I can't necessarily tell you why, but one of the most memorable lines from any move I've ever watched was the line about wasted talent from A Bronx Tale:
"The saddest thing in life is wasted talent."
Why that line has stuck with me all these years? I will never know. The only guess I have is my own fear of not pursuing those avenues about which I am passionate. You only have so much time to get things done. Truthfully, that couldn't be any more the case than in professional sports.
While life itself is relatively short and gives zero certainties, the lifespan of an athlete is even more brief. Typically, if an athlete takes very good care of themselves and spends thousands (if not millions) of dollars looking after their bodies, they might have something around 15 to 20 years as a professional.
That's not at the top, mind you. That's from the humble beginnings to the bitter end. In other words: You don't have time to waste when it comes to being a professional athlete.
When it comes to boxing and the idea of wasted talent, a few recent names come to mind. Perhaps Gary Russell, a highly-talented prizefighter that seems to come out of hibernation once every 18 months to fight someone only the most hardcore fans could identify. You might even think of Errol Spence, who, through unforeseen circumstances, has fought only once in the span of two years. To his credit, it was a solid win over Danny Garcia back in December of last year.
The name that springs to my mind, however, is that of Mikey Garcia.
The once-beaten, Oxnard, California native had the typical start to a promising career. Initially handled by Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions, Garcia was moved well and matched with beatable opponents, but men expected to help him progress. And they did.
Soon enough, he was challenging for the legitimate Featherweight championship of the world, defeating Orlando Salido for the vacant Ring Magazine championship as well as the aforementioned Salido's WBO title back in January of 2013. While the ending of the fight was somewhat contentious with Garcia winning via technical decision after suffering a badly broken nose due to an accidental headbutt, you could see the potential in the young Mexican-American.
And he was on to bigger and better things.
However, while he had some solid fights that definitely helped bring forth his skills and build his resume, he wasn't yet breaking out as a bona-fide superstar. Stoppage wins over the likes of Juan Manuel Lopez and Rocky Martinez in 2013, and a decision win over Juan Carlos Burgos the following year weren't the sort of fights that made Mikey a pay-per-view attraction.
What made matters worse was the ensuing contract dispute with promoter Bob Arum.
In April of 2014, Garcia grew frustrated with what he deemed lackluster purses for the previously-mentioned bouts, and opted to sue his promoter. While he initially seemed to suggest it was simply in an attempt to restructure the deal, it ultimately lead to both side reaching an undisclosed agreement and parting ways, with as much being confirmed in April of 2016 by Arum.
Many fans were happy with the news, as it meant there was a chance that the uber-talented Garcia was now free to make his ring return. And that he did in July of that same year, stopping Elio Rojas in a handful of frames.
However, while the fight was vintage Garcia, it was his attitude before and after the contest that struck people as different. Garcia wasn't just thinking as a fighter, but rather a calculated fighter looking to get the most bang for his buck. In other words, he wanted to be a free agent with the abilities to pick and choose the best fights for him.
To be fair, that didn't seem like such a bad idea initially. While he was working closely with Premier Boxing Champions, you did get the sense Mikey was willing to work with just about anyone if it was for the right fight. Moreover, the partnership with PBC seemed fruitful for Garcia and for fans as he moved up in weight and captured more gold in a new weight class with a three round stoppage of Dejan Zlaticanin in January of 2017.
He followed up that success with a move another five pounds north to Jr. Welterweight, where he dominated an Adrien Broner that hadn't quite yet been completely beaten into powder. I mean, he was still decent. Sort of. He then followed that up with a dominant win over Sergey Lipinets, winning gold at 140 pounds in the process.
So, all things considered, the moves had made sense for Garcia. From July of 2016, with his return win over Rojas, to July of 2018, with his unifying Lightweight win over previously-unbeaten titlist Robert Easter, Garcia had really impressed.
