Ringside Seat: Can Mikey Garcia beat Jessie Vargas and prove he belongs at welterweight?


FRISCO, Texas — One year ago, then-lightweight titlist Mikey Garcia, jumped up two weight divisions to challenge welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr. in a really big fight.

Garcia, widely hailed as one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters, had called out Spence for months, and with no big fight in the offing against one of the other top welterweights, Spence accepted Garcia’s challenge. Things could not have gone worse for Garcia when the two finally stepped in the ring.

In front of nearly 50,000 fans at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, Garcia lost every single round against Spence. It was his first professional defeat.

Garcia was philosophical about the loss.

“I never felt like I was emotionally sad or anything like that after my loss,” he said. “You take a loss, that’s it, and you move forward. It’s not what’s going to define me. I still want to take on the biggest fights available and biggest challenges, and not many people are willing to do that as much as I am.

“That’s what it’s about. I think people will really appreciate that once I’m done with my boxing career. People will see I didn’t just protect my record and that I fought everybody.”

After the fight, Garcia said he’d think about returning to junior welterweight, where he had won a title, but with no fight to his liking, Garcia chose welterweight and will meet former titlist and friendly rival Jessie Vargas in a very attractive 12-round showdown Saturday (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET) at the Ford Center at The Star.

Garcia aims to show that the loss to Spence was an aberration and that he can thrive in a fifth division.

“I feel that I will be able to show everyone that I am a true contender and can be champion at 147,” Garcia said. “I think this fight allows me to answer all those doubts and questions.”

Vargas, who has faced numerous top opponents, aims to notch what would be his biggest victory.

“I aspire to big things. I want to show the world what I’m about,” Vargas said. “I want to show my technical ability, my fortitude, and I think that everyone is going to be wowed by my performance.”

This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:

Garcia has something to prove

Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs), of Moreno Valley, California, has won titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight and still has designs on capturing one in a fifth division. But he also knows he must prove he is capable of competing at welterweight after the debacle against Spence.

“We looked at some names at 140, but unfortunately they were not available and Jessie’s name was brought to my attention,” Garcia said. “I discussed it with my brother [trainer Robert Garcia] and dad [Eduardo] and I also felt there’s a lot I need to answer still. Most everybody will give their opinion based on my last fight, which was a horrible performance. So this fight allows me to answer a lot of those questions. I just want to prove to everybody that I can still do great things, even at 147, and that’s why we decided to take this fight.”

A win over Vargas likely would put Garcia back on track for another title shot in a loaded division that includes now-unified titlist Spence and titleholders Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford.

“A world title in a fifth division is very exciting. I would love to fight for a title again at 147 pounds,” Garcia said. “Claiming a world title in a fifth division would be amazing, and that’s why I am staying at 147, but there are other motivations for me in the sport. There’s a lot more to accomplish. After this fight I’ll look at options at 147 pounds and 140 pounds. I’m not stuck at either weight. I’m keeping my options open.”

It’s just business

For the past few years, Garcia has worked with adviser Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions, but when Garcia couldn’t land the kind of fight that interested him at PBC, he left for a short-term deal with Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and DAZN that begins with the Vargas fight. Hearn, according to sources, signed Garcia to a one-fight deal but retains the right to match any offer for his next fight.

Garcia said he made the jump because “the right fight was available. All the other guys we looked at were unavailable and didn’t quite excite me. Some of the names they brought up to me at PBC weren’t the names I felt would help my career.

“At 140, we looked at reaching out to Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor, but they were not available at the time we needed to fight. Other guys were not quite what I wanted.”

Vargas back at welterweight … for now

After dropping decisions to Timothy Bradley Jr. in 2015 and Pacquiao in 2016, Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KOs), 30, of Las Vegas, who has won belts at junior welterweight and welterweight, fought to back-to-back draws against Adrien Broner and Thomas Dulorme in 2018. He then knocked out former lightweight titlist Humberto Soto in the sixth round last April at 150 pounds. Vargas thought that would be his first fight on the way to being a full-fledged 154-pound junior middleweight.

But then came the lure of a big name in Garcia, so Vargas went back to welterweight.

“My motivation is to prove to everyone who I am, who I intend to be,” Vargas said. “I’m one of the best in the division and I want to become the best in the division and Mikey Garcia is in the way. I have to make sure I shine on Saturday night and give the performance of my life, give a performance where I make clear to the fans that I am one of the top guys in the division and that I will fight for a world championship in the division. That’s what I have to show.”

Vargas aspires to win titles in four divisions, but he said junior middleweight and middleweight will have to wait for now. He calls himself a tweener between 147 and 154 but said that when Hearn offered him Garcia, he accepted the fight and immediately started to get ready.

