Just like the old days: Spence vs Garcia preview

Luke G. Williams
14/03/2019 11:07am

Errol Spence vs Mikey Garcia has echoes of a bygone era, Luke G. Williams writes, with two unbeaten champions meeting in a legacy-defining fight at a massive stadium...

There’s a throwback feel to the Errol Spence Jr vs Mikey Garcia welterweight title fight, which sees two undefeated champions at their peak meeting in a huge arena.

Garcia, the challenger from Moreno Valley, California, is, to use a phrase much beloved in modern boxing, daring to be great. He has won world titles at four weights from feather to super lightweight. But Garcia faces by far his most daunting test against IBF champion Spence at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on 16 March.

The fight takes place under the banner of Al Haymon’s PBC (Premier Boxing Champions), which has signed significant television deals with Showtime and Fox Sports in the United States and ITV in the UK.

“This fight fits perfectly with what we want to do with boxing and with Fox in terms of presenting compelling matches involving big stars,” Tim Smith, vice-president of communications for Haymon Boxing, told Boxing Monthly. “People often hearken back to the days of Ray Leonard, Duran, Hagler and Hearns as golden years and here at the PBC we’re trying to create a modern golden era of boxing.”

Tom Brown, of TGB Promotions, which promotes the event while PBC “presents” it, is hoping the attendance will surpass previous boxing events at the stadium, namely Manny Pacquiao’s fights against Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito [around 36,000 and 41,000 respectively] in 2010 and Canelo Alvarez vs Liam Smith [about 51,000] in 2016.

“We put on Errol’s last fight at the Dallas Cowboys’ training centre [the Ford Center] and we saw the fanbase he brought to that, so it’s a no-brainer to have this at the [Dallas] Cowboys stadium,” Brown told BM. “Garcia and Spence is the right fit for a stadium fight and the aspiration is to do better than any boxing event has ever done here. That’s our goal.”

So much for the business context — what of the fight?

Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) has long been admired, but the 31-year-old has struggled to land career-defining bouts. He also lost momentum when absent from the ring between January 2014 and July 2016 after a contract dispute with his former promoter, Top Rank.

The bookmakers do not fancy Garcia’s chances. Spence (24-0, 21 KOs), who has just turned 29 and is boxing in his own backyard — his Dallas hometown is about 20 miles from Arlington — is roughly a 4-1 on favourite.

Historical precedents are not encouraging for Garcia. It is rare for a boxer to win world titles at both featherweight and welterweight — indeed only Henry Armstrong and Manny Pacquiao have accomplished such a feat. (Robert Guerrero won the IBF featherweight title and later secured an interim WBC title at welter).

Nevertheless, the high esteem in which Garcia is held has led many to wonder if he can upset the odds.

In one sense, Garcia has nothing to lose, while Spence is in something of a no-win situation. Beat Garcia convincingly and Spence will simply have defeated a smaller man. Struggle, or lose, and Spence’s reputation, hard earned by his title-winning fight against Kell Brook in Sheffield in 2017 and enhanced by devastating defences against Lamont Peterson and Carlos Ocampo, will suffer.

Unsurprisingly, there seems to be no complacency on Spence’s part. “I respect Mikey, he’s a real fighter,” he declared at the press conference to announce the contest. “He wants a legacy, he wants to be great — and this is a legacy-defining fight for both of us.”

It is clear why Spence is favourite. At 5ft 9ins to Garcia’s 5ft 6ins and a naturally large welterweight, his sheer physical size is an obvious advantage: Garcia has fought three times at super lightweight but never at welter.

Spence also hits hard from his southpaw stance. Furthermore, the 2012 Olympian possesses a patient demeanour and rarely seems ruffled. In intimidating surroundings against Brook, Spence was behind on two scorecards after six rounds. However, he didn’t panic and eventually broke down, disheartened and then stopped the British boxer.

One could envisage a similar scenario here, with Spence gradually gaining the measure of Garcia, while perhaps conceding a few early rounds, before the weight of his punches slows down the smaller man.

What prospect, then, of a Garcia win? While Spence has to be considered the clear favourite, Garcia surely has more chance than the oddsmakers give him.

Garcia’s preparation has been diligent, working alongside nutrition and conditioning expert Victor Conte. Interestingly, though, Garcia emphasised to BM that he does not want to come in too heavy: “I’ll be coming in probably right under the limit, at about 146, maybe 145lbs,” he said.

“On fight night I’ll probably be 149 or 150lbs. I’m not planning to gain too much weight. I don’t plan on fighting heavy. I want to be sharp; I want to be quick.”

In terms of punching power, Garcia seemed unsure to what extent he will be able to hurt Spence.

“I feel very comfortable and confident with my power but I don’t know the impact or the effect it may have on Spence,” he said. “He’s naturally a lot bigger, and when someone moves up in weight, fighters are that much bigger that they can take a bigger punch.
“On fight night, Spence might be 14 or 15lbs heavier than me. But I’m confident my power will be there, and he will have to respect that.”

Everything points to Garcia executing a strategy in which he seeks to use speed and movement to outbox Spence.

Footwork will be key. If Garcia can dart in and out of range and disrupt Spence’s rhythm, making him miss and overreach with his punches, then it’s just possible he might frustrate and tire the bigger man and steal enough rounds to snatch victory.

A positive for Garcia is that he has not been discomforted by southpaws in the past, having faced and stopped two since ascending to world championship level (Juan Manuel Lopez and Dejan Zlaticanin), while the height of Robert Easter Jr, who is even taller than Spence, did not disconcert him.

Garcia will be further encouraged by the fact Spence has never been 12 rounds. Spence stopped Brook in the 11th round and went 10 rounds in a decision win over Ronald Cruz in 2014. Garcia, in contrast, has gone 12 rounds in each of his last three fights.

If Spence struggles to make weight — and this has to be considered a possibility, given he is a big welter — then perhaps he will tire.

Another plus for Garcia is his greater depth of professional experience. His first world title fight was in 2013. Spence has had pretty much everything his own way in his career so far, save for some difficult moments against Brook. Will Spence’s confidence be affected if he is outboxed early on?

Also, although fighting in Sheffield did not intimidate Spence, might the pressure of expectation engendered by a big home crowd be more burdensome?

Certainly Garcia’s camp is confident. His older brother and trainer Robert Garcia told the Boxing Scene website — in comments reminiscent of Max Schmeling’s eerie confidence ahead of his first fight with Joe Louis — that in watching Spence he has seen “something” that he believes holds the key to victory. Something that will only be revealed “after the fight”.

This may be kidology, of course, and the truth is until we see Garcia at 147lbs we will not really know what he is capable of producing as a welterweight.

So, although one can construct a case for a Garcia victory, it remains the less likely outcome. Spence moves well when coming forward, and is adept at cutting off the ring. He also punches with an accuracy and venom Garcia has not previously experienced.

Garcia’s ring savvy and seasoning seem unlikely to overcome Spence’s superior physicality. Ultimately, Spence is likely to be too big and hard hitting. The fight may be more difficult than many in the champion’s camp envision, however, with Spence perhaps being behind at the midway point before coming on to take a close decision