Not just with his results, but with his ability to say he did it on his terms and with his best interests at the heart of the decisions. I'm a fighter first type of fan, I like the see the fighters take control of their careers. And this was looking to be exactly what Garcia had done. The only real concern was if he wanted the big checks without having to take such big risks in the process.
Those concerns were laid to rest when he outwardly expressed a legitimate desire to face the oft-avoided Welterweight titlist Errol Spence in late 2018.
After what seemed to be fairly standard, insignificant negotiations, the fight between the brave Garcia and the excellent Spence was signed and set for March 16, 2019. While the result was what many expected, a relatively easy decision win for Spence, what followed in regards to Garcia was a bit more of a surprise.
While he was considered brave for taking on the tall order and was labeled a fighter chasing greatness prior to the bout, the fight itself seemed to tell a different story. Mikey looked like a fighter that showed up to collect a check and some pats on the back for even taking the fight in the first place. While that might not have been his actual mindset, his rather timid performance certainly gave many such an impression.
Ultimately, you can't call him scared. He called out the highest-rated fighter in a division he likely is too small to truly belong. Still, he seemed to be timid. He was careful.
At some point in that time between parting ways with Top Rank and the twelfth round of the Spence encounter, it appeared Garcia moved too far into the direction of businessman and was a little too far removed from a pure fighter. At least, that is the appearance.
And to be fair, nothing he was done since the Spence encounter has gone too far down the pathway of dispelling such a notion. While his return was once filled with meaningful fights for titles and stacked fairly closely together, he has fought only once since the Spence loss. While he looked solid in defeating former titlist Jessie Vargas, it's not great when that's your sole appearance in a ring in a total of 31 months.
Now, breaking the boxing fast, Garcia is scheduled for his much-anticipated return to action this Saturday. In Fresno, California, airing live on DAZN, Garcia will take on the little-heralded Sandor Martin in what can only be kindly described as a tune-up.
In fairness, one couldn't expect much more after such a long break from the action. However, you also hope this is merely a step back into the realm of making those meaningful fights and not a continuation of the sort of safety-first, low risk approach he seemed to adopt at some recent point in time.
The fact of the matter is Garcia has options. He's a talented fighter with a fan-friendly style and a name that can attract a decent audience. Matched well and he can pull his own weight in regards to helping sell a fight. What you hope against is a Garcia that's simply looking to cash out, looking for one or two more big showdowns that allow him to ride off into the sunset.
In my opinion, that's wasted talent. And it's a waste of time.
It's hard to gage where Mikey is at this moment in time. For a while there, Garcia and his team were interested in making a showdown with the now-retired Manny Pacquiao prior to the Filipino's loss to Yordenis Ugas. While a decent enough fight for sure -- and one that would have sold -- it's hard to know why Garcia cared for the fight. Was he in it to pick off what he perceived to be a sitting duck in Pacquiao? Did he really think it would still be a tremendous challenge, but a more winnable one at this stage?
Sure, timing and catching an aging legend at the right time is important in both of those situations, but the latter situation is much more promising in relation to Garcia's mindset than the former.
Perhaps, one could argue, this is where a dedicated promotional team would have worked better for Garcia than the process of going it alone out there in a very difficult boxing world. Maybe this is where independence fails you. However, fighters such as Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and even Canelo Alvarez now are showing that it can be done. The team can be small, but the fighter has to be willing to go out there and chase that dream.
Giving him a bit of a mulligan with Martin, you really hope the younger brother of head trainer Robert Garcia is looking to get back to the fights that mean more than just a decent check and that are more than just a way to stay busy.
Sandor has to be a tune-up and not the same old tune, or fans are simply not going to continue to tune in.
I hope you enjoyed the read and would appreciate any and all comments. Also, if you're interested, you can click here
and check out my prediction for Garcia-Martin as well as the co-featured bout to that main event between Jr. Flyweight titlist Elwin Soto and Jonathan Gonzalez.
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