In 2013, Mikey Garcia emerged as a top pound-for-pound fighter. In January of that year, he knocked down veteran champion Orlando Salido four times and won the WBO featherweight title by Technical Decision. Five months later, he stopped former champion Juan Manual Lopez in four rounds. He capped the year off in November by knocking out Roman Martinez in Round 8, to capture the WBO super featherweight belt.
A month after knocking out Martinez, Garcia turned 26. He was already a two-division world champion, 33-0 with 28 KOs. But after defending the title in January 2014 by decisioning Juan Carlos Burgos, his career suddenly stalled out. A long, drawn-out legal battle with Top Rank Promotions kept him out of the ring and in the courtroom.
Saturday night in Brooklyn, Garcia finally returned to action, on the undercard for Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton. After two-and-one-half years on the sidelines, it was hard not to wonder if Garcia would still look the same. He has always been a very methodical pressure fighter, who relies on outstanding timing and his ability to control range.
Martinez’s opponent for his comeback fight was former featherweight champion Elio Rojas. Rojas is a clever, awkward boxer who fights with a very tricky rhythm, and Garcia had some trouble with him for the first two rounds. But by Round 3, Garcia had his timing down and dropped him twice. He dropped him twice more in Round 5, prompting referee Eddie Claudio to wave off the action.
Garcia weighed in for this fight at 138 pounds and plans to move down to the lightweight limit of 135, to pursue a world title in a third division. I’d favor him over any current belt holder in that division.
Garcia is still just 28. He should factor in some very big fights over the next few years. I would love to see him face current WBO super featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko, when the Ukrainian star inevitably moves up to lightweight. Unfortunately, given Garcia’s history with Top Rank, that might be a fight that can’t get made.