Despite having all the tools needed to be a star, unbeaten Mikey Garcia lacks the one thing on his resume that would mark him as an upper tier fighter: a signature win over an opponent who has already scaled that height.
Now, after 30 fights, Garcia will finally get that chance on Jan. 19, when he faces reigning featherweight champion Orlando Salido in the main event of a potentially sensational tripleheader on Boxing After Dark.
"We've been looking for this kind of fight, because I want to prove myself," says the 25-year-old Garcia. "I am going to show people that I am the total package, and that I can beat a guy like Salido. Yes, he is tough and this is not an easy fight. But I am confident I have the skills and ability to win."
Perhaps the most important skill that Garcia (30-0, 26 KOs) will need against the super- aggressive Salido is his mind. Born and raised in a boxing family, Garcia's multi-skilled package includes an uncanny ability to be patient and stick to the game plans devised by his brother and trainer, former lightweight champion Robert Garcia.
Salido (39-11-2, 27 KOs), however, will do everything in his power to force Garcia out of his patient mode and draw his younger opponent to the battlefield he is most confident in: all-out war. Pace more than anything will decide who will succeed in imposing his will.
Garcia likes to work at a deliberate pace more suitable to his precision punching style. Economical, always beautifully balanced, Garcia tends to pick his spots, connecting on far more than he misses. To do so against Salido, Garcia will have to rely on one of his signature punches, a long, jackhammer jab that can snap an opponent's head back, and in doing so, keeps fighters from getting inside. "Mikey's got to put some sting into his jab," says his manager, Cameron Dunkin. "Mikey's jab is a power punch, and he will be trying to bust Salido up with it and slow him down."
Slowing down the 32-year-old Salido, who throws punches at a furious rate, will be no easy task. Salido uses his high-volume punching style to bull his way inside. Once Salido steps into an opponent's personal space, he will dig into their body with a ferocity few have been able to stand up to, most notably Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez, whose only two losses have been by TKO to the Mexican brawler. But it should be noted that if Salido plays the bull and tries to lunge in on Garcia, he could get caught by the matador with a powerful counterpunch.
Wise beyond his years, Garcia is fully aware of the perils of letting Salido get inside his space. "In order to not let him be able to go to my body, I have to not stand right in front of him or get caught on the ropes," says Garcia, who has knocked out 14 of his last 15 opponents. "I will try to stay on the outside and box around him, forcing him to reach a long way to hit me."
Should Garcia not be successful in both controlling the pace and in keeping Salido off him, he still insists he will be able to deal with that scenario. "We have been training and preparing for many scenarios," Garcia says. "If he is able to pressure me and I can't dictate the pace, I am prepared to fight at a faster pace."
Two things could work in Garcia's favor. One is that Salido is hittable. "When he throws a lot of punches, that leaves him open and I have to take advantage," Garcia says of Salido, who has been knocked down five times in his last six fights, although he won all of them but one, a unanimous decision defeat to the unbeaten Cuban wrecking machine, Yuriorkis Gamboa. Based on his history, putting Salido down is a lot easier than knocking him out. The last time Salido was KO'd was 12 years ago, when he was an unseasoned young Mexican barely out of his teens.
Another thing that might help Garcia is the fact that in 53 career fights, Salido has only gone 12 rounds four times, losing three of them. That being said, Garcia hasn't even had to go the distance once. But because of Garcia's precise, economical style that wastes little energy, it wouldn't be a stretch to think he can stay strong for 12 rounds. "Mikey has never shown signs that he gets tired or runs out of gas," Dunkin says. "He knows when to breathe and rest because he is an extremely smart fighter."
It is not that Garcia is averse to brawling, but he will do so only on his terms. "Salido will try to get me in a brawl early when he is fresh," Garcia says. "I will try and not let him do that. But when we reach the halfway point in the fight and go beyond, if I see he is beginning to tire, and the power is no longer there, and he is not dangerous, I will move in on him."
In contrast, the co-feature on this tripleheader figures to be largely a brawl between the unbeaten and avoided middleweight from Kazakhstan, Gennady Golovkin (24-0, 21 KOs) and Philadelphia's Gabriel Rosado (21-5, 13 KOs), who will be moving up from junior middleweight for the first time. Golovkin has not faced any opponents of stature yet, but hits like a mule and gets the most out of every punch because he has great balance. Rosado has fought a higher caliber of opponent with mixed success. And although he is moving up in weight, Rosado is actually a bigger fighter than Golovkin. Rosado has a two-inch height advantage at 6'0 tall, and an abnormally long reach for a middleweight of 78 inches, only one inch less than heavyweight champion Vital Klitschko and two less than his brother, Wladimir.
The opening fight on the card features a pair of junior lightweights who have each only lost once. Juan Carlos Burgos (30-1, 20 KOs) will be taking a step up against the far more experienced Roman Martinez (26-1-1, 16 KOs), whose only loss was a close unanimous decision to Britain's Ricky Burns in a championship fight held in England. Martinez has won his other four title fights, including an impressive fourth round TKO of then champion Nicky Cook, again in England. At 25, four years younger than Martinez, Burgos has the time on his side and the skills to win this championship fight and go on to bigger things.