Garcia returns, could still be one of the best

Forgotten man Mikey Garcia has confirmed his return to boxing and could yet prove himself a pound-for-pound great.

Let’s start with some facts.

Garcia boasts world titles in two weight divisions, an unbeaten record of 34-0-KO28, has stopped big names such as Roman Martinez and Juan Manuel Lopez and, despite a lengthy period of inactivity, is still just 28 years of age.

When the some-say-spurious pound-for-pound discussions were taking place at the turn of 2014, Garcia will have been prominent in the minds of many. Although he kicked off that year by being taking 12 rounds for the first time in his professional career, his points victory over Juan Carlos Burgos was still wide.

With his legendary brother, Roberto Garcia, in his corner, the WBO super-featherweight belt wrapped around his waist, further fame and glory seemed sure to follow that world title defence at Madison Square Garden.

Cue one of those events that plagues the sport – a contractual dispute. Many feel that former super-middleweight world champion Andre Ward may have been deprived of the best years of his career by a similar situation, but Garcia’s absence has been longer and arguably his stock fell from even higher.

When he takes to the ring at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on July 30, Garcia will end an absence of two years, six months and five days. He’s not going back in at the shallow end, either – the Californian will face former WBC world featherweight king Elio Rojas in a 10-rounder that co-features with Leo Santa Cruz v Carl Frampton.

If Garcia is the same fighter as he was – and there’s no reason to suggest he won’t be – then the lightweight division and all its champions need to be acutely aware of what’s coming. In his own words: “I want to fight at 135lbs and win a title there. I want to win a title there and keep going after champion after champion.” Anthony Crolla and Terry Flanagan take note…

The marriage between boxing and show business has always been a faithful one and when it comes to selling a fight, Garcia’s spectacular knockout record speaks louder than words – stopping 82 per cent of opponents inside the distance is mightily eye-catching when compared with Crolla and Flanagan’s respective 34 per cent and 40 per cent.

That’s not to say that Garcia doesn’t sometimes speak aggressively as well, though. During his sabbatical, he attempted to arrange for what should have been in happening in front of millions to happen behind closed doors by inviting the likes of Yuriorkis Gamboa and Abner Mares to visit his gym for bouts. There’s no evidence to suggest either accepted.

Garcia has proven a lot since he turned professional as a 19-year-old. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, either; ahead of his fight with Lopez, he was stripped of his WBO world featherweight crown for weighing in a whole two pounds over the limit. It would be his last outing in the division.

His first task at 130lbs was a daunting one – a clash with WBO world champion Martinez. Disaster threatened in the second round when Garcia was felled by a right-hand counter. He smiled in recognition, took several deep breaths to compose himself and then set about systematically destroying the Puerto Rican, culminating in a body shot ending matters in the eighth.

His repertoire always appeared to be complete; he has finished opponents with left hooks, right hands, body shots – you name it. Any holes in his defence are primarily the inevitable sacrifice of boxing positively with the intention of enhancing his knockout percentage. His powers of recovery and discipline were put beyond question by the win over Martinez.

Before the hiatus, it was hard to find things Mikey Garcia couldn’t do. As fans of boxing eagerly awaits his return, some fighters in the lightweight division could be forgiven for hoping that list is now more substantial.

By Isaac Robinson