SAN DIEGO, Calif. March 15, 2019 – Boxing fans love a true 50-50 fight more than anything, and they’ve got one teed up on Saturday between welterweight champion Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. and junior welterweight titleholder Mikey Garcia moving up to the challenge in a battle of undefeated champions. The fight airs on Fox PPV starting at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m PT.
IBF welterweight champion Spence Jr. gets the benefit of home cooking with a title defense for his hometown fans in the Dallas area. The stage doesn’t get much bigger: AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, only the second title fight in the Dallas area in 50 years – and Spence delivered the first one in June 2018 with a one round knockout of Carlos Ocampo.
Not many welterweights have been eager to test themselves against Spence Jr. Enter the ambitious Garcia, the current IBF and WBC lightweight champion. When Garcia, a four division champion, called out Spence, it came as a real surprise. After everyone got over the shock, the parties involved all said, “why not?”
Fan interest grows as the opening bell nears
As the fight approaches, fans have warmed up to the bout. Pay per view purchases are reportedly doing well and could approach the 400,000 buys for the Pacquiao vs. Broner bout. “All the attention and buzz about this fight is for real,” says Garcia. “It’s not often you get a fight like this. Undefeated champions in their prime facing each other. If you want to witness history, you better buy a ticket or the pay-per-view.”
Garcia is right about this. It’s a fight well worth your boxing dollar. But you shouldn’t expect an action packed brawl. Instead, expect a smart, tactical fight between the bull and the matador, with significant implications depending on the various outcomes.
Spence Jr, (24-0, 21 KOs), age 29, faces a far tougher test this time in Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), age 31. It’s a gamble well worth taking by Garcia, with more risk to Spence Jr. It’s undeniable the naturally bigger man fighting at home is the odds on favorite. But a loss no matter how unlikely would do far more damage to Spence Jr.’s career.
Should Garcia lose a close fight by decision, he still leaves a winner. First, Garcia still holds two lightweight division titles, and he can drop back to super lightweight where he also briefly held the IBF title now in the possession of Ivan Baranchyk. He will also do damage the reputation of Spence Jr., who will be seen as the bigger foe unable to defeat a smaller opponent he should dominate.
Spence Jr. and Garcia could be history making
Observers believe Spence Jr.’s size gives him the advantage over Garcia. He disagrees. “The size difference won’t matter. Skill for skill and talent for talent, I’m more dominant than him in every aspect. I’ll beat him at anything he wants to do. On paper he’s the toughest opponent to date, but once we get in the ring we’ll find out.”
Spence Jr. doesn’t believe Garcia is a knockout threat. I’m glad he’s as confident as I am. I hope he keeps that same energy inside of the ring … I’ve been ready to go for eight weeks. I’m tired of seeing him and I’m just ready for fight night.
Garcia wants to make history Saturday by winning a world championship title in his fifth division, and firmly believes he can do it. “Saturday night, Errol is going to find out why I picked this fight. All of my opponents say they don’t see anything special when they watch me, until they get into the ring,” said Garcia. “Like all my other opponents, they don’t see anything flashy. They don’t see anything special. But when they get inside that ring, they realize I am special in a different way.”
Hearing Garcia’s comments during the final news conference this week, Spence Jr. snapped back. “I’m not your other opponents, stop talking about your other opponents like I’m one of them.” Spence admitted later he was irritable having to lose weight.
Weighty matters: IBF rehydration clause in effect
Spence Jr. made the 147 pound weight limit with ease at 146.25 pounds, a bit of a surprise. Garcia weighed in at 145.5 pounds. Both are subject to the IBF’s rehydration clause, limiting both to a 10-pound weight gain by Saturday morning. Whether Spence Jr. can add on any more significant weight between the Saturday check and the opening bell may be a factor no one can ignore.
Although Spence Jr. is the home town fighter, Garcia has more fans in the stands, or at least the more vocal fans. If they light up the stadium on Saturday every time Garcia lands a punch, they could affect the judges should it go to the scorecards.
