With all of the talk regarding Mikey Garcia’s daring move up two weight divisions and whether IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. can live up to his reputation as the boogeyman who everyone avoids, the time if finally here to focus on the actual matchup.
From the standpoint of craft and technical artistry, Saturday’s title bout (Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET) between unbeaten and pound-for-pound ranked welterweights is among the best fights that can be made in the sport for lovers of the sweet science. The fact that both Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) and Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) possess both fight-altering and fight ending power, respectively, only sweetens the pot.
For the 31-year-old Garcia, a four-division champion, an opportunity at a title in a fifth weight class against the most dangerous opponent available gives him the chance to call himself the best in the world if he wins. Meanwhile, for the 29-year-old Spence, who enters his backyard of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as the favorite, it’s an opportunity for crossover stardom while headlining his first pay-per-view card.
What makes the matchup so interesting is that both have commented how much they see themselves in each other in terms of how they carry themselves inside the ring. Spence is a southpaw who will hold advantages of three inches in height and four inches in reach. Yet both carry themselves with a similar level of poise and patient control as they systematically break down their opponents.
Fight card, odds
Errol Spence Jr. (c) -400
Mikey Garcia +300
IBF Welterweight title
David Benavidez -1250
J’Leon Love +600
Luis Nery -3333
McJoe Arroyo +1000
Needless to say, neither one is lacking for any confidence either.
“The size difference won’t matter. Skill for skill and talent for talent, I’m more dominant than him in every aspect,” Spence said at Thursday’s final press conference. “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.”
“Saturday night, Errol is going to find out why I picked this fight,” Garcia said. “All of my opponents say they don’t see anything special when they watch me, until they get into the ring. I have all the tools and all the skills needed to beat Errol Spence Jr. When it comes to timing, speed, reflexes and defense, you name it, I’m better.”
For whatever advantages Spence brings to the table in terms of size as a large welterweight who is facing a fighter moving up in weight, Garcia makes up for it in terms of experience as the more proven commodity over the span of four divisions. Part of the intrigue entering this fight is the fact that both have been so dominant throughout their careers that neither one has been pushed to the absolute limit and forced to find out how great they can actually be.
In many ways, that was the reasoning behind Garcia taking such a bold chance that puts him in a scenario with very little margin for error.
“Getting this victory will forever leave my name in the history books. No other fighter is daring to do what I’m doing,” Garcia said. “I have to fight the best fight of my life. If I don’t, then I can’t overcome the challenge. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to win this fight. We trained very hard. We can go 12 rounds for sure. But, if I get a chance to hurt my opponent, I’m definitely going to jump on him and get the knockout.”
While Garcia is looking more towards legacy with a career-defining win, Spence is merely looking to confirm the feelings many observers had about him since he first entered the title picture, that this could be the successor to Floyd Mayweather as the next great welterweight star in waiting.
“This is a legendary fight. This is where we see what fighters are made of,” Spence said. “There have been a lot of great fights when little guys came up and beat a bigger fighter. You can’t ever write off the little guy. This is going to be a hard fight.
“Mikey is supposed to think he’s going to win this fight. He called me out, so they obviously think that they see something. I’m glad he’s as confident as I am. I hope he keeps that same energy inside of the ring.”
Garcia is simply too talented from the standpoint of timing and accuracy to get steamrolled like some have predicted. He also has enough pop, having won a world title last year at 140 pounds by dropping Sergey Lipinets, to keep Spence honest in the early going.
The true test, however, will come in the middle rounds once Spence is able to set up and land his left hand, which is a scenario he may be able to speed up should he be able to use his jab as a weapon sooner than later. Either way, this will be a turning point moment for Garcia where he will need to show elite levels of chin, toughness and heart to be able to make the championship adjustments that would give him a chance at winning.
Garcia doing so is far from automatic, however, as even a big welterweight like Kell Brook fell into the same pattern that the majority of Spence’s opponents have in that they slowly began to wilt upon feeling his power while transitioning into a posture of survival. Still, given the bold lengths Garcia has gone through to get the fight, it’s hard to imagine anything short of being willing to go out on his shield as a realistic ending should things turn south.
In order to win the fight, Garcia will need to lower Spence’s output by becoming the first opponent to give him a reason not to come forward as the aggressor. He certainly has the footwork the footwork and smarts to do so. And while Spence is more well-known for his ability to go to the body, it’s a strategy that could allow Garcia a chance to surprise his opponent by minimizing Spence’s reach advantage and force him to fight on the inside, which he hasn’t been forced to do.
It might be worth bringing up a second time that none of his happens if Garcia prove he can’t handle Spence’s power and still keep coming. Yet it’s not as if Garcia is all that easy to hit cleanly. The slower the pace of the fight, the more it could mean for Garcia’s survival. But to do more than survive and to actually have a shot at winning a decision, he will also need to hurt Spence and it’s something that no one has been able to do.
Spence has mentioned throughout the build that even though he believes he is better than Garcia in every category, it doesn’t matter to him if he’s proven wrong on Saturday because should it come down to it, he has no problem relying on the “dog” and grit inside of him to get the job done. That’s where Spence’s advantages in size and power would most come into play.
If Garcia can turn this fight into a skillful chess match, he may have a chance. But it’s hard to ignore the feeling that should Spence decide to go for it in the second half and find out right there exactly what his opponent is made of in a firefight, that Garcia will be inevitably outgunned.
We won’t know until Saturday whether Spence will even need to. Yet that ace up his sleeve makes it hard to pick against him considering he has yet to show a single weakness in his perfectly well rounded game.
Pick: Spence via TKO10.
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