The boxing world will have its eyes at full attention on AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas this weekend as one of the most anticipated bouts of 2019 will take place.
Texas native Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs) will look to make the third title defense of his IBF Welterweight championship against four-division champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs).
Garcia will be making his Welterweight debut against Spence, who at this time is viewed as the most feared fighter in the division. Both men are ranked as two of the best fighters in the world, including being listed on most publications’ top 10 pound-for-pound lists.
At the time of this writing, Spence is a considerable favorite over Garcia as a -425 favorite and the California native is a +340 underdog. While the opportunity for Spence to fight on pay per view against the most high-profile opponent of his career was likely too good to pass on, the IBF Welterweight champion has put himself in a lose-lose situation.
Spence could knock Garcia out in the first few rounds of the bout and the victory be deemed as nothing more than him doing what he was supposed to do. A close fight or a loss to Garcia will cause many fans and pundits to rethink how they view Spence in relation to where he ranks amongst the best in the sport.
On the other side of the equation, Garcia will be praised just for stepping in the ring with Spence, regardless of the outcome. Garcia is not only stepping into a new weight class, but he is also taking on the best opponent of his career thus far.
Looking back at Garcia’s championships through four divisions it wasn’t until his previous match with Robert Easter Jr. that he unified titles in a weight class. The win over Easter Jr. led him to become the WBC and IBF Lightweight champion. He later dropped the IBF title to bypass on his mandatory Richard Commey to face Spence.
In January 2013, Garcia won his first world title at Featherweight against veteran Orlando Salido putting on a dominant performance until his was nose was broken from an accidental headbutt. This title reign did not last long. He lost the title on the weight scales in what was supposed to be his first title defense after failing to make the Featherweight weight limit before his bout against Juan Manuel Lopez.
Garcia then moved up to Super Featherweight in late 2013 and defeated Puerto Rico’s Roman Martinez for the WBO championship. Before taking his well-known two-and-a-half year sabbatical from the sport, he made one title defense against Juan Carlos Burgos at the beginning of 2014.
When Garcia made his return to the squared circle in the summer of 2016, it wasn’t long until he received another title opportunity when he faced Montenegro native Dejan Zlaticanin in Las Vegas in January 2017. Garcia won by spectacular knockout to become the WBC Lightweight champion.
From here, Garcia would move to the Super Lightweight division facing off against fellow four-division champion Adrien Broner and then winning the IBF Super Lightweight championship against Sergey Lipinets (14-1, 10 KOs) in March 2018.
The victory over Lipinets put Garcia in the same company as the two fighters he will be compared to the most, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao, Marquez and Garcia are the only fighters in boxing history to have won titles at Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight and Super Lightweight.
The two future first-ballot Hall-of-Fame fighters both made the jump from Lightweight to Welterweight with varying results. The circumstances surrounding the bouts are different and in comparison, it can be argued that Garcia is taking on the more significant risk.
Ironically, both Pacquiao and Marquez faced two champions that were also former Lightweight champions that found massive success at Welterweight.
In December 2008, Pacquiao found himself in the ring with Hall-of-Famer Oscar De La Hoya as a two-to-one underdog. Unlike Spence, who holds a title at Welterweight, De La Hoya had not fought in the division for seven years. The last bout he had at Welterweight was against Arturo Gatti in March 2001.
The 1992 Olympic gold medalist fought in a catchweight bout against Steve Forbes at 150-pounds to make the planned move back down to Welterweight easier. De La Hoya even went as far as to hire Pacquiao’s greatest rival’s trainer, Nacho Beristain to prepare for the Filipino.
Pacquiao was making his debut at Welterweight after having won the WBC Lightweight title from David Diaz in the summer of 2008 in one of his most impressive performances. The consensus at the time was that De La Hoya was too big of an obstacle to overcome for the Filipino.
Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach trained De La Hoya for his fight with Floyd Mayweather in 2007 and felt that De La Hoya could no longer pull the trigger.
While De La Hoya held physical advantages over Pacquiao, standing at over 5’10″ with a 73-inch reach, at age 29, the “Pac-Man” was in his absolute prime compared to De La Hoya at age 35. On the night of the fight, De La Hoya somehow ended up weighing one pound less than the smaller Pacquiao according to HBO’s unofficial scales.
What ensued inside the ring led to Pacquiao becoming the global superstar we know today. De La Hoya, just like Miguel Cotto and Marco Antonio Barrera, is a converted southpaw-to-orthodox fighter utilizing his stronger left hand in front for his jab. This led to De La Hoya not having the best right-hand, a weapon this is needed to be successful against the Filipino southpaw.
It is possible that Pacquiao could have given De La Hoya issues at almost any stage of his career. On the night they met in the ring, Pacquiao stopped De La Hoya after eight one-sided rounds that saw the Filipino demonstrate a disciplined in-and-out ambush attack that left the “Golden Boy” one step behind at all times.
There was no title on the line when Pacquiao defeated De La Hoya; however, the bout gained him the notoriety that Garcia seeks having sold 1.25 million in pay-per-view buys. Before facing De La Hoya, Pacquiao would have made the boxing Hall of Fame having already won titles in five divisions, but the bout with De La Hoya took him to another level of superstardom rarely seen in the sport.
For Garcia, a scenario resembling Pacquiao’s decimation of De La Hoya would be ideal. However, Garcia faces a fighter that is in his prime at 29 years of age, compared to his 31, with physical advantages in height and reach. Also, Pacquiao to this day still holds a speed advantage over many Welterweights.
While Pacquiao’s victory over De La Hoya is still mentioned amongst his greatest triumphs and is one of the few boxing bouts where the smaller man bested the bigger man, hindsight has lowered its significance in boxing history.
Stylistically, Garcia is often compared most to Marquez. Both men are technical aficionados with the ability to outbox and knockout their opponents. For Marquez’s first foray into the Welterweight division, he faced a fighter that was even more technically proficient than him.
In September 2009, Marquez faced Floyd Mayweather Jr. at Welterweight in what was supposed to be a 144-pound catchweight bout that was changed the day before the bout took place.
Mayweather was coming off of a 21-month absence from the ring after retiring in 2008.
At the time, Marquez was considered one of the best fighters on the planet and was on a quest to get his rival Pacquiao back in the ring. Marquez followed Pacquiao to Lightweight scoring two of the best victories of his career. He stopped Joel Casamayor, who was considered the lineal Lightweight champion, and scored a ninth-round stoppage over Juan Diaz in what became the 2009 Fight of the Year.
Even with the almost two-year layoff from the ring, Mayweather was still a two-and-a-half to one favorite over Marquez, including being the younger fighter at 32 years old, compared to the Mexican counterpuncher’s 36.
Mayweather was able to dominate Marquez thoroughly by forcing the Mexican to become the aggressor in the match. The undefeated Mayweather scored a knockdown in the second round en route to a lopsided unanimous-decision victory.
Mayweather-Marquez ended up being a financial success having sold over a million in pay-per-view buys. Afterward, Marquez went back down to the Lightweight division to later return to Welterweight for subsequent bouts with Pacquiao.
The defeat did not hurt Marquez as he still had a wide array of available opponents for him. Should Garcia end up losing to Spence he will still have options for significant bouts, specifically one against WBA and IBF Lightweight champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs).
For Garcia, the bout with Spence is about taking a risk to have a chance to make history and to be ranked among fighters such as Roberto Duran, Henry Armstrong and Pernell Whitaker, who were former Lightweight champions to defeat Welterweight champions.
Not to mention joining the ranks with a handful of fighters to win titles in five weight classes.
Duran and Shane Mosley both scored the most talked about and significant victories of their careers when they moved up from Lightweight to Welterweight to take on Ray Leonard and De La Hoya, respectively. Both men had fought at Welterweight before facing Leonard and De La Hoya, something Garcia has failed to do.
Sometimes in sports timing is everything. Boxing is a sport where you only have to be better than your opponent on one night. However, to be better on that one night, there are several days, weeks and months spent preparing and planning.
Following in the footsteps of the greats of the past can be a treacherous road. The risk will always be great, but the reward even greater.
Garcia knows that a defeat against Spence won’t end his career. A win can open up doors that were recently closed and access to riches that only a few fighters have had the opportunity to earn.
Most importantly, a victory over Spence will cement Garcia as arguably the best fighter in the world and a shot at being ranked as the premier pugilist of this decade.