Legacies are on the line Saturday night on PBC on FOX PPV when World Welterweight Champion Errol Spence Jr. and four-division titlist Mikey Garcia meet in a bout filled with historical implications.
“I’m looking for legacy.”
“Not many fighters get the opportunity to do what I’m doing,” Garcia added.
A quick dig through boxing’s historical archives proves him right. The number of featherweight champions who successfully moved up and became welterweight champions is two – Henry Armstrong and Manny Pacquiao, though two others get an honorable mention.
Make no mistake about it, the match between Spence and Garcia is historic. What Garcia is attempting here is straight out of a yellowed, 1920s Mickey Walker newspaper clipping.
For any lessons on history, Mikey need only look towards his father, Eduardo. The elder Garcia, affectionately called “Big G,” got his start in boxing in Mexico back in the 1950s, when Kid Azteca was headlining on channels doz, cuatro, y cinco. Some twenty years later, he started training fighters in the same gym as Azteca’s trainer, observing the teaching methods of the great “Cuyo” Hernandez as well as those of another excellent trainer, Lupe Sanchez.
Errol Spence Jr., who didn’t so much as flinch when accepting Mikey’s challenge, was also introduced to boxing by his father. Spence Sr