Last Saturday night in the Theater of Madison Square Garden, Mikey Garcia defeated Orlando Salido via a wide 8th round technical decision and earned his first world title belt, the WBO featherweight championship. En route to the win, Garcia put Salido down to the canvas four times using masterful boxing and powerful counterpunching, but a reckless head butt from Salido at the end of the 8th round broke Garcia’s nose, leading the doctor to recommend the fight be stopped. This may have been just the break Mikey Garcia needed to ensure victory. For all of Mikey Garcia’s flashes of early brilliance maybe blinded us to what was happening in the end; Mikey Garcia was tiring and Orlando Salido was doing what Orlando does, coming forward with no intention of backing down.
Mikey Garcia vs. Orlando Salido looked like a can’t miss fight featuring that pleasing clash of styles: the intelligent boxer-counter puncher versus the relentless pressure fighter. The storyline was set: the young undefeated prince of one of boxing’s first families seeking to claim his birthright versus the journeyman turned champion who gained the title traveling a long hard road. The fighters looked their part. Mikey Garcia has an intelligent mouse-like face, bright eyes, and slight build. One could imagine him in a blue shirt working at an Apple store. You would gladly hand over your iphone to him with absolute trust because everything about him speaks capable young man. Orlando Salido has a shaved head, rounded shoulders and expressionless glare. You could also imagine handing your iPhone over to him, in a dark parking lot.
The question entering the fight was whether Garcia would be able to punch hard enough and box well enough to keep Salido’s swarming attack at bay. Mikey answered this question quickly, putting Salido down twice in the first round. Garcia used footwork to turn the charging Salido into openings, then dropped him with sudden hard left hooks in the first. Mikey continued the formula of moving Salido into his punches. Through the first six rounds all of Mikey’s punches, be it the hooks that dropped Salido in the first, the right uppercut that dropped Salido in the third, the stiff jab that dropped him in the fourth, or the hard one-two that almost finished Salido in the sixth, were thrown with a precise power applied to a specific location designed to shock the brain. Salido’s lights definitely flickered, but Garcia could never quite turn them out for good. Salido paid dearly for trying to get Mikey to fight on the inside. On the occasions Salido finally made it in, Mikey rewarded his efforts with a firm tight hugs that forced the ref to break the fighters.
Mikey Garcia is often compared to Juan Manuel Marquez because both are highly intelligent counter punching boxers, but I’m not quite sure the comparison works. Until Marquez’s recent conversion to steam shovel operator, Marquez was a sculptor in the ring. His blazing, brilliant combination punching chipped away at rock hard men leaving the audience in awe of the beauty he revealed in the ring. Garcia is more of a stone mason. He is a master craftsman with a set of chisels. He strikes in single blows designed to cause rock hard men to crumble. He is more of a Floyd or Donaire whose timing, intelligence and power allow them to work with simple yet perfect combinations. Or at least Garcia could be mentioned with Floyd and Donaire some day. Garcia cracked Salido and may have split his foundation, but he never produced the blow that reduced Salido to rubble and the strain of Garcia’s efforts began to show in round 7.
In the 7th and 8th Salido continued his march forward and began to find Garcia. Garcia’s legs, which in the earlier rounds allowed him to spring back in with leveraged counter punches, now were only allowing him to run and turn. Garcia was returning with hard fire less and less. Garcia, who held Salido throughout the fight, was grabbing more frequently. Salido was seeing more of Garcia’s punches that were becoming wider. Salido was blocking, ducking and weaving more. Garcia was no longer catching Salido at the end of his punches and he was standing taller as he threw them. Garcia’s hands were dropping lower, a sure sign of fatigue. One could sense a hint, and maybe just of hint, of Cotto against Margarito and Pacman or Juan Manuel Lopez against Rogers Mtagwa.
The stage was set for drama until Salido dove in with his head after throwing an overhand right. Salido’s head collided with Garcia’s nose and broke it. There was discussion in the corner, the doctor was called in, Garcia’s corner was ensured that if the fight ended it would go to the scorecards, no objections were raised and the doctor called off the fight.
Have you ever been to a monthly poker game where some guy builds a huge chip lead and just when he starts to lose a few hands his wife calls and tells him he needs to come home? That is always a bummer. But hey life cannot be avoided sometimes. As the guy is leaving with his buddy sometimes you are left to wonder if his buddy texted the wife to make that call.
What we know is that Mikey Garcia is now a featherweight champion and that he has the boxing I.Q. and the power to be a threat, if not a favorite, against any fighter in the world at or near his weight. What we don’t know is what would have happened if that fight continued. Would Garcia have gotten a second wind and ended the fight as he had begun? Would he have just enough to spin, run and hold his way to the bell? Maybe Salido would have hunted and bludgeoned Garcia into submission. What I do know is that four rounds is a long time, a full third of the fight. We also don’t know if Garcia can sustain his fight plan through 12 hard rounds. Can he fight through the hardest of adversity?
Someday, hopefully, we will find out. To be recognized as a participant in this sport at the transcendent level requires you to elevate yourself. Mikey Garcia won the boxing match and maybe the doctor smartly ended a fight to ensure Mikey’s health and safety. That is fine and hard to argue against. But fight fans are not regular sports fans. They do not spend their money and neglect their spouses and loved ones on Saturday nights to see who wins a game. Remember that boxing fans, while often played for suckers, drive a hard bargain and demand of a fighter a steep price if they want to be mentioned with the Julio Caesar Chavez, Sr.’s, Erik Morales’ and Manny Pacquiao’s of the world. The question remains if Mikey Garcia wants to pay that price, even if he already has the cash in hand.