The least interesting part of his return was the fight. It’s okay, you can admit it. That is a strange thing to say considering the headliner is a darling of boxing’s most devoted band of aficionados (and plenty more who managed to find a toehold on the bandwagon). But these are strange days, and if some sense can be made of the night’s intrigue, they may only get stranger.
But first, the fight.
Mikey Garcia won a unanimous decision over Robert Easter Jr. at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Saturday night, unifying titles and taking pole position in a two-man race for lightweight supremacy. He did so before a crowd of approximately twelve thousand, none of whom were there to witness an upset or fix a critical eye on a fight that reached its piddling apex in a lopsided round absent of even a knockdown. Like the very best of his fraternity, Garcia proved once again that titles are made by the men who carry them and that rankings are often mere fetish. But Easter went the distance, and so surely he must be better than we thought lest Garcia be finding his limitations.
Still, Garcia was near flawless again, his craft augmented by the contrast Easter provided. Easter waved amateurishly at Garcia’s feints while Garcia caught those punches he chose not to slip on his guard, barely compromising his potential to counter; Easter threw desperately, his punches serving mostly as a diversion under which to retreat while Garcia launched his with textbook form. And when Easter made clear his intent to see the final bell Garcia showed he could lead some, using head movement and timing to get inside while keeping the action lukewarm—just how he likes it.
If there was something to learn from Saturday’s fight it is that Garcia is more comfortable leading than he once was, back when the sole lynchpin for his own offense was his opponent’s errors. But Garcia’s power has leveled off in his third division, and it is the latter of these two revelations that stands to figure predominantly in his future. Why? Because (and here is where the night got interesting), in his post-fight interview Garcia reiterated his goal of fighting welterweight Errol Spence. Spence will walk Garcia down both because he is wired to fight and because no one who goes twelve rounds with Robert Easter Jr. is going to convince him to reconsider.
Spence-Garcia is an absurdity, and yet it feels inevitable. There was a nod and a wink to Garcia’s interview; as if it was always going to lead to Spence, who just happened to be in attendance, and who was shown laughingly accepting Garcia’s invitation, unable to suppress his amusement at the joke made manifest.
The question is why. Why, with Vasyl Lomachenko still undermining his claim to lightweight supremacy, would Garcia target a bricklayer two divisions up north? Why would Garcia not mention Manny Pacquiao, who, in the thickening twilight of his career, now claims to promote himself?
Perhaps because the Lomachenko fight is unlikely to materialize. Garcia sat out two and a half years of his prime to escape Top Rank. Bless your naïveté if you think Arum is now, while he has the WBO title awaiting Lomachenko’s return, going to bury the hatchet. Not that you should hold Top Rank entirely responsible for any bad faith. Robert Garcia, Mikey’s elder brother and trainer, said Top Rank staff confided to him that the Lomachenko fight cannot happen because Top Rank cannot send Lomachenko to inevitable defeat. As if such an explanation, even if true, would ever be furnished. The two camps are like drivers in a near-accident who, rather than confront each other, hurl insults as they speed off in relief. Very well, Garcia-Lomachenko joins a list of Garcia fights left unmade, and in a strange way becomes something almost as precious: an opportunity to slander and blame the fighter you wanted to lose for not making the fight he was never going to win.
Still, why Spence, why the most dangerous welterweight on the planet? Because a Mexican-American fighter who sells tickets is precisely the kind of opponent Spence needs while he waits on a stalled division. While Spence-Garcia deserves comparisons to farcical mismatches such as Gennady Golovkin-Kell Brook and Saul Alvarez-Amir Khan, in an important way it resembles the 2012 fight between Chad Dawson and Andre Ward. Dawson, then the light heavyweight champion, bizarrely offered to drop to 168 pounds to defend his titles against Andre Ward. Ward, new to HBO (who believed him their future), was conveniently provided an especially auspicious start by way of this strange concession. He made good on it, knocking out a weight-drained Dawson in ten rounds. Al Haymon sees Spence as the future, and thus Haymon is providing Spence the opponent he needs—even at the expense of the most popular (and mercenary) fighter he advises.
But isn’t Garcia still daring to be great? Perhaps, but we won’t have our answer until the fight begins. If Garcia fights earnestly a man allowed to weigh-in at the threshold of his division; if he endures and is allowed to endure the punishment greatness will demand that night, then we can celebrate Garcia’s daring. Anything less, and what Garcia was really pursuing will be clear: a career payday in forgivable defeat.
That rationale assumes there will be enough pieces left to reassemble Garcia’s body and much of his mystique, and that he will care to do so. There is at least something great about those assumptions, isn’t there?