Over the past two years, boxing has seen the emergence of new pound-for-pound stars, with fighters like Roman Gonzalez, Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford grabbing the spotlight. In 2016, Andre Ward has re-claimed his place in those conversations.
But for many fans with longer memories, one name hung in the background, like a ghost. In 2013, Mikey Garcia emerged as a potential superstar. The younger brother of super trainer Robert Garcia, he claimed the WBO featherweight belt in January 2013, knocking down veteran Orlando Salido four times and defeating him by Round 8 technical decision. In June of that year, he lost the featherweight title on the scales, then knocked out former champion Juan Manuel Lopez in four rounds.
He ended his 2013 campaign in November, knocking out long-time super featherweight champion Roman Martinez in the eighth. It improved his record to 33-0 with 28 knockouts. He was on the short-list for Fighter of the Year honors and, at 24, had nosed his way into many pound-for-pound, top-10 rankings.
But after defending his belt with a shutout decision of Juan Carlos Burgos, Garcia fell inactive for over two years, due to legal disputes with his former promoter, Top Rank. There were also whispers that Garcia, a soft-spoken and thoughtful young man, was ultimately interested in other pursuits than boxing, regardless of his immense talent for it.
But Garcia finally returned to action last July, stopping Elio Rojas in five rounds. Rojas is hardly a world-beater, but he’s a tough veteran. Garcia handled him like the same surgical assassin he has always been.
Last week, Mikey Garcia signed to face WBC lightweight champion Dejan Zlaticanin in January, about six weeks after he turns 29. A win would make Garcia a three-division world champion. There is still time for him to develop the Hall of Fame career so many imagined for him three years ago.
Make no mistake, Zlaticanin will be his toughest test to date. The Montenegro native is a compact, skilled fighter, with quality wins over Ricky Burns and Petr Petrov. But if Garcia is the fighter so many of us think he is, this should merely be a stepping stone toward some of the biggest fights of the next few years.