“I see Mikey as a talented fighter,” Vargas said. “Things didn’t go his way against Spence and I don’t think things will go his way against me as well. I think he’s definitely biting off more than he can chew. But I respect Mikey. He’s a good fighter. I am here to show that he chose the wrong fighter to fight at welterweight once again because I’m a big guy, I’m a strong guy and I have the speed that he doesn’t. I’ve worked hard for this and I plan to take the victory in sensational fashion.”

Fighting words

“I consider this the third stage of my career because I am coming off a loss. Can I come back stronger and better than before, or am I done? Past my prime? That’s why I’m here to prove it to everyone that I’m not any less than what you saw in previous years. In fact, I am only getting better. I’m not declining at all. I’m fast, strong and talented, and I consider this next part to be the best years of my career.” — Garcia on where he is in his career

“We are giving the fans what they want to see. Mikey is a terrific fighter, and we are going to give the fans a great fight. It has all the ingredients to be like a [Marco Antonio] Barrera-[Erik] Morales style trilogy. You never know, because we are two fighters that will do anything to come out with the victory. This is one of the fights that I am interested in because it’s going to generate a lot of interest and it’s my time to shine.” — Vargas on his expectations for the fight

By the numbers

20: Garcia is 1 of 20 fighters in boxing history to win titles in four different weight classes.

3: Garcia is 1 of 3 fighters in boxing history to win titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight (Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez).

4: Garcia’s last four fights have gone to decision after he won 18 of his previous 21 fights by KO/TKO.

51%: Punches landed by Spence against Garcia, according to CompuBox (welterweight average is 30%).

3-2-2: Vargas’s record in his last seven fights after winning the first 26.

0: Vargas has not won consecutive fights by KO since 2011.

Keep an eye on a loaded undercard

The undercard is strong. Here’s my ranking of the best four fights and what’s at stake:

1. Kal Yafai vs. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez: England’s Yafai (26-0, 15 KOs), 30, makes his sixth junior bantamweight title defense against former pound-for-pound king and four-division champion Gonzalez (48-2, 40 KOs), 32, of Nicaragua. While the fight is a chance for Yafai to face the most significant opponent of his career, this is really about whether Gonzalez can reestablish himself as an elite fighter following back-to-back losses in 2017. Although Gonzalez has won two fights in a row, they were low-level bouts, and he has boxed only twice since September 2017.

2. Julio Cesar Martinez vs. Jay Harris: Mexico’s Martinez (15-1 12 KOs), 25, will make his first flyweight title defense against European champion Harris (17-0 9 KOs), 29, of Wales. Martinez, who shares trainer Eddy Reynoso with Canelo Alvarez, has shown himself to be an electrifying fighter since bursting on the world stage. First, there was a third-round no-contest against Charlie Edwards in August that ended after Martinez dominated and drilled Edwards to seemingly win the belt before the result was changed because the final punch landed when Edwards was already down. An immediate rematch was ordered but Edwards said no thanks, vacated the title and moved up in weight. So Martinez faced former titlist Cristofer Rosales for the vacant belt in December and knocked him out in the ninth round of an action-packed slugfest.

For his first defense, Martinez is matched with a solid opponent in Harris, who has good skills and will be fighting outside the United Kingdom for the first time. Harris, who has worked for Amazon for eight years, said he was given two months off to train for the fight.

3. Israil Madrimov vs. Charlie Navarro: Madrimov (4-0, 4 KOs), 24, an Uzbekistan native fighting out of Indio, California, meets Navarro (29-9, 22 KOs), 40, of Venezuela, in a preliminary bout . The 10-rounder is also a junior middleweight title eliminator for the No. 2 spot in the WBA’s rankings but is meant to showcase Madrimov, one of the top prospects of 2019. He has moved quickly since turning pro in November 2018. Navarro, despite his age, is his best opponent so far. He’s vastly experienced, has challenged for a welterweight title, faced several good opponents and is riding a four-fight winning streak.

4. Joseph Parker vs. Shawndell Winters: Former heavyweight titlist Parker (26-2, 20 KOs), 28, of New Zealand, will face upset-minded Winters (13-2, 12 KOs), 39, of Harvey, Illinois, in a 10-rounder. Parker is eyeing his third win in a row since losing a decision in a unification fight with Anthony Joshua in 2018. A victory by Parker, who is coming off a spider bite that made him so ill that he had to withdraw from an October bout with former title challenger Dereck Chisora, will undoubtedly set him up for a much bigger fight. Winters aims for a third upset in a row, having knocked out then-undefeated prospect Oleksandr Teslenko in September and Sergiej Werwejko in November.

Rafael’s prediction: The main event is a good matchup that I think will be entertaining and competitive. But around here they make me pick the result, so I am going with …

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