Mikey Garcia joins a rare class of fighters
By Hector Franco
February 1, 2017
Last Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Mikey Garcia put his name on the top of the lightweight division by emphatically knocking out Dejan Zlaticanin to win the WBC lightweight title. With the victory, Garcia is now a three-division champion and considered to be one of the most technically proficient fighters in the sport. He fights in the same manner as a prime Juan Manuel Marquez or Ricardo Lopez.
Now that Mikey Garcia is a champion in the lightweight division there are many fights available to him that fans would love to see. In March, Jorge Linares (41-3, 27 KOs) will face Anthony Crolla (31-5-3, 13KOs) for the second time for the WBA and Ring Magazine lightweight titles. If Linares is once again successful in defeating Crolla, a fight between the two Latino fighters would be highly anticipated. WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan (31-0, 12 KOs) will likely be defending his title next against longtime lightweight contender Petr Petrov (38-4-2, 19 KOs).
The biggest threat to Garcia may be IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter (18-0, 14 KOs). His size and length along with his ability to hit and move would be a stiff challenge to overcome for any lightweight. There have also been some talks about possible future fights with fighters that are with Garcia’s former promoter Top Rank. Fights with Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford would be big fights that could be promoted as huge events. But these fights have obstacles because of Garcia's history with Top Rank.
With the victory over Zlaticanin, Garcia has accomplished something that is rare in the sport of boxing. A fighter’s prime can last for only so long and to take off over two years in the sport could prove to be a disaster for most fighters. There is, however, a precedent for fighters taking an extended time off to come back to championship form.
Most recently just like Garcia, Andre Ward returned in the summer of 2015 after almost a two-year layoff due to promotional issues. Ward fought three times in 2016 and in his last fight with Sergey Kovalev he won a controversial decision to become the light heavyweight champion. Now retired Floyd Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs) also returned from an almost two-year retirement in 2007 to take on Juan Manuel Marquez in 2009.
Tijuana, Mexico native Erik Morales (52-9, 36 KOs) returned from a more than two-year absence fro the ring in 2010 to eventually win the vacant WBC title at 140-pounds in 2011. The late great Johnny Tapia (59-5-2, 30 KOs) returned from an almost four-year departure from the sport to become a world champion and famously have a showdown for the best fighter from New Mexico against Danny Romero (45-5-2, 38 KOs) in 1997.
One of the most important returns to the sport is that of Sugar Ray Leonard (36-3-1, 25 KOs) who returned from the sport after three years out of the ring. Leonard in 1984 faced Kevin Howard in a subpar performance where afterward he officially announced his retirement. A few years later in 1987, Leonard decided to return to the ring to take on middleweight king, Marvin Hagler. Leonard would go on to win a controversial decision over Hagler and win titles at super middleweight and light heavyweight.
The heavyweight division may be boxing’s most historic division and is no stranger to having successful comebacks by former champions. Vitali Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs) retired in 2004 as the WBC heavyweight champion and then returned in 2008 to regain the title he never lost. The most well-known athlete in the world Muhammad Ali (56-5, 37 KOs) also returned from a three-year forced absence from the ring to regain the heavyweight title and fight in what most consider to be the best era in heavyweight boxing history.
The greatest comeback in the history of the sport may have been that of George Foreman (76-5, 68 KOs). Foreman initially retired in 1977 after a loss to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico. He returned ten years later in 1987 and began his ascent back up the heavyweight rankings to earn a title shot against Evander Holyfield in 1991. Foreman wasn’t successful on that night, but a little over three years later he faced Michael Moorer to become the oldest heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Garcia may have lost a few years of his prime in staying out of the ring for more than two years, but he was always a boxer who treated the sport as a job rather than a passion. The two years away may have invigorated Garcia and ignited a fire for the sport that wasn’t there before. In his return, Garcia can showcase his skills against the best opponents available. The level of skill Garcia has shown thus far may prove that he is better now than he ever has been.
(Featured Photo: Ed Mulholland/HBO)