LOS ANGELES -- The most preternaturally gifted figure in boxing -- perhaps any sport for that matter -- is a 73-year-old former field worker with a regal bearing and full head of silver hair. His name is Eduardo Garcia. Not only has he trained world champions, he's sired two of them.
Robert Garcia, who held a super featherweight title and is himself a world-renowned trainer, was born in 1975 after his pregnant mother crossed the Mexican border for the express purpose of ensuring him an American life. Almost 13 years later, Mikey Garcia was born in Oxnard, California, the last of Eduardo and Virginia's seven children.
"I'm the youngest by 11 years," Mikey said. "I'm the accident."
He's also the prodigy, the great hope of America's great boxing family. Five years have now passed since Mikey knocked down Orlando Salido four times en route to the WBO featherweight title. He's since collected titles at 130, 135 and 140 pounds. On Saturday, he'll fight Robert Easter in Los Angeles for custody of the IBF and WBC lightweight belts. Easter is a game, undefeated and impossibly long-armed champion. It's a real good fight, but it won't endow Mikey with the signature contest that he still lacks.
"It's still not there," he said. "That one marquee name, still not quite there."
"I fight for my name. For my dad's last name to be recognized in the history books of boxing. My dad started it. My brother continued it. I have to leave my own special chapter." Mikey Garcia
At 30, Garcia aspires for pound-for-pound glory and pay-per-view fortune. He could be -- perhaps should be -- what Oscar De La Hoya was once: the sport's transcendent Mexican-American. It's a big role, but Garcia has both the requisite skill (power and precision, ferocity and footwork, nothing wasted) and the resonant story (the patriarch Eduardo, former strawberry picker, comes out of retirement to make history training Mikey). Still, he's got a way to go. By the time De La Hoya was 30, he'd fought a dozen pay-per-views, including Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez, Ike Quartey, Shane Mosley and one of Eduardo Garcia's protégés from Oxnard's La Colonia gym, Fernando Vargas.
It was a different time, of course. While the business of boxing remains a cynical one, the logistics were simpler then. The promotional interests and their corresponding networks weren't as segregated as they are now. No one epitomizes this present conundrum more than Mikey Garcia, who lost two and a half years of his prime and about $1 million of his own money in a lawsuit with his former promoter, Top Rank.
It's worth declaring here that I've worked both sides of boxing's conflicted aisle. I met Mikey while doing a piece for Showtime a couple of years ago. We walked through a park in Oxnard, past a mural of Mexican-American heroes, his older brother and father included.
"I fight for my name," he said. "For my dad's last name to be recognized in the history books of boxing. My dad started it. My brother continued it. I have to leave my own special chapter."
Two years hence, we're having lunch in the JW Marriott at L.A., just hours before the ESPYS. Mikey is eating a bowl of soup, resplendent in a black suit but otherwise oblivious to the pre-show preening all around us. It's one of the many things I like about him. He has no need to advertise himself. That said, I wonder if his goal remains as it was in the summer of '16.
He assures me it has. Then what to do about his legacy problem?
"Errol Spence," he said. "I really want that fight because everyone says it's too much, too risky. That's exactly why I want to do it. That's a guy who could put me on top as far as best fighter in the world."
Spence, 28, is the IBF welterweight champion, 24-0, 21 knockouts. He's abundantly talented and physically huge, having made his pro debut at 154 pounds. It's a fight that can be made, as both Spence and Garcia are advised by Al Haymon and televised by Showtime. And, yes, if Mikey wins, he's the best fighter in the world, no question.
But if he loses -- a more distinct possibility given the weight disparity alone -- what would it mean? Garcia would assume the risk that any fighter does stepping into the ring. No small thing. But the risk to his reputation? With all due respect, I tell him, I don't see it. In the event of a loss, he's still playing with house money.
"Then I come down to lightweight or super lightweight," he said.
There are a finite number of ways for Mikey to inscribe the House of Garcia in the eternal book of boxing, and we agree on that much. Outside of Spence, there's Vasiliy Lomachenko at 135, Terence Crawford (not as big as Spence, and to whom Mikey lost the amateurs) and the guy everyone wants now more than ever, Manny Pacquiao. In other words, Garcia would almost certainly have to do business with Top Rank and Bob Arum.
"Pound for pound, I have Terence Crawford No. 1," Mikey said. "It's just a more difficult fight to make."
Dollar for dollar, however, he knows the fight is Lomachenko. "He's a champion at 135. I'm about to unify the title at 135. But different promoters, different networks ... He brings the most -- more than Crawford, more than Spence -- less risk, more money."
So what's the problem? I remind him that Jorge Linares, promoted by Golden Boy, pushed hard to make his fight with Lomachenko.
"I wouldn't let Bob dictate all the terms after leaving his company," he said. "Linares gave up all his leverage in negotiation. ... He had to go to New York, fight on an ESPN show, under a Top Rank banner."
It didn't exactly spell doom for Linares' career. He fought on national television in Madison Square Garden. In fact, even after losing, Linares is bigger than he ever was. And he deserves it. He bet on himself, not a promoter.
Still, I can't help but wonder, if Linares could knock down Lomachenko, what would Mikey do?
"I'm not saying I could only fight on Showtime, but I wouldn't want Top Rank to be in charge of those decisions," Mikey said. "I'm not an 'opponent.' I don't believe I should be treated as an opponent." He pauses for a moment. "Would Lomachenko come to me?"
I hope to know before they're both old. In the meantime, that leaves us with Pacquiao, who is, in fact, old, but still highly profitable.
Coming off his first knockout in almost a decade, Pacquiao is a guaranteed pay-per-view. Problem is, Pacquiao's MP Promotions, which barely managed to pull off the Lucas Matthysse fight two weeks ago, needed Arum's people and ESPN for American distribution. Once again, you're talking Top Rank. Then there's the matter of Pacquiao's substantial IRS debt.
"Would you fight in Malaysia?" I ask.
"Would he fight in Mexico?"
Mikey pauses again, wondering, perhaps, how this all sounds.
"I don't have a problem traveling," he says. "We can meet in Dubai."
Dubai? Now, there's a thought. Mikey's come a long way from Oxnard. I wonder if Eduardo Garcia could have envisioned something this wonderful, quantifying his American dream as a percentage of pay-per-view receipts, a graph that charts dollars and buys against risk and reward. I ask Mikey who his father wants to fight.
"He'd rather fight Lomachenko."