“Getting up on the stage today, it was like fight night. I feel what Errol and Mikey are feeling. It’s go-time for both of these guys,” said 2017 Trainer of the Year Derrick James, Spence Jr.’s trainer. “Errol knows what he should be doing and what he shouldn’t be doing during fight week. He will be ready on Saturday night.”
Garcia is trained by his well-known and highly regarded brother, Robert Garcia. Garcia has always been confident about his brother’s ability to prove critics wrong, and Saturday’s fight against Spence Jr. is no exception.
“We haven’t just been facing regular sparring partners. They’re experienced, talented and undefeated fighters. He’s facing middleweights to get ready for this one and I know he will be,” said Garcia.
Prediction: Garcia and Spence Jr. fight to a draw
You read it right. While many pundits predict a Spence Jr. stoppage, this column predicts the fight will go 12 rounds for the first time in Spence Jr.’s career. Like a cat that always manages to land on its feet, Mikey Garcia has defied all previous predictions he would lose to his opponents as he’s risen through weight divisions. What Garcia may give up in size and power to Spence Jr., he gains with his ring generalship, footwork, and especially his ring intelligence.
Garcia admits he has to put on the best fight of his life, or he won’t be able to overcome the size and weight of Spence Jr. It’s the smartest thing Garcia could say. By lowering expectations due to a factor he has no control over, anything Garcia can do to beat those expectations works in his favor.
Garcia must know he’ll lose in an aggressive brawl. Instead, he should use his foot speed to fight behind a jab, and stay away from the southpaw’s left hook. If he can prevent Spence Jr. from scoring to the body, Garcia can make it a tactical fight and deny Spence Jr. a flashy stoppage win.
But Garcia has an uphill battle on the scorecards with Texas judges who will give an edge Spence. He might not be able to win, but he may be able to get the draw, a compromise in boxing fans are seeing far more often than they used to. It allows both men to walk away with their record intact, a reward the judges may grant after good performances by two talented men. It will deny Spence Jr. rising to the top of the pound-for-pound list, and deny Garcia a history making accomplishment by winning titles in five divisions. But it leaves both with their records unsullied.
Undercard bouts offer chance for redemption and respect
On the undercard, two former champions hope to return to form after problems outside the ring.
Former super middleweight world titleholder David Benavidez (20-0, 17 KOs), returns to the ring after losing his title stripped due to a positive drug test for cocaine. The 22-year-old from Phoenix faces J’Leon Love of Las Vegas (24-2-1, 13 KOs), age 31, in a 10 round bout. Benavidez hopes to pick up where he left off 13 months ago as one of the hottest talents in the super middleweight division. Assuming a win by the flashy Benavidez, he may get the chance to win his title back from Anthony Dirrell, who won the vacant tile.
Former bantamweight world titlist Luis Nery of Tijuana, Mexico (28-0, 22 KOs) makes his U.S. debut against former junior bantamweight world titlist McJoe Arroyo of Puerto Rico (18-2, 8 KOs). Arroyo, nine years older than Nery, is a rugged opponent and a tough out. Nery tested positive for zilpaterol after winning his title against Shinsuke Yamanaka. It was ultimately cleared when the WBC ruled the cause as contaminated food. When it ordered a title rematch against Yamanaka, Nery won a second round TKO. But he lost his title on the scale after coming in at 121 pounds, three over the bantamweight limit. Nery needs to return to form, and he’s taken the first step by making weight on Friday.
In the opening bout, former three-time heavyweight title challenger “Nightmare” Chris Arreola of Riverside, California (37-5-1, 32 KOs) returns to the ring at age 38 againsit Jean Pierre Augustin of Haiti (17-0-1, 12 KOs). Arreola weighed a relatively slim (for him) 239¼ pounds, and Augustin weighed 226½ pounds. The Mexican-American heavyweight has taken on many of the top names of the last 15 years. He won a tuneup fight in December, his first since losing to Deontay Wilder in 2016. Arreola says he doesn’t need the money, but is fighting to show his children life lessons about hard work and reaching for your goals.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News.
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