Only a few minutes had passed since Mikey Garcia unified two lightweight world titles against a much taller, much longer opponent, and already he was setting his sights on an even greater challenge.
It wasn’t the challenge many fans were hoping for, but it was still the kind of bold move you’d expect from a fighter seen as among the most talented of today. Rather than take on Vasyl Lomachenko — another 135-pound titleholder and a brilliantly gifted boxer — Garcia said he wanted to go up two divisions to face 147-pound titleholder Errol Spence.
“I’m here for the biggest challenges. I don’t know if there’s anybody else with a bigger challenge than Errol Spence,” Garcia said in his post-fight interview after defeating Robert Easter Jr. by unanimous decision. “I want to challenge myself to the fullest. I know he’s up to fight anybody, so that’s what I want. … I feel I have the power and I have the skillset to compete in any division up into welterweight. He’s the toughest guy at welterweight and the most feared man, so I want to challenge myself against him.”
The announcement wasn’t a complete surprise to those who’d been paying attention. Earlier this year, after capturing a world title in his fourth weight class — at 140 pounds against Sergey Lipinets — Garcia teased a jump to a fifth. “In a couple of fights, you’re going to see me at 147,” he said back in March.
But instead of remaining at junior welterweight, Garcia dropped back down to lightweight to take on Easter this past Saturday in front of a supportive crowd in Los Angeles, his first time performing for his hometown fans in seven years.
Easter started off dictating the pace and distance of combat, employing his jab with frequency in order to accentuate his height and reach advantages. Garcia didn’t do much in the opening round, starting with a jab, then feinting a little later with the same punch and gauging Easter’s reaction. Soon he had figured out the timing and shortened the distance. The right hand got closer and closer to landing in the second round. And then it struck in the third.
Garcia led with a jab. Easter pulled his head, back but not far enough out of range for the cross that followed and landed, and Garcia then finished the combination with a left hook that dropped Easter to the canvas. It was only the second time in Easter’s career that he’d been down, but it was somewhat expected.
Easter had been in fun firefights in the past against the likes of Richard Commey and Denis Shafikov. He had proven to be hittable, and he’d also had difficulty in his last time out against the boxing skills of Javier Fortuna, escaping with a debatable split decision this past January.
Garcia is better than Commey and Shafikov, so he was expected to be skilled enough to land on Easter and powerful enough to land with emphasis.
Easter recovered and began to look for the counter in the fourth, trying to take Garcia’s right hand away. Garcia was still able to land, and he was also backing Easter up to the ropes, where he was able to put in more work. When away from the ropes, Easter would continue using his jab and going to the body, yet he wasn’t landing hard or often enough to deter Garcia, and Garcia usually was the one doing more to win rounds.
That was especially the case in Round 8, when Easter emphasized moving his feet instead of moving his hands. But a heated exchange broke out between the two fighters in Round 9. Garcia got the better of it, landing 22 of 53 power punches that round, according to CompuBox, while Easter was 5 of 27. It was the most fire Easter would show in the second half of the fight. While he didn’t give up, he also wasn’t pulling out all stops to try to pull out the win. In fact, CompuBox said that Easter didn’t land a single power punch in Round 10, which saw him mostly on the move.
When the bell rang to end the 12th, it was Garcia whose gloves were raised, not Easter’s. He knew the result. So did the referee, Jack Reiss, who raised Garcia’s hand in the air after the scores were read but before Garcia’s name was announced.
The final scores were 118-109 (10 rounds to two, with an extra point deducted from Easter for the knockdown), 117-110 (nine rounds to three), and 116-111 (eight rounds to four).
Garcia is now 39-0 with 30 knockouts. It’s amazing to see the form he’s in given that he spent two and a half years away from the sport, staying out of the ring from 2014 into 2016 due to a dispute with his now-former promoter. Since returning, Garcia’s shaken off rust against Elio Rojas, made quick work of Dejan Zlaticanin to capture a lightweight world title, gone up to 140 to beat Adrien Broner, stayed at 140 to win a belt from Sergey Lipinets, and dropped back to 135 to unify against Easter.
None of those are signature names — not even Broner. So you can understand why Garcia is looking at Spence at 147, even if the idea sounds crazy. Yes, lightweights have gone from lightweight directly to welterweight before. Indeed, back in the old days there was no junior welterweight division between them. But it’s rare in this modern era. Shane Mosley made the jump, though he tested himself against two opponents before taking on Oscar De La Hoya. Manny Pacquiao also leapfrogged from 135 to 147, retiring De La Hoya in the process.
It’s not quite a no-lose scenario. Yes, if Garcia wins, it’s a huge victory over a well-regarded welterweight, even if Spence’s lone victories of note in the division were against Kell Brook and Lamont Peterson, neither of whom as considered to be what he once had been. And if Garcia loses, there’s consolation in the defeat coming against a fighter who was much bigger and favored to win.
But as we saw when Brook fought Gennady Golovkin up at middleweight, this kind of challenge can lead to significant damage. Garcia is likely aware of that risk and believes it is still worth the potential rewards.
It may also be a bargaining chip for making a deal with Lomachenko. If Garcia can convince them that he has another viable option, that could give him some leverage in negotiations.
We’ll see. Spence is interested in the Garcia fight. He is waiting on name opponents in his own division; Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter are due to fight each other soon, while Keith Thurman has yet to return. Those fighters all share the same manager; boxing politics and the business of the sport stand to get in the way of Spence taking on Terence Crawford.
As for Easter, he lost for the first time and is now 21-1 with 14 KOs. The defeat came against one of the best in the sport. He’ll now need to rebuild against opponents who are more on his level.
Dillian Whyte Gets Big Win Over Joseph Parker, Remains in Heavyweight Contention
Just because everyone is wondering if and when Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua will fight doesn’t mean the rest of the heavyweight division has come to a standstill.
The other big men are still jockeying for position, rather than just sitting idly by and waiting for opportunity to come knocking. There are fights that can be made, contenders to take on, money to earn, and the process repeats itself until an even bigger fight comes calling.
Dillian Whyte put himself in good position for a bigger fight on Saturday in London, taking a unanimous decision over former titleholder Joseph Parker. Whyte scored two knockdowns, while Parker had Whyte down in the final round. The scores, with point deductions taken for those knockdowns, were 115-110 (eight rounds to four), 114-111 (seven rounds to five), and 113-112 (six rounds apiece).
Whyte is now 24-1 with 17 KOs. The lone defeat came in late 2015 against Joshua. He’s won eight straight since, this one being his biggest. Joshua has a fight with Alexander Povetkin coming in September and, if victorious, will likely try once again to make a deal with Wilder.
In the interim, Whyte could aim for the likes of Tyson Fury, Jarrell Miller, Tony Bellew, or even a rematch with Dereck Chisora, who scored a shocking stoppage of Carlos Takam on the same card this past weekend.
Parker is now 24-2 with 18 KOs. He lost his title to Joshua in a dreary unification bout this past March. He’s on the verge of being written off from the division if he loses again.