The latest grooming session in the career of Mikey Garcia saw him score a unanimous decision over Juan Carlos Burgos last night at the Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
It is easy to understand why Top Rank has hitched its wagon to the smooth operating Garcia. Once the third member of a Top Rank triumvirate featuring Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez, Garcia has long given the impression of being not only the best fighter among the three, but the one whose career is most carefully and concertedly orchestrated. Lopez, whom Garcia splayed in four pathetic rounds last June, fell victim to irreconcilable differences between his competitive fury and the technique and toughness needed to gratify it. And Gamboa, who unlike Lopez has plenty of fight left, becomes less and less compelling with every forgettable performance. He is best remembered for bailing on a fight with Brandon Rios before jumping ship to a fledgling promotional company that places part of its future in the hands of Andre Dirrell.
Garcia, 26, is neither as reckless as Lopez nor as flakey as Gamboa. He gives every indication of understanding the stakes, and the relationship between his ability to give the people what they want today, and his power to shape what they want in the future.
This understanding is reflected in the way he fights. A slow starter, Garcia, Oxnard California, will ignore the crowd’s cries for action until the threat before him is sussed out, whereupon he ratchets up his activity and exploits openings he merely logged earlier. He gives the crowd the violence they pay to see—Garcia has stopped his last eleven opponents prior to meeting Burgos—but does so on his own terms. Fighting his fight, Garcia has looked nearly flawless save for a flash knockdown against Rocky Martinez and some shakey moments against roughneck Orlando Salido. This calculated dominance is one of the reasons he is being built as a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao. With Pacquiao on the horizon, Garcia must keep winning—as he did, with only a hint of danger, on Saturday night.
Burgos, Tijuana, Mexico, tried to make a fight of it early, doubling and tripling his jab, and mixing crosses to the head and body. Parrying and slipping effectively, Garcia refused to be shucked. When he did open up with a right hand in the second round, Burgos, 26, countered with a left hook that wobbled Garcia like a stubborn bowling pin. Garcia, 129, returned the favor the following round, countering a left hook with a crisp right hand that forced Burgos to hold on. After the bell, as he would for seemingly every round from then on, Garcia extended a fist in the air; a gesture that felt more like an effort to establish a connection with the crowd than to symbolize his dominance. There is indeed a shiny polish on this potential new idol.
But it was boxing, not histrionics, that made Garcia’s dominance obvious. Once Garcia established distance, Burgos, 129, struggled to find a safe range; and while he continued to fire off jabs and crosses, his activity dipped as Garcia came on. Rarely willing to sit down on his punches once Garcia committed to his own, Burgos essentially mitigated his own threat. Garcia picked up on his opponent’s reluctance and let his offense bloom a bit, firing lead left hooks, precise one-twos, and landing all of the heavy blows. Burgos, 30-2-2 (20), never completely cowed to the pressure, but remained only active enough to resemble the menace it will take to undo Garcia. Having established pole position early, Garcia held it as the remaining laps expired. The boos drowned out the cheers in the final round and both gave way to silence as the scores were read: 118-110, 119-109, and 119-109 for Garcia.
Looking very much the total package wrapped in papel picado, Garcia, 34-0 (28), is a fighter who not only excites the imagination, but has the support of the Mexican and Mexican-American fanbases. There is no better foundation to build a draw upon. If he is being primed for Pacquiao, and Top Rank gaffer Bob Arum has stated as much, Garcia will have to move to welterweight quickly: not only is Pacquiao running out of saleable opponents, he has a difficult fight against Tim Bradley slated for April, and the Filipino cash cow is already seeing diminished returns on his performances. The torch must be passed while it still bears a flame.
Whatever the long-term plans for him, Garcia is moving to lightweight in his next fight, with the aforementioned Gamboa probably having talked himself into being the opponent. There should be enough history between the former promotional stablemates to drudge up a narrative, and Gamboa’s speed, power, and vulnerability will also help sell the matchup. For all his hype, for all his substance, there is a festering—though still manageable—indifference surrounding Garcia stemming from the lack of intrigue in his recent fights. It will be interesting to see if the selection of Gamboa checks that. A lesser threat certainly will not.