Mikey Garcia sees Jessie Vargas fight as chance to prove himself at 147, wants Manny Pacquiao next

Mikey Garcia gestures for the crowd before an IBF World Welterweight Championship boxing bout against Errol Spence Jr. Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
Mikey Garcia gestures for the crowd before an IBF World Welterweight Championship boxing bout against Errol Spence Jr. Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

One of the things that makes Mikey Garcia great is also the same thing that can get him into trouble at times.

He has a deep and nearly unshakeable belief in himself, confidence borne of success day after day in the gym and night after night under the bright lights of competition at the highest level.

Tell Garcia he can’t do something and he’ll almost instantly try to prove you wrong. He has confidence almost to the point of arrogance, which led him to challenge Errol Spence Jr. in March for the IBF welterweight title.

Spence is a massive welterweight who has long been among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Garcia is a one-time featherweight who’s probably best suited at lightweight, but he looked at the landscape of the sport, sought the biggest challenge and landed on a guy who wouldn’t look out of place fighting middleweights.

It was no contest from start to finish, as Spence outboxed Garcia easily. 

Nine months later, Garcia looked back and finally relented, at least a little.

“It was a difficult night and a bad match-up for me stylistically,” Garcia told Yahoo Sports. “He used his reach really well and that complicated things for me. It might have been too early for me to jump in there to the welterweight division. It was a good challenge and it was something I wanted to do. It didn’t go my way, but I want to show there is a lot more of me as a welterweight than what you saw that night. And remember, I was never hurt. I never got caught. I didn’t get busted up.”

After that fight, Garcia mulled his options before deciding to return to welterweight for another test. This time, he chose to face former two-division champion Jessie Vargas on Feb. 29 in Frisco, Texas.

Vargas isn’t the puncher at welterweight that Spence is — few are — but he hits hard enough that he nearly put Timothy Bradley out in their 2015 bout in Carson, California. Bradley was badly hurt, though not down, when referee Pat Russell appeared to wave off the fight with seven seconds left. But Russell had made an error, saying he thought he’d heard a bell.

Vargas said losing that chance to throw the one additional punch he felt he needed to finish Bradley cost him. But by hurting Bradley as he did, Vargas did something that not even the legendary Manny Pacquiao did in three fights with Bradley.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said, “This fight has all the makings of a [Marco Antonio] Barrera versus [Erik] Morales-type war where the styles should jell brilliantly for a real classic.”

That would probably not be good for Garcia, but he didn’t let that influence his thinking in taking the fight. His competitive nature, and his desire to prove people wrong, led to the decision to take on Vargas.

“The reason why we landed on Jessie Vargas is it’s an opportunity to prove I can beat a top guy at 147,” Garcia said. “He’s  a solid, strong guy, a very good fighter, and everyone knows he comes to fight. I thought about what I wanted to do and there were a lot of options. But there are a lot of questions I want to answer and this is a way to do that.”

Garcia still has the big fish at welterweight in mind, and Hearn promised if he beat Vargas that he’d do everything in his power to make a bout with Manny Pacquiao. Now, Garcia had previously been with the Premier Boxing Champions, which still has a contract with Pacquiao, so it might have been easier to make the bout had he stayed where he was.

But he said his deal with Hearn is more of a partnership in which he will have full say in what goes on in his career.

For a guy who frequently thinks beyond the ring and to his career outside of fighting, it made sense.

“We’ve been talking for over a year-and-a-half at this point,” Garcia said of Hearn. “At this point, everything we had talked about before finally came through and we got it done. Me signing with Matchroom, it’s more of a partnership and a co-promotion. I’m involved in all aspects of it and so it was a business deal for me that made sense. It’s a great deal and I’m happy with it. I had conversations [with the PBC] about Manny, but there was no guarantee I was going to land it. 

“That’s a fight I really want and if I made all of the decisions, that’s where I would go. But it takes two parties to make a deal. I have to get through this fight first and we’ll see but no doubt I would love the opportunity to challenge myself against Manny Pacquiao.”

Garcia’s utter belief in himself at all times and, occasionally, against all odds has led him to a Hall of Fame-type career. He’s 39-1 with 30 knockouts and world titles at featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight.

The loss to Spence didn’t shatter his confidence; indeed, it made him shrug it off as a bad night at the office and intent on proving himself right.

That trait, as much as anything, is why Garcia has long been not only one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, but one of the most fascinating to watch. Judging by his most recent decisions, that’s not going to change any time soon.

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