For Mikey Garcia, Saturday night's showdown with former two-division titlist Juan Manuel Lopez is the first fight of the rest of his career. Up until now he was the aspiring pursuer bent on toppling the best but now he is the pursued target of all who oppose him. Beating him means making history while for Garcia his aim is merely keeping what he already has.
For Lopez, the Garcia fight is his ticket back to prominence. At age 29 he is no longer the fresh-faced bomber who appeared on pound-for-pound lists but a twice-beaten battler who either gets his man or gets "got." A loss here would force him to ask questions of himself he'd rather not tackle while a victory means at least one more big payday -- if not more.
Several statistical factors could determine the identity of winner and loser:
Wait, Then Hurry Up: The 25-year-old Garcia's approach inside the ring mirrors that of his thoughtful personality: Assess his options early, then strike only after the data is collected, the strategy is formulated and the in-ring conditions perfect. He refuses to speed up until he's absolutely sure his opponent is ready, and not a moment sooner. Consider:
Despite scoring two knockdowns in round one in his title-winning fight against Salido, Garcia was just 11 of 42 (total) and 7 of 17 (power) and didn't exceed the 57.8 featherweight average until five rounds had elapsed (42, 53, 38, 41 and 34). But in the sixth Garcia turned on the juice and didn't stop until Salido was stopped. In the sixth he was 24 of 59 overall and repeated the trend in the seventh (22 of 62) and eighth (25 of 54) before a butt-induced cut broke Garcia's nose and prompted the stoppage.
Only the dream-satisfying knockout was denied but in every other way Garcia's work was more than sufficient. Through eight rounds Garcia led 79-69 (twice) and 79-70 on the judges' scorecards and prevailed 148-74 in total connects, 50-4 in jab connects and 98-70 in power shots. Garcia landed 51% of his power shots while tasting only 21% of Salido's. Finally, Garcia's steady work forced the volume-punching Salido to throw just 50.8 punches per round.
Garcia's cerebral approach was also evident in past fights. Against Jonathan Barros Garcia averaged just 30.7 punches in the first three rounds but from rounds four through seven he cranked out 58 per round and out-landed Barros 48-39 (overall) before putting him away in round eight.
Against Bernabe Concepcion, Garcia averaged 47.3 punches per round over the first three, going 29 of 142 (20%) overall and just 7 of 28 (25%) in power shots. But from round four onward Garcia fired 71 punches per round and out-landed Concepcion 83-26 overall and 49-16 in power shots to register the seventh round TKO.
Five months earlier against Juan Carlos Martinez, Garcia averaged 39.6 punches per round over the first three rounds, a span that saw Garcia out-landed 50-44 overall and 37-28 in power punches. Once Mikey fired up in round four, Martinez's fate was sealed. In 160 seconds Garcia went 32 of 69 (46%) overall and 26 of 42 (62%) in power punches while Martinez could only muster 6 of 42 (14%) and 6 of 23 (26%) power before crumbling under the avalanche.
One fight, however, proves that Garcia can start fast and keep it up: His 10th round corner retirement vs. Matt Remillard: In that fight Garcia averaged 94.3 punches per round, out-landed his rival 266-162 (total) and 203-83 (power) and threw a fight-high 104 and 122 punches in rounds nine and 10. In the 10th alone Garcia cranked up 107 power shots, more than triple the 34.9 featherweight norm.
Tackling a Problem: Starting with his eighth-round TKO over Rafael Marquez, Lopez's defense against opponents' power shots began slipping dramatically. In his previous eight title fights, Lopez landed 44% of his power shots but tasted 36% of his opponents' blows, slightly below the 36.5% featherweight norm.
However, Lopez absorbed 41% of Marquez's hooks, crosses and uppercuts, 38% of Orlando Salido's power shots in their first fight (including 42% in the final three rounds), an alarming 53% against Mike Oliver in a tune-up fight and 40% in the Salido rematch. One CompuBox rule of thumb is that a 40% figure on defense is cause for concern and in his last four outings Lopez had taken a combined 40.2% of his opponents' hardest shots.
After taking 11 months off -- because of a suspension sparked by Lopez's post-match comments about referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. -- Lopez showed flashes of his dominating offense while tightening up his defense. Against the 18-3 Aldimar Santos, Lopez's peek-a-boo defense limited Santos to 27% power and 20% overall while on offense he followed a 50-punch first round with a withering 98.3-per-round attack in rounds two through seven, including a 48 of 136 outburst in round five, 24 of 101 in the sixth, 30 of 94 in the seventh and 32 of 109 in the eighth. Knockdowns in rounds five, six and nine were included and after the dust settled Lopez amassed crushing connect gaps of 215-66 (total), 46-22 (jabs) and 169-44 (power).
Prediction: Lopez's quick-running engine will challenge Garcia's patience and defensive prowess, and it's very likely Garcia will find himself down on the scorecards early. But once Garcia grasps his environment he'll shift into overdrive, exploit Lopez's defensive weaknesses and score a ninth round TKO.