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Mikey Garcia, finally heading a hometown fight card, is ready to be boxing's next legend

A world of opportunities awaits Mikey Garcia in his long-delayed lightweight title fight Saturday at Staples Center.

Beyond the $1 million he’s guaranteed for meeting Ohio’s unbeaten Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 knockouts) in a unification of their World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation belts, the Oxnard-raised Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) has the potential to position himself as the sport’s next major draw.

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At 30, he’s pushing hard to create what would be his pay-per-view headlining debut: a bold move 12 pounds up in weight for a December meeting against unbeaten welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., who will attend Saturday’s bout.

A victory also moves him toward a 2019 unification for all four lightweight belts should fellow champion Vasiliy Lomachenko defeat the winner of the Aug. 25 fight between Ray Beltran and Jose Pedraza.

“This is a very important evening for Mikey as he comes to headline Staples for the first time,” promoter Richard Schaefer said.

Schaefer, who formerly handled Canelo Alvarez’s bouts in his prior role as Golden Boy Promotions’ chief executive officer, said he believes the timing is right for four-division champion Garcia to challenge Alvarez as the favorite of the impassioned Latino audience, now that Alvarez has been stung by the positive drug tests and suspension that delayed his rematch with middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.

“If you look at the Mexican people — they are a humble, hard-working people,” Schaefer said. “Look at the profile of Mikey, how humble he is, how important his family is to him, his fluency in Spanish and how accessible he is … he has an opportunity to become the leading face among Latino fighters.”

The campaign begins on his home turf, where he finally receives main-event billing in his first bout here in seven years.

Part of the absence was connected to Garcia’s 30-month hiatus due to a contract dispute with former promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, and then powerful manager Al Haymon and Showtime placed Garcia’s four fights with them in Brooklyn, Las Vegas, Brooklyn and San Antonio.

“Why’s he been fighting in Brooklyn?” Top Rank executive Carl Moretti asked. “Sometimes it’s about building availability and logistics, but you would think they’d try to get him home before this.”

Answered Schaefer: “Fighters should establish a home base, but Staples Center is the busiest building in the U.S. Mikey’s here now, in the biggest and most dangerous fight of his career — a unification bout — and I hope this is the first of many. Mikey’s totally on board with the idea of fighting in Los Angeles at least once a year.”

Schaefer expects the crowd to exceed 10,000.

Easter presents a complicated test for Garcia in that he stands five inches taller and has an eight-inch reach advantage. If Garcia solves him, Spence awaits; that ringside seat isn’t being occupied for show, Schaefer insisted. However, both the promoter and Garcia’s cornermen, his brother and father, have discouraged him from pursuing such a risky bout.

A Top Rank official cracked this week that Garcia’s talk of Spence reveals the “impulsive” behavior that made satisfying him problematic.

“A lot of people think he’s joking about it to create hype. Mikey’s not that type,” Schaefer said.

“He’s ambitious. And great fighters look for great challenges. That’s ultimately what defines a fighter. Go try to climb the biggest mountain … that’s who Mikey is. And while winning is everything, it’s not everything. Challenging yourself to be great and make the impossible possible is refreshing, and how the legends have become legends. That’s what Mikey wants.”

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Mikey Garcia connects on Dejan Zlaticanin during their WBC lightweight title fight on Jan. 28, 2017 in Las Vegas.
Mikey Garcia connects on Dejan Zlaticanin during their WBC lightweight title fight on Jan. 28, 2017 in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus / Getty Images)

BOXING

Main event: Mikey Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) vs. Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 KOs), for Garcia’s WBC lightweight belt and Easter’s IBF lightweight belt

Where: Staples Center

Television: Showtime

When: Saturday; first fight begins 3:25 p.m., Showtime telecast starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $50-$500

Undercard: Luis Ortiz (28-1, 24 KOs) vs. Razvan Conaju (16-3, nine KOs), heavyweights; Jose Roman (24-2-1, 16 KOs) vs. Mario Barrios (21-0, 13 KOs), junior-welterweights; Karlos Balderas (5-0, four KOs) vs. Giovanni Caro (27-23-4, 21 KOs), lightweights

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