Mikey Garcia has come to learn those who think they know how boxing works don’t know him.
This week, the four-division champion Garcia (39-0, 30 knockouts) appeared alongside unbeaten International Boxing Federation welterweight world champion Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs) to announce their fight, and Fox Sports’ entry into pay-per-view, March 16 at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas.
“Everybody doubted this would happen, thought I was crazy, or that I was never gonna take that fight, that I was just doing it for a publicity stunt … but I was very serious from the first time I mentioned it and I’m glad I got it done,” Garcia told the Times from the Fox studios in Century City.
While Spence has manhandled men used to fighting at 147 pounds, Garcia has fought at 140 pounds only twice and currently stands as the World Boxing Council 135-pound champion.
Boxing purists are going to echo a comfortable refrain that Garcia will lose because he’s too small.
“That’s just the obvious. I am the smaller guy, but every once in a while, the smaller guy comes up and gets the job done against the bigger guy,” said Garcia, who eschewed mention of a lighter catch-weight limit for the rare showdown of elite champions meeting at the peak of their careers.
“I don’t believe in the catch weight. I’ve always sparred against bigger men, going back to [former welterweight champion] Marcos Maidana, when he was over 160 and I was 130. Those who were there would say I did very well, and even in my recent fights, I’ve been going against bigger men — [Adrien] Broner, [Sergey] Lipinets — who were 160 up in the ring. I felt the power, their size. And I feel comfortable.”
So disregard the notion, he says, that he has an excuse to fall back on in defeat.
“That’s not my mindset, not where I’m at. I’m taking this fight because I believe I can win, not because it’s a big fight or because I want to make a big noise for myself. Nah, no,” Garcia said.
“After I win this fight, there’s no denying I’m No. 1 in this sport. No one else will have accomplished what I have. No one else will have the record I have. And no one else will be able to say they’re equivalent to me in accomplishments. That’s why I’m taking it.”
Garcia, who was raised in Oxnard and trains in Riverside, routinely has leaned on his superior boxing skill to land the voluminous and powerful punches that decide the fights in his favor. He’s never watched Spence fight live, as Spence did from ringside while inspecting Garcia’s impressive victory over Robert Easter Jr. in July at Staples Center.
“I just believe in my abilities, my skills, my timing, my experience, and I believe everything is going to fall into place and allow me to prevail,” Garcia said. “People still underestimate me and still haven’t seen the best of me, but I am confident there’s a lot more in my bag that I can show and this fight will finally be one where I have to dig in a little different, but I’ll pull it off.
“I know I won’t be able to say I’m the better fighter in this one. He’s terrific, the bigger guy. But you still haven’t seen the best of me, and this is the fight I’m going to show that.”
Although the fight is in Spence’s state, Garcia said he feels comfortable fighting in Texas, having won two world titles there, including the 140-pound belt earlier this year against Lipinets in San Antonio.
Boxing insiders have expressed skepticism the fight will generate ticket sales anywhere near the 50,000 who showed for two Manny Pacquiao fights at AT&T Stadium, and a 2016 Canelo Alvarez bout.
“This fight has been buzzing around already for a few months since I first mentioned it. Now, we’re going to have three solid months of promoting and marketing behind it and we have Fox behind us. That will definitely help with the viewership and sales,” Garcia said. “I have a good fan base in Texas. It’s almost like a second home. I expect a lot of fans.”
Former champion lightweight Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini expressed admiration that Garcia has displayed "his desire and will ... to be great, you dare to challenge greatness," and noted how a lighter Carmen Basilio once defeated none other than Sugar Ray Robinson with a crouching, power-punching approach.
"Mikey's going to have to pressure the guy, especially a southpaw like Spence," Mancini said. "But Mikey has the talent ... skill to skill, side to side, you don't have to gain too much extra weight. I can't wait for that fight."
Spence has praised Garcia’s courage, and marveled at his popularity when more than 12,000 attended the July fight at Staples Center — a testimony to the determination Garcia showed by taking 2½ years off from boxing while in a contract dispute with former promoter Bob Arum and Top Rank.
“Some doubted, said I wasn’t going to be big enough or ever come back strong enough after the layoff … there’s always doubters, that’s part of the game,” Garcia said. “There were people who were just hurt I did things on my own. Now that I’m here, I can finally smile and know I’m finally doing it my way and reaching where every fighter dreams to be.