TONIGHT: Mexican-American Mikey Garcia vs. Boricua Roman “Rocky” Martinez

Time changes a lot of things, including the perception of junior lightweight challenger Mikey Garcia by the media and fans.

A year ago Garcia was labeled a boring fighter.

Today, the undefeated Garcia (32-0, 27 Kos) looks to match his skills against WBO junior lightweight titlist Roman Martinez (27-1-2, 16 Kos; the two are pictured above in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) of Puerto Rico. The Mexican vs. Boricua wars continue in Corpus Christi, Texas. HBO will televise.

Fans and some of the media used to deride Garcia’s technical, deliberate style and comment that he was too careful and unexciting. Others criticized his opposition though the former Oxnard now Moreno Valley resident handed Matt Remillard his first pro loss and stopped Bernabe Concepcion.

Garcia just couldn’t seem to please anyone despite winning.

Then came the one-sided beatdown of Mexico’s super tough Orlando Salido. Next came the demolition of Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez. Finally, the boxing world has cleared its foggy glasses.

Garcia can fight.

Hold on though. Martinez is one very tough customer. One more thing, he’s Puerto Rican and fully aware he’s the last one standing from his island country.

“I know it’s an important fight for the country,” said Martinez, who’s had three previous razor close fights with fighters of Mexican heritage.

It’s a blood feud between rival boxing nations that’s been going on for decades. Puerto Rico vs. Mexico is the rivalry of all rivalries when it comes to boxing.

However, Garcia downplays the significance.

“It’s just another fight to me. It’s an important fight, but I don’t think about that he’s from Puerto Rico,” said Garcia, whose family emigrated from Mexico decades earlier. “Rocky is the champion and he’s a good fighter, that’s all I’m concerned with.”

You can bet that around the country Boricuas are hoping Martinez can pull a victory despite odds-makers saying it’s an upward slope. It’s been a bad year for Puerto Rico. But in boxing you can never tell. One thing is certain: Mexicans vs. Boricua’s is always a guaranteed great fight.

“I’ve been studying him I know what he does and I know his tendencies,” said Garcia before leaving for Texas. “You never know what’s going to happen in the fight.”

One antidote to the unexpected, says Garcia, is to work on defense. It’s always an extra insurance factor when a prizefighter works extra hard on the technical defensive aspects.

Robert Garcia, the trainer and older brother of Mikey, said it’s what makes him a better fighter.

“Mikey has better defense than I did,” said Garcia, a former junior lightweight world champion. “My father worked hard on his defense.”

Martinez has noticed.

“I believe he has more technique and more intelligence than some of the other guys I have fought without a doubt,” Martinez says.

Garcia remembers the critics from a year ago, but knows that it will be worse if he loses.

“All I’m focusing on is winning this fight,” Garcia said. “Everybody is counting him out and we know that those are the most dangerous opponents. We are preparing for a great champion who is doing everything possible to defend his title. That’s what we are getting ready for.”

Maybe Garcia isn’t thinking about the rivalry, but Mexican and Puerto Rican fans are always thinking about it.