by Hamilton Nolan
The first thing you may notice watching Mikey Garcia fight is that he is calmer than you are. He is calmer than the fans, and his corner, and, always, calmer than his opponent. He has no reason not to be. So far, patience has never failed him.
At the age of 25, Garcia’s record stands at 31-0 with 26 knockouts. He is a case study in how to properly manage a young fighter’s career. (And he should be, given the fact that his brother, Robert Garcia, is one of the world’s best trainers.) Garcia has been brought along slowly. He has not taken too much punishment. His level of competition has increased gradually and steadily. And now, in his physical prime, he gets his first real world class fight, against the somewhat battered but still dangerous puncher Juan Manuel Lopez.
Lopez himself is a prime example of a career that was not properly managed. Just two years ago, he too was undefeated, and, along with Yuriorkis Gamboa, one of the two most hyped fighters in the lightweight division. So well hyped, in fact, that his managers thought it was a good idea to squeeze a few more stepping stone fights out of him before making the big match with Gamboa that the world wanted to see. But as often happens in boxing, the script was derailed by a determined underdog; Lopez found himself TKO’d by the hard-headed veteran Orlando Salido. What could have been a minor setback turned into existential disaster for Lopez’s career when he was TKO’d once again by Salido in a rematch last year. Now, "JuanMa" -- who was oh-so-recently mentioned as one of the most exciting and dangerous fighters in the world -- finds himself with one last chance to salvage his reputation as a true A-level boxer. His fight against Garcia is a real shot at redemption. It might be his last shot, before he is shuffled off into the dreaded category of “tough opponent,” rather than “world-class contender.”
So then, we have the classic Young Contender on the Rise vs. Veteran Desperate to Prove He’s Still Got It. But that’s reductive to a fault. Until now, Mikey Garcia has only fought in mismatches. This fight is not a mismatch. That means that anything can happen. The betting public will take note of the fact that Orlando Salido beat Lopez twice, but was thoroughly battered and defeated by Garcia in January. And indeed, Garcia will be the favorite in this fight. But it’s useful to remember that past performance is not always a reliable guide when a young fighter gets his first real taste of top-level competition. Especially -- as Lopez will provide -- top level power.