Mikey Garcia looked good Saturday night as he cruised past Robert Easter Jr. to unify two lightweight world titles at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and then reiterated his goal: to move up to welterweight to challenge welterweight titlist and fellow pound-for-pound top-five fighter Errol Spence Jr.
Spence (24-0, 21 KOs), whose path to a welterweight unification fight is blocked for the time being because of unavailable or unwilling opponents, said after watching Garcia dismantle Easter (21-1, 14 KOs) from ringside that he's "licking his chops" for the fight. Why shouldn't he be? It means a big-name opponent on Showtime PPV for big money for what most perceive as low risk.
For Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), it would be an audacious move, one that many describe as the four-division titleholder daring to be great. He has been steadfast in stating he wants to cement his name as the best of his time. The way fighters do that is to take big risks for big rewards. Garcia knows beating Spence would do that, but it's telling that experienced boxing people, namely his brother and trainer Robert Garcia, as well as his father, noted trainer Eduardo Garcia, have said they don't like the fight for him.
This would not just be Garcia moving up to fight a regular welterweight. This would be a move up two divisions to face an elite foe in his prime. Garcia has made up his mind though, and the fight looks like it will happen this fall (November or December) with both sides and their adviser, Al Haymon, ready to make the fight. Garcia should be applauded for his willingness to call out Spence, somebody whom nobody calls out. But Garcia wants the glory and the money that would go with such a huge fight.
He'll be the big underdog, as weight classes exist for a reason, but boxing experts and Hall of Famers George Foreman and Larry Merchant give him a chance.
"Some of the best welterweights ever moved up from lightweight," former two-time heavyweight champion Foreman wrote on social media after Garcia-Easter. "(Sugar Ray) Robinson even made a great middleweight. Mikey can do it, as well."
Merchant, the retired all-time great broadcaster, said that although Garcia would obviously be the underdog, he's not so sure Garcia doesn't have a chance to win.
"I want to see him take the shot at Spence," Merchant said.
Garcia's plan to move up two weight classes to face an elite opponent is not unprecedented, but it is unusual for a fighter to go directly from lightweight to welterweight to face the best in the division. In 2008, after Manny Pacquiao won a lightweight title, he jumped up to welterweight and immediately faced Oscar De La Hoya, who was coming down from junior middleweight. De La Hoya was a massive favorite, but as it turned out he was a shell of himself and Pacquiao savaged him in an eighth-round destruction that sent the Golden Boy into retirement.
Eight years earlier, when De La Hoya was a welterweight world titlist in his prime, Shane Mosley vacated his lightweight title and moved up to welterweight and beat him on close decision to win the title (following two tune-up fights). Roberto Duran, the greatest lightweight in history, vacated his world title in 1978 and went to welterweight for a series of fights before dethroning Sugar Ray Leonard in their first fight in 1980. More recently, Amir Khan moved up from welterweight to middleweight and got badly knocked out by then-champion Canelo Alvarez. Then-welterweight titlist Kell Brook moved up to middleweight and took considerable damage in a stoppage loss to Gennady Golovkin. And in December, junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux moved up to junior lightweight to challenge Vasiliy Lomachenko and got wiped out. More often than not, the big jumps in weight don't work out for the smaller guy.
So can Garcia have success? In my mind, it's possible but not probable against Spence. But that doesn't mean it's not a fascinating fight worth the fans' and media's time and attention. If Garcia loses, he can return to lightweight, where he has two belts, or look for another title at junior welterweight. If Garcia beats Spence, he will indeed have cemented his place in history. Either way, he will have dared to be great.
Heavyweights alive and well
I don't subscribe to the old adage of "as the heavyweight division goes so goes boxing," but it's always nice when the big guys are on center stage and produce, especially when we're being denied the biggest fight in the division (the undisputed title fight between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder).
But behind them, the big guys are jockeying for position. On Saturday, we saw two outstanding heavyweight fights in London, not to mention Luis "King Kong" Ortiz (29-1, 25 KOs) rebounding from his dramatic 10th-round knockout loss to Wilder in March to score an exciting second-round KO of fellow former title challenger Razvan Cojanu (16-4, 9 KOs) in the Garcia-Easter co-feature.
While Ortiz-Cojanu was just a showcase comeback fight for Ortiz, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn put on a pair of very interesting 50-50 heavyweight fights in London that delivered copious action and set up the winners for bigger business.
In the main event, Dillian Whyte (24-1, 17 KOs), 30, of England, outpointed former titlist Joseph Parker (24-2, 18 KOs), 26, of New Zealand, by scores of 115-110, 114-111, 113-112. Parker lost his second fight in a row, having lost his belt by decision to Joshua in their March unification fight, but while the fight with Joshua was not very exciting, the fight with Whyte was terrific. Whyte dropped Parker in the second and ninth rounds, but then Parker had him down and all but out in the 12th round, but he held on to somehow make it to the final bell.
The co-feature of Derek Chisora (29-8, 21 KOs), 34, of England, knocking out fellow former title challenger Carlos Takam (35-5-1, 27 KOs), 37, of France, in the eighth round wasn't as meaningful but still was a heck of a scrap, with Chisora scoring two knockdowns on massive overhand rights in the eighth to get the stoppage at 1:01 in an all-out slugfest.
The next step: Whyte is in a great position. Hearn is prepared to offer Wilder huge money to defend against Whyte in the United States on a DAZN card. Whyte is also sitting pretty for a potential rematch with Joshua in April should a Joshua-Wilder fight fail to be made. As for Chisora, he finds new life yet again and is in the mix for just about anyone in the division other than an immediate fight with Joshua or Wilder.
Best fight of the weekend non-heavyweight
In an all-action barn burner, Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12 KOs), heretofore unknown, came to the United States from Japan for the first time and won his eighth fight in a row by impressively outpointing Puerto Rico's Christopher Diaz (23-1, 15 KOs) to win the junior lightweight world title recently vacated by Vasiliy Lomachenko. Ito, 27, dropped Diaz, 23, in the fourth round and won the hard-fought battle 118-109, 117-110, 116-111 in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card in Kissimmee, Florida.
The next step: While Diaz will rest and allow his badly swollen left eye and cheek to heal, Ito likely will be ordered to make a mandatory defense against Evgeny Chuprakov (20-0, 10 KOs), 28, of Russia.
Prospect watch: Vladimir Nikitin
Featherweight Vladimir Nikitin (1-0), 28, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist from Russia, made his pro debut on Saturday on the Ito-Diaz undercard with a unanimous decision over Edward Kakembo (10-5, 3 KOs), 30, of Silver Spring, Maryland, whom he dropped twice. Nikitin's Olympic quarterfinal victory is infamous because he recorded an extraordinarily controversial decision over Michael Conlan that sparked outrage and led to Conlan's double middle fingers to the judges. Conlan (8-0, 5 KOs) later turned pro with Top Rank, and Nikitin recently signed with the company to get an eventual pro rematch.
"This was my first professional fight, but it was also my first fight in a year," Nikitin said. "I took a long break from boxing. I was just relaxing for a whole year, and that is why this was a great experience for me. I was in control and dropped my opponent a couple of times, but we went the distance. I needed to get in good rounds of work. I want Conlan. That is the plan, and he is the main reason why I signed with Top Rank. I want to fight him as a pro. The judges won't be necessary this time around."
The next step: The rematch with Conlan won't be next, but Top Rank will give Nikitin a few fights and then probably make it for sometime next year. It will create a lot of buzz.