Given Mikey Garcia's willowy frame it was almost inevitable that he would try for crowns in heavier weight classes once he outgrew the 126-pound division. We just didn't think that the effort would come quite this soon.
When Garcia surrendered his WBO featherweight title on the scales in June for weighing two pounds over, the timetable was suddenly moved up. On Saturday, the 25-year-old will seek his second crown against rugged Puerto Rican Roman Martinez, a proven crowd-pleaser who is making the third defense of his second reign and his fifth overall.
Will Garcia's pound-for-pound level skills win out or will Martinez's determination and experience at the weigh prove decisive? Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Bucking The Trend: Most times, the fighter who lands more punches usually goes on to win the decision. Other less established truism is that the more accurate boxer also has a leg up on the judges' scorecards.
Martinez's last two fights have defied those conventional wisdoms. In his most recent fight against Diego Magdaleno, Martinez won a split decision that should have been unanimous based on his superior activity (82.8 punches per round to Magdaleno's 58.2), which led to connect leads of 254-207 (total), 64-52 (jabs) and 190-155 (power). But Magdaleno might have earned one of the scorecards based on his superior accuracy, which saw him post leads of 30%-26% (total), 17%-14% (jabs) and 39%-35% (power).
Against Juan Carlos Burgos, with whom he drew in January, the numbers were not in Martinez's favor. While Martinez threw slightly more punches (68.9 per round to 67.1), Burgos decisively out-landed Martinez in all categories (286-193 total, 52-29 jabs, 234-164 power) and was the more precise puncher in each phase (36%-23% total, 17%-12% jabs, 46%-28% power). Martinez's punch selection was more aggressive (69.6% power shots to Burgos' 63%) but all the other phases should have resulted in a Burgos victory.
Martinez is a stylistic mystery, for no one knows whether he will be a fire-breathing aggressor with deadly power or a boxer who can be out-hustled.
Gonzalo Munguia enjoyed temporary success in rounds two and three of their May 2010 WBO junior lightweight title fight but all that went away with a single right uppercut in round four. In round three alone Martinez threw 128 punches to Munguia's 103 and out-landed him 33-28 in power shots. For the fight, Martinez averaged 108 per round (nearly double the 57.7 junior lightweight average), landed 37% of his power shots and out-landed Mungia 85-72 (total) and 73-68 (power) -- including 45-33 in the last two rounds.
But as soon as we think we have Martinez pegged, he changes his game. Feider Viloria out-worked Martinez, at least for a while. In rounds four and six Martinez averaged 50 punches per round to Viloria's 76 and was out-landed 51-23 (total) and 38-18 (power). But Martinez perked up in rounds seven through nine, averaging 76 per round to Viloria's 63 and out-landing him 67-43 (total) and 50-27 (power), a surge that enabled Martinez to break open a close fight and end it with a 10-count knockout.
Three fights ago against Miguel Beltran Jr., we saw both sides of Martinez's style. Beltran rocked Martinez with power shots early and the Puerto Rican seemed stuck in mud, averaging 36.8 punches per round and being out-landed 28-25 (total) and 25-16 (power). But from round five onward Martinez found a groove as he averaged 69.8 punches per round (to Beltran's 51) and out-landing the Mexican 162-126 (total) and 132-115 (power). Those bulges enabled him to record connect gaps of 187-154 (total), 39-14 (jabs) and 148-140 (power).
Style Mirrors Personality: Garcia is a thoughtful, deliberate person in conversation and those traits are also shown inside the ring. When left to his own devices, Garcia spends the early rounds gathering reconnaissance and assessing his options. Only when the strategy is fully formulated and the in-ring conditions present themselves does he strike. When he does the results are breathtaking.
While his most recent fight with Lopez was marred by weight issues, the final result -- a fourth round TKO -- was as dominant and impressive as can be. Even so, Garcia made one major statistical concession to his physical issues. Of his 153 total punches, 120 -- or 78.4% -- were jabs. It requires far less energy to throw a jab than to fire a power shot and because his jab was landing with impunity (40 of 120, 33%) he was able to set up the power shots that took "JuanMa" out (13 of 33, 39%). His command of range also kept Lopez at bay, for the former two-division titlist could only land 15% of his total punches, 6% of his jabs and 22% of his power shots.
The punch distribution was noteworthy, for in his 11 other CompuBox-tracked fights Garcia averaged 61.4 punches per round, of which 33.9 -- or 55.1% -- were jabs.
As for his slow starts, they can be seen in his past bouts. Despite scoring two knockdowns in round one in his title-winning fight against Orlando Salido, Garcia was just 11 of 42 (total) and 7 of 17 (power) in that round and he didn't exceed the 57.9 featherweight average until five rounds had elapsed (42, 53, 38, 41 and 34). But in the sixth Garcia turned on the jets and didn't stop until the fight was called off in the eighth.
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.
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.
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 couldn't do much to stop him. 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 being buried in 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. But as his opposition has escalated, his slow-to-fast pattern was cemented.
Two notable stats: 1-Garcia has only been struck with eight jabs in his last two fights -- four by Salido and four by Lopez -- while landing 90 of his own. 2-In his last six fights, Garcia's opponents have landed just 21% of their total punches, 9% lower than the weight class avg. (Guillermo Rigondeaux , at 16%, is the defensive leader among CompuBox's plus/minus leaders.)
Prediction: We know what we're going to see from Garcia -- a patient start with a potentially explosive end while with Martinez we won't be able to tell until the fight starts. Martinez is the slightly taller man and the naturally heavier fighter and it will be interesting to see whether Garcia's superior skills will overcome his size disadvantage. The guess here is that it will. Garcia by decision.