter punchers, that like to sit there and be strategic, that are not reckless and that’s Mikey. He’s calculating. He doesn’t waste a lot of punches. He dissects his opponent and executes his game plan really well, so that could be the bigger problem more than the physical could be for Manny.”
Asked if he and Roach were still at odds after they got into a physical confrontation in Macau, Ariza said that he didn’t have time to think about Roach. And, he wouldn’t respond to chatter that he allegedly gave Marcos Maidana a stimulant in the corner between rounds 11-12 during his fight with Adrien Broner.
“Unfortunately, right now we’ve been advised to not talk about Roach or any of the comments or anything slanderous about myself or Maidana right now,” Ariza said. “We’ve been advised.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.