- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Since turning pro in 2006, Mikey Garcia was groomed to win a world title. He got all of the right fights, was expertly matched and developed his skills.
When it came time for him to challenge Orlando Salido for a featherweight title, in January in New York, he was as ready as any young contender could be.
Garcia dominated, dropping the veteran titleholder twice in the first round, again in the third round and once more in the fourth. The fight came to an end in the eighth, after Salido broke Garcia's nose on an accidental head-butt and the challenger was unable to continue. Still, Garcia was way ahead on all three scorecards, won the clear technical decision and claimed a 126-pound world title.
The mission had been accomplished, but the next step -- defending the title -- proved to be a disaster.
Garcia was due to make his first defense against former titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez on June 15 in Dallas in a main event. Garcia was having trouble making weight, but it wasn't because he hadn't trained hard or was in poor condition.
On the contrary. He killed himself trying to get down to 126 pounds. His efforts to make weight were graphically captured by HBO cameras that followed him while the network produced a "2 Days" special about him. The footage revealed a sluggish Garcia kneeling down to vomit into a garbage pail, the efforts of his weight drain showing themselves in full fury. He vomited more than once.
When he reached the scale, he knew he would be overweight and that he would kiss his title good-bye. Turns out he weighed 128 pounds, and was stripped of the belt. A deal was worked out with Lopez to go through with the fight, in which only he was eligible to win the now-vacant belt.
"It was very disappointing," Garcia said this week. "I was very sad. I worked very hard to get that title. I waited over two years in line to get that title shot, and to not be able to defend and to lose it on the scale, it was hard. As we were walking down the elevator and through the hallways going to the weigh-in knowing that I was no longer champion, I just tried to move forward and do the best that I could."
A rehydrated Garcia pummeled Lopez the next night, stopping him in the fourth round. But there was that empty feeling of no longer having a title when he was announced as the winner. There was also relief, because Garcia wasn't sure how he would feel after such monumental weight struggles.
"It was a little bit of uncertainty on our part because we weren't 100 percent sure if my body was going to be able to recover to be able to fight to the best of my capabilities," Garcia said. "We were worried that my body would not be able to take a punch as well, that I may tire soon, that I may not be 100 percent. But everything went well.
"I started feeling confident after the first round. I started working behind my jab, and after I dropped him in the second round I knew that I still had the power to hurt him. Everything turned out well in the fourth round."
With his featherweight days, as well as the disappointment of how his title reign ended, behind him, Garcia is back. Now competing at 130 pounds, he is primed to challenge Puerto Rico's Roman "Rocky" Martinez for his title Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) in the main event of the televised tripleheader at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"We are ready for this challenge," Garcia said. "We are in great shape. We have done all the work in the gym that's been needed. We want to take on a real junior lightweight, and Rocky Martinez is a real champion. We are not just fighting an overweight bantamweight. I am fighting a real champion, and that is the challenge that we want to take."
In the co-feature, 2012 fighter of the year Nonito Donaire (31-2, 20 KOs), coming off a decision loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux in an April junior featherweight title unification fight, is moving up to featherweight and will meet former two-division titleholder Vic Darchinyan (39-5-1, 28 KOs), who is also moving up in weight, in a rematch of Donaire's 2007 knockout victory to win a flyweight world title.
"This is a great chance for Mikey. He is moving up in weight and fighting a champion," said Robert Garcia, Mikey's brother, trainer and a former junior lightweight titleholder who knows all about the rigors of making weight. "[Martinez has] been champion for a while. My respect to him for giving us the opportunity, and we know he has trained like he has never trained before. We have trained hard, too, and we are prepared for the very best that Rocky Martinez will bring. The people are going to enjoy a great fight."
Robert Garcia watched as his brother struggled with his weight for the Lopez fight, and admitted he has mild concern about Mikey making 130.
"Mikey had trouble making  and that was something that really surprised us," Robert Garcia said. "We never expected that to happen. Moving up in weight -- we should not have a problem, but it is still not easy. It was hard to get down to 128, which was the weight he fought at last time. Everybody had seen what Mikey went through to make that weight; 130, hopefully, he can make that weight, but it won't be that easy."
Mikey Garcia, however, said making 130 for Friday's weigh-in shouldn't be a problem.
"So far, everything is going so well," the 25-year-old said. "I think I can make 126 again, but we feel that we want to be comfortable in the ring on Saturday night."
Garcia, (32-0, 27 KOs), of Oxnard, Calif., counts himself lucky that he got the opportunity to challenge for a title on the heels of the June mess.
"I feel very happy to have this opportunity after what happened in the last fight -- to lose the title on the scale and to be given the opportunity to fight for a world title is great, and I'm really happy for that," he said. "It's a big opportunity. I'm back where I want to be and I hope to capture another world title."
Martinez (27-1-2, 16 KOs), 30, who will be making his third title defense, carries the hopes of his people as Puerto Rico's only reigning world titleholder.
"Rocky Martinez, right now, is the only world champion in Puerto Rico, so he knows the big responsibility that he has on his shoulders for this fight," Puerto Rico Best Boxing Promotions' Peter Rivera said. "For us, on the island, this is a big event. Everyone knows that Mikey Garcia is coming off a big win over [Puerto Rico's] Juan Manuel Lopez, one of our former world champions, so Puerto Rico is looking at this fight as a revenge fight. I know everyone on the island will be watching this fight to see Rocky retain his title once again."
A two-time titleholder, Martinez has had a more difficult go of it during his second reign. He escaped with a split-decision win against Miguel Beltran Jr. to win the vacant belt 14 months ago. And in his first defense, he was lucky to retain the title in a draw with Juan Carlos Burgos on the Garcia-Salido undercard in a fight that most thought Burgos won. In April, in Macau, Martinez kept the belt on another split decision against Diego Magdaleno.
Garcia rates a notch above any of those fighters, so Martinez knows he is in for a tough fight, but had no problem giving him the shot.
"I just feel that he is the No. 1 [challenger], a mandatory to me, and why be a champion if you are not going to fight the best?" he said through a translator. "I am [at my best} and I'm coming hard for 12 rounds for Mikey.
"I know that he is an intelligent guy, very smart, and he knows how to throw his punches together -- and that's why we trained so hard, to be ready for anything. I think I can take his punches. I think I have proven myself that I am able to take punches. So it is a question of just being ready and being at my best."
Garcia also intends to be at his best, and to win a second world title.
"I feel it is a great opportunity to fight for a world title, but it is not in any way to redeem myself," Garcia said. "I just want to put on a good show and now I have another world title that I can capture."
After being stripped of his 126-pound title when he failed to make weight in his previous outing, Mikey Garcia is putting the episode behing him -- starting with, he hopes, Saturday's challenge for Rocky Martinez's 130-pound crown.