One year ago, no one much cared who Orlando Salido would be fighting two or three fights down the line. At that point, he was weeks out from his stunning upset stoppage of Juan Manuel Lopez, a win he repeated on Saturday night to firmly establish himself as one of the world's best featherweights.
Nowadays, Salido's future is of interest to everyone in boxing, including the fighters who want a crack at his WBO featherweight title. So who will the rugged Mexican veteran take on next?
Garcia (28-0, 24 KO) has picked up some serious buzz over the last year or so, and though his win over Bernabe Concepcion on Saturday was nothing to get too impressed by since Concepcion has gotten quite bad in recent outings, he dominated as he was supposed to, and finished off his opponent.
At 24, Garcia is still very young and while the hype has picked up, the level of competition has not yet approached someone the level of Salido. He's beaten some OK fighters, but nothing above a gatekeeper, and that includes the clearly overhyped and oversold Matt Remillard on HBO last year.
I'm not usually one for "marinating" or taking it too slow, especially when someone is as talented as Garcia is. I think he's ready to be competitive with Salido. I think he can outbox Salido. I think there's a pretty good chance he can beat Salido. But he's got a smart manager (Cameron Dunkin), smart promoters (Top Rank), and a team, led by his trainer and brother Robert, that has yet to rush him into anything.
It might be wise to hold it off and get him a fight with someone in the tier between Salido and the guys he's been fighting. My feeling is he'll pass the test with flying colors, and then he'll be ready. Salido is the type of fighter who can break a talented but undercooked guy, and time is on Mikey's side. But if they do it, it's a hell of a good fight on paper and one I'd gladly welcome to the schedule.
Salido's promoter Fernando Beltran says that Rafael Marquez (40-7, 36 KO) is also in the mix right now. Marquez is turning 37 in two weeks and is figuring to return to the ring with a tune-up bout in May, according to Beltran at The RING, after which he could land a fight with Salido.
It would be a hell of a fight, I think. I know some see Rafael as shot, but I don't think he's quite there yet. He's still got a lot of fight and a lot of skill left, and I really think he's dangerous at 122 and 126 still. He's coming off of an October loss to Toshiaki Nishioka, but that's not a loss to hang your head over, and he was competitive in the fight, too.
It's just not a fight I could see being anything less than a top-notch action affair. Neither guy is afraid to mix it up, they're both in a position where, no matter how respected, they can't afford the loss, and they'd surely be fighting in Mexico in front of a great audience. I like the fight, but can see why some may not. It depends almost entirely on what you think Rafael has left.
This seems like it may be the front-runner right now. It would give Salido time to recover, and fight sometime this summer (August, maybe) against Marquez, while Garcia gets another fight or two in to get ready for the real step up.
Beltran also mentioned Donaire (28-1, 18 KO), who will return on July 14 in Texas against Cristian Mijares. Donaire is fighting at 122 pounds, but it's kind of a mystery how long he really plans to stay there. Beltran says they would take the Donaire fight "right away" if it were offered. It likely will not be offered any time soon. Chances are Donaire spends at least two more fights at 122 pounds unless there's an offer he can't refuse to go higher.