Mikey Garcia is consistently one of the best-prepared fighters in boxing. But for the first time in the slick, 25-year-old boxer's career he will find himself in territory for which no amount of preparation can guarantee a result.
Garcia is moving up. Not in stature. But in weight class. A featherweight since he was 15, the Oxnard boxer will be testing the waters in the junior lightweight division. His handlers certainly didn't pick an easy introduction to 130 pounds. Instead of a trial tune-up, he will jump right into the fire against an accomplished, reigning champion in Rocky Martinez. This fight will be a good indicator if the rising young Californian is going to be able to carry his elite skills and dominating ways north of the featherweight division.
Although a move up in weight usually raises questions for a fighter, Garcia's trainer and older brother, former lightweight champion Robert Garcia, has little doubt his rising star will be able to handle the new division. "I don't think it will really be an adjustment for him," Robert says. "He didn't make weight in his last fight and basically was already a 130-pound fighter."
Not only does Robert believe his younger brother won't be overmatched at the new weight level, he expects him to shine even brighter at 130. "I think he'll be faster and stronger," Robert says. "It was a struggle for Mikey to make featherweight. Trying to make weight was taking a lot out of his body. It basically was killing his body."
Mikey, however, admits to having some doubts about how he'll do in the new division. "There will be a big difference for me," Mikey says. "Since my opponents will be bigger, they might take my punches better and fight stronger than me. I'll just have to wait and see."
In the 30-year-old Martinez (27-1-2, 16 KOs), Garcia will be taking on a strong-willed boxer who has won six of his seven championship fights. Unlike Garcia, who has overwhelmed every opponent he has faced and knocked out 14 of the last 16, Martinez has been in some close scraps recently. In his last three fights, the Puerto Rican won two split decisions and fought to a draw. Even in his one loss, to Ricky Burns on the Brit's home turf in Scotland in 2010, the scorecards were close, 112-115 twice, and 113-115.
Those tight fights, which could have gone either way, have convinced some boxing pundits that Martinez is simply an overachiever who somehow finds a way to squeak out a win. But that is not the way Mikey Garcia sees it. "The scores are close because he never gives up," Mikey says. "He just doesn't quit. He keeps on fighting."
Facing an opponent who keeps on coming won't be a novel experience for Garcia (32-0, 27 KOs). Back in January, Garcia stepped into the ring against the hyper-aggressive Orlando Salido, who knows only one gear: full throttle. Salido was systematically picked-apart by Garcia's patient, precise punching. Every time the Mexican tried to bull his way inside so he could work Garcia's body, he ate leather. Finally, after Garcia had knocked the game Salido down twice in the first round and once in the third and fourth rounds, the end came, although it wasn't with a punch. In the 8th round, an accidental head butt broke Salido's nose and rendered him unable to continue.
Mikey Garcia knows he will be facing a different kind of fighter in Martinez, one who is two inches taller than the 5'6" Californian and has a longer reach. "Martinez does a little more in the ring than Salido," Mikey says. "He uses his reach very well. Although he likes to brawl, he can box. That will make it a little more difficult for me. It will be up to me to adapt to whatever he does." That shouldn't be a problem for Garcia, a police academy graduate who could be a poster boy in the ring for the Marines' motto: "improvise, adapt, overcome."
In the co-featured bout, questions about weight also face Nonito Donaire (31-2, 20 KOs), who will be stepping up from super bantamweight to featherweight after suffering his first loss in 12 years. Donaire's opponent, Vic Darchinyan (39-5-1, 28 KOs), will be moving up to a new division as well in what will amount to a grudge match long overdue. Darchinyan has maintained a long-simmering tension with Donaire dating back to 2007, when the then unbeaten Armenian was terrorizing the flyweight division with his powerful left hand, having knocked out 23 of his last 24 opponents. Donaire, a complete unknown at the time, stunned the boxing world by knocking out Darchinyan with one shot, a punch that earned the Filipino "Knockout of the Year" and started him on the road to stardom.
This time around, the 30-year-old Donaire is a well-established former pound-for-pound contender looking to atone for what was a miserable, lackluster effort against Guillermo Rigondeaux The undefeated Cuban's supreme boxing skills made the Filipino look like a rank amateur. By his own admission, Donaire -- who had won 30 straight fights before facing the Rigondeaux -- didn't train hard enough or bother to study tape of his opponent. Robert Garcia, who trains Donaire in addition to his own brother, is making sure this time that his boxer will walk into the ring well-prepared and in peak physical condition.
"Nonito is in great shape," Garcia says. "For the Rigondeaux fight, he had a bad training camp and didn't do what he was supposed to do. Was he complacent? Yeah, I think so. It happens to everybody."
Cameron Dunkin, who manages Donaire (as well as Garcia and Vanes Martirosyan), is confident the Filipino will make amends. "That was not Nonito Donaire in there fighting Rigondeaux," Dunkin says. "He didn't train the way he was supposed to do. Now he is motivated again. He told me, 'Don't you worry. I am going to get it together and look sensational.'"
As for the move up from super bantamweight to featherweight, Robert Garcia is being a bit more cautious with Donaire -- who began his career as a flyweight -- than he is with Mikey. Rather than put Donaire into the ring immediately with a reigning champion, the trainer has matched him up with a fading former superstar, who nonetheless has the power to give the Filipino a good test. "The guys in this division will be bigger than Nonito had been facing," Robert says. "So we would like to take a couple fights at featherweight to adjust before we face a world champion."
The 37-year-old Darchinyan might be regarded as something of a stepping stone for Donaire, but Dunkin knows the Armenian will in no way be a walk in the park. "Darchinyan really hates Nonito's guts," Dunkin says. "He won't even look at him when they're together outside the ring. Darchinyan has been preparing for this fight in L.A., and a friend of mine who has seen him told me he's been training like an animal."
The opening bout on the tripleheader in Corpus Christi, Tex, figures to be an intriguing and action-packed one, pitting two undefeated boxers and former Olympians in a junior middleweight fight for a vacant world title. Demetrius Andrade (19-0, 13 KOs) will be challenging the far more experienced Vanes Martirosyan (33-0-1, 21 KOs) in what figures to be a crossroads match for both of them.