By Tim Smith
There is an empty feeling that comes with not getting what you feel you have rightly earned. Juan Carlos Burgos knows that feeling all too well.
When Burgos fought Roman "Rocky'' Martinez for the junior lightweight championship at Madison Square Garden last January the match ended in a controversial draw. Burgos was fighting on the undercard of the main event involving Mikey Garcia and Orlando Salido, who were battling for the featherweight championship.
Garcia defeated Salido for the featherweight title and launched himself on a path toward stardom. After moving up in weight, Garcia did something that Burgos couldn't. He relieved Martinez of the junior lightweight title with an eighth round knockout.
A year later, Garcia and Burgos are back at the place where their paths diverged. The two will meet in a 12-round match for Garcia's 130-pound belt in the main event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 25, airing 9:45 ET/PT on HBO's Boxing After Dark. Bryant Jennings, a Philadelphia heavyweight contender with a record of 17-0 with 9 KOs, will take on Artur Szpilka of Krakow, Poland (16-0, 12 KOs) in a 10-round match as the evening's co-feature.
"It is true that I deserved to win the title last January in New York,'' Burgos said. "So now I have to try and win it again. But I am at ease with myself because of the three months I have put in the gym. It's not going to be an easy task because Mikey is a great champion. But I feel very strong.''
Garcia, with an unblemished record of 33-0 and 28 KOs, spent 2013 honing his skills and molding himself into a more complete boxer. He lost the featherweight title that he won against Salido on the scales, failing to make the weight for his match against Juan Manuel Lopez. But he went on to win the match by stopping Lopez by knockout in the fourth round. Then he moved up in weight to challenge Martinez for the 130 pound title on Nov. 9. After getting up from an early knockdown, Garcia went on to stop Martinez in the eighth round with a vicious left to the liver.
Garcia's maturity as a boxer was demonstrated when Martinez dropped him in the second round. Garcia calmly got up off the canvas, gathered himself and methodically took apart Martinez before unleashing that devastating body shot.
"When I got knocked down against Martinez I got back up and went to work. I don't get too excited either,'' Garcia said. "I try to keep focus on the game plan and I do what I have to do to win the fight. If I need to take another round or two to get adjusted to an opponent I will do that.''
Burgos (30-1-2, 20 KOs) has fought to a draw in his last two fights, so he is hungry for a victory. Compounding that hunger is the fact that he came up short in both his previous attempts to win a world championship (he lost a decision to Hozumi Hasagawa for the vacant featherweight title in 2010). That is ample motivation for Burgos to try to unseat Garcia. Burgos said he isn't letting his most recent setbacks force him into thinking he needs a knockout to win.
"You can say that those two draws were not just. I worked very hard in those fights to get the win and unfortunately two judges did not appreciate my work in the ring,'' Burgos said. "I'm not looking at the past. I'm looking at the immediate future, which is Mikey Garcia. In regards to the knockout, I don't think about that. Like most fighters in the world today I let him come to me and we see what happens. I am just going to go out there and do my work and to put everything into play what I have practiced.''
Burgos has one wish heading into the fight: "All I want is for us to have good judges and if it goes to a decision that the real winner's hand is raised at the end,'' he said.
It is an intriguing match from the emotional standpoint with Burgos feeling that Garcia has something that by Burgos's reckoning belongs to him. But from a skill level, Garcia is a more polished boxer. The match will be only as difficult as Garcia makes it so.
Garcia has much riding on a victory in this match. Top Rank, Garcia's promoter, has put together an audacious strategy they believe can have Garcia soaring through the junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight divisions and possibly even meet Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight showdown in the not too distant future. It is a sure path to super-stardom. All Garcia has to do is continue winning.
Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank, believes the 26-year-old Garcia from Oxnard, California, already has the talent and the resume to be considered among the top 10 pound-for-pound in boxing.
"Long term Mikey will challenge, if not be universally accepted, as the best pound-for-pound in boxing,'' Arum said. "He's a complete fighter. He has great technique. He has a good defense. He is a very powerful puncher. When he throws his punches it's with great intent. He doesn't waste a lot of punches. He measures his opponent and throws his punches accordingly with a lot of power. He's a great fighter and he's getting better.''
Garcia is on board with Top Rank putting him on an ambitious schedule that could lead to a megamatch with Pacquiao or Timothy Bradley.
"We'd have to look at the top fighters in the next weight class and if I do that I have to grow into the weight class,'' Garcia said. "I would like to unify the titles (at 130 pounds) before moving up. But if there is something better at 135 then I will go there. Then I can unify the titles there or move up to 140 for the right fight there.''
But the first order of business is Burgos.