Entering his second fight after a 2½-year layoff, Mikey Garcia promised that the best part of his career is yet to come. He sure got off to a great start to support that claim.
Garcia made quick work of defending 135-pound champion Dejan Zlaticanin with a third-round knockout Saturday night to earn a world title in his third weight division at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Zlaticanin (22-1, 15 KOs) was making the first defense of his title, but it was Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) who controlled the fight from the opening bell to the final punch, which knocked the champion out cold and ended the bout at the 2:21 mark of Round 3.
Garcia caught the Montenegro native with a right uppercut that sent him reeling, then he grazed the champ with a left hook before finishing him off with a crushing right cross that left Zlaticanin lying motionless on his back underneath the ropes and made an early case for Knockout of the Year.
“When he turned back at me with his guard down, I just threw that right hand with everything I had, caught him right on the chin and that was the punch that finally put him out,” said Garcia, who outlanded Zlaticanin 50-16 in total punches.
“I told everybody I would back, and now I’m back as a champion at 135 pounds.”
Garcia, 29, won world titles at both 126 and 130 pounds in 2013, but a prolonged legal battle kept him inactive for 30 months following his 130-pound title defense against Juan Carlos Burgos in January 2014.
With the victory, Garcia improved to 7-0 with six KOs against current or former world titleholders, following up on his fifth-round TKO of former 126-pound champion Elio Rojas in his return to the ring last July.
Garcia stopped Orlando Salido to win his 126-pound title and knocked out Roman Martinez to earn his 130-pound championship, but he said his win over Zlaticanin was probably the best knockout of his prestigious career.
“This was a much greater victory than Salido or Martinez,” Garcia said. “It’s been a dream of my dad’s [Eduardo Garcia] and my brother [and trainer Robert Garcia,] so I was more emotional than ever before.
“Before I walked out of the locker room, I told my guys that I was a little more excited for this one than ever before. I think it was because I was out for so long and because of what I went through. So this is definitely the best one.”
Garcia dictated the action from the get-go against Zlaticanin in Round 1 as he pumped his jab while working off his back foot effectively to nullify his southpaw opponent’s aggressiveness.
Garcia continued his dominance in the second round as he landed some solid left hooks to the body and successfully countered Zlaticanin, who had trouble finding openings against the Southern California native.
“I was dictating the pace, the distance and the range, and using my jab to measure Zlaticanin,” Garcia said. “I was being careful not to be caught with his overhand left, because that’s what he was looking for all night.
“I hurt him in that first round, but not enough to go after him. Later, I landed some good shots and he didn’t flinch, so I thought he was going to be more durable.”
Zlaticanin, 32, was defending his title for the first time since becoming the first boxer from Montenegro to win a world championship. The southpaw earned the vacant title last June with a third-round TKO of Franklin Mamani in Verona, New York.
But Garcia had little trouble defusing the fighter known as “Dynamite” with his dynamic boxing skills before ending the fight in astonishing fashion.
“Zlaticanin’s a strong, dangerous fighter for any opponent, and if you put him in against anybody else, you will see that,” Garcia said. “But tonight, I had advantages in experience, reach and my skills were very sharp. I fought the fight I needed to fight, and it worked out perfectly.”
For a complete look at Zlaticanin vs Garcia, visit our fight page.