Following long layoff, Garcia ‘hungry and motivated’ to face Rojas

Having last punched somebody in an actual match 2½ years ago, Mikey Garcia has developed a bit of an appetite for destruction. Actually, the former two-division champion is downright starving.

Mikey Garcia and Elio Rojas

Former world champions Mikey Garcia (left) and Elio Rojas will end ring absences of 2½ and two years, respectively, when they square off Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Andy Samuelson/Premier Boxing Champions)

On Saturday, Mikey Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs) will finally be fed when he takes on former 126-pound titleholder Elio Rojas (24-2, 14 KOs) in a 140-pound bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

The scheduled 10-round clash will represent Garcia’s first action since January 2014, when he defeated Juan Carlos Burgos by unanimous decision in the first defense of his 130-pound title. A subsequent contract dispute with his former promoter led to his hiatus and forced him to vacate his crown.

“I’m extremely hungry and motivated,” says Garcia, a 28-year-old from Southern California. “I hope my opponent is as hungry and focused. That will bring out my best. A fire’s been rekindled in me.”

At Friday's weigh-in, Garcia hit the scales at 138 pounds, while Rojas checked in at 139. Their bout is the co-main event to 126-pound champion Leo Santa Cruz’s defense against ex-122-pound champ Carl Frampton. It will be Garcia’s fourth fight in New York, the previous three being at Madison Square Garden, including the victory over Burgos.

While frustrated that the business of boxing put a temporary halt to his career, Garcia says his sabbatical was beneficial in one respect, as the married father of three was able to reconnect with his family.

“Before [the break], I was getting bored and tired of the same things over and over,” he says. “I missed out on holidays and special occasions due to boxing. The time away allowed me to do things and be involved in family in ways I wasn’t able to previously.”

Trained by older brother Robert Garcia, Mikey Garcia remained busy in the gym over the past two years. That includes serving as Marcos Maidana’s main sparring partner for the latter’s most recent fight, a unanimous decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a rematch in September 2014.

But there’s nothing like being in a real fight. And Garcia is confident Rojas will give him just that Saturday night.

“That’s why I respect Rojas. He comes to fight, and I want him to give me everything he has,” says Garcia, who has stopped 10 of his last 12 foes dating to August 2010. “It doesn’t help me if somebody’s coming to take a dive in one round.

“This is a very even fight on paper against someone who’s coming to win.”

Rojas is returning from a lengthy hiatus of his own, having last fought in August 2014 when he earned a lopsided unanimous decision over Robert Osiobe. The 26-year-old Dominican started his career 19-0, and his only two losses have come in his last seven fights: a narrow split decision to Gamaliel Diaz in July 2007 and a wide unanimous decision to Jhonny Gonzalez in April 2012 that cost Rojas his 126-pound title.

While his power doesn’t match up to Garcia’s, Rojas nevertheless likes his chances entering the biggest fight of his career. In short, he's looking to shock the world, if not himself.

“I’m taking this fight to show the world I’m an elite fighter and a different Elio Rojas from before,” says Rojas, who turns 34 in September. "The only way to show it is to beat the elite fighter, which is Garcia.

“The public never gave me the respect that I [believe I] deserve. That’s why I’m taking this fight with a top fighter. I’m coming ready on July 30, taking home the victory, and I’m going to gain the respect that I never got.”

Before even throwing a punch, Rojas already has Garcia’s respect. That said, the former 126- and 130-pound champ has his own agenda, which involves adding another title to his résumé as soon as possible. That means taking down Rojas by any means necessary.

“I had great sparring for Elio, so I’m ready to make adjustments for any Rojas who shows up,” says Garcia, whose primary sparring partner was Maidana’s younger brother, Fabian Maidana (10-0, 7 KOs). “If he wants to box, use his reach and [throw] straight punches from distance, I’ll get inside or counter from outside. If Rojas decides to come forward and bring the fight to me, I’m ready for that, too.

“I’m truly hungry again for an exciting fight.”

For complete coverage of Garcia vs Rojas, head over to our fight page.

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