Prior to his fight against Welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr., which took place last March in Arlington, Texas, Mikey Garcia was widely considered to rank amongst the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and for good reason.
After all, he had won titles in four different weight classes and, at that point, owned a perfect 39-0 professional record.
Still, the idea of moving up two weight classes to take on a highly skilled and incredibly versatile champion in Spence seemed like a daunting task for the Californian.
And on fight night, the challenge proved to be way too much, as Garcia was outclassed and outboxed from bell-to-bell, failing to win a single round and losing a lopsided decision.
Following the loss, many felt as if Garcia should drop back down to his more natural weight class of 140 pounds. They felt as if, despite his proven skill set, he was simply too small to compete with the elites at 147 pounds.
Garcia, perhaps unsurprisingly given his mentality, however, disagreed and he returned to action this past weekend against former two-division world champion Jessie Vargas in the main event of a card that was broadcast live on DAZN from The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
Early on, it seemed as if the idea that Garcia simply couldn’t compete at Welterweight would once again be proven, as the 32-year-old Mexican-American struggled quite a bit through the first four rounds. Vargas, the larger man, used his jab to control the distance of the fight, while seemingly overwhelming Garcia by beating him to the punch.
Unlike in his fight with Spence, however, Garcia remained focused, adjusting on the fly and changing the course of the fight. In Round 5, he scored a vicious knockdown, landing a perfect right hand that floored Vargas in the corner.
And over the remainder of the fight, he relied on the one-two combination to pick his opponent apart en route to a unanimous-decision victory.
Given how he performed against Spence and how he began against Vargas, there’s no denying that Garcia’s victory was at least somewhat impressive. Like the champion he is, he made the necessary adjustments and found what worked. His power also traveled up in weight with him, proof that he can indeed be dangerous at this weight class.
At the end of the day, however, it must be remembered that Vargas isn’t an elite-level Welterweight. A former champion? Yes. A skilled and respected fighter capable of providing the division’s best with a test? Yes. But an elite-level Welterweight? No.
And it’s for that reason that the real challenge has only just begun for Garcia. Because if there’s one thing we know about the Californian, it’s that his goal is to be considered great. His goal is undoubtedly to capture a title at 147 pounds. If it wasn’t, he would’ve likely dropped back down in weight.
But while his win over Vargas proved he can compete at the weight class, it didn’t prove much more.
The loss to Spence is still fresh in the mind of the boxing community. But luckily for Garcia, he’ll likely get another chance to prove that he can rank as a top-tier Welterweight, as a fight between him and WBA Welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao is being targeted for July in Saudi Arabia.
Despite being 41 years of age, Pacquiao, a legend of the sport and a former eight-division world champion, remains one of the best 147 pounders in the world, something he proved in his triumphant win over former champion Keith Thurman last summer.
With a wealth of experience, Pacquiao has also held on to his tremendous speed and fight-changing power. A southpaw, he still moves well, still puts combinations together in impressive fashion, and still has the ability to take out top-tier fighters.
While it’s true that Pacquiao may not be the biggest Welterweight, he’s certainly one of the most skilled and he’s certainly a level above Vargas–he actually scored a victory over Vargas in 2016. With that being said, this fight will present a massive test for Garcia.
Should he come out on top, he’ll prove to the boxing community what he’s been voicing for quite some time now: that perhaps his skill, heart and determination are enough to carry him to a title in a fifth division.