MIKEY GARCIA, THE FORGOTTEN MAN — Time heals all wounds and makes us forget, so they say. In less than two weeks, the highly anticipated rematch between WBA featherweight title holder Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz will take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. However, there is a fighter on the undercard challenging for the WBC lightweight title who, if he wins, becomes a serious threat to every elite fighter campaigning between 130 and 140 pounds. His name is Mikey Garcia 35-0 (29).
Garcia, who has won WBO titles at featherweight and super featherweight, will attempt to win a world title in his third weight class and continue his comeback from a 2 1/2-year contract hiatus. His opponent, undefeated Dejan Zlaticanin 22-0 (15), may be the toughest opponent of his career.
Garcia last fought on July 30 of last year at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, scoring a fifth-round TKO of Elio Rojas. Garcia had Rojas down four times before referee Eddie Claudio waved off the fight at 2:02 of the round. The bout was contested at 140 pounds and he looked good; making 135 should be no problem and I expect him to look even better.
With the recent emergence of Guillermo Rigondeaux, Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko, Garcia has been all but forgotten. Yet, when it comes to boxing, Mikey Garcia is a textbook and complete fighter, in much the same vein as vintage Donald Curry and Alexis Arguello were during their eras. Like Curry and Arguello….Garcia has perfect structure and form. He fights with his hands up in a tight guard. His punches are never throwaways, but always delivered with leverage and power. They’re short and concise and they land cleanly on the intended target. Mikey is a boxer-puncher who inches his way forward and tries to force his opponents into committing to something or making a mistake so he can attack the opening. On the flip side, if he’s forced to go back, he’s a great counter-puncher, landing shots up the middle as set-ups for his finishing blows. Another admirable thing about Garcia is that he seeks to test himself against the best available opponents. His versatility makes him very formidable to all the big names in between 130 and 140.
Boxing fans should be looking forward to hopefully seeing Garcia in high profile bouts with Lomachenko and Crawford down the road…because, believe me, stylistically, he matches up well with both of them. But first he has to get past Zlaticanin, which due to Mikey’s inactivity, is not a given. Zlaticanin, 32, is a southpaw whose stance is pretty straight up and down and his style can best be described as a swarmer. He has good power in his left hand as he demonstrated against Ricky Burns. His aggression is sporadic and he tends to get excited and wings his punches when his opponent is in retreat. In doing that he leaves himself wide open for left hooks to the body, and once they start landing, the next stop is upstairs to the head. However, he presses forward in a straight line and jabs with only one intent, and that’s only to remind his opponent that he throws more than finishing punches.
It’s hard to think a fighter like Zlaticanin will be Garcia’s stumbling block; he’s just too predictable and open before and during exchanges. I expect that Mikey, after letting Zlaticanin do most of the work during the first two or three rounds, will pick it up and counter everything he sends his way. And if Dejan senses he’s in over his head and backs off, Garcia is more than capable of going to him and doing damage.
Assuming Garcia gets past Zlaticanin, he’ll no doubt be in the mix for a big fight against Vasyl Lomachenko. Granted, Lomachenko is a phenom. But there’s is one thing about him that is still unknown; and that is how good he can take a punch. My gut tells me he can, but until it’s proven the question remains. I doubt anyone disputes that in the near future, Lomachenko will be looking north with the intent of adding the lightweight title to his resume. A title bout between the undefeated Garcia and once-beaten Lomachenko would be huge as they’re both among the upper-tier talents.
Stylistically, Garcia and Lomachenko are the ultimate style conundrum to each other. Usually, structured guys the likes of Garcia are often stymied by fighters who possess the speed, flash and unpredictability of a Lomachenko. But in this instance, I’m not sure that applies. Based on watching him progress, my intuition tells me that Garcia fully grasps that sound fundamentals are capable of neutralizing speed and movement that often goes against convention, as long as you don’t panic and believe in your fundamentals and structure. It would be something to behold if Lomachenko faced a fighter he couldn’t con with his speed into doing things he didn’t want to do. And if Garcia was able to take that away from Lomachenko, Vasyl’s effectiveness would be greatly diminished and at the same time it would be easier for Garcia to force Lomachenko into engaging with him more on his terms.
What makes the potential matchup so intriguing is that one’s strength is the other’s weakness and vice-versa. Neither has ever had another fighter in front of him, stylistically, who had the requisite tools needed to deal with their most effective weapons. In actuality, it could be a battle of wills as to who can stay true to what they do best while at the same time trying to get the other to stray from his strength.
It is my suspicion that Mikey Garcia will soon be on Vasyl Lomachenko’s radar, and boxing will be better for it.
Photo credit: Scott Hirano, SHOWTIME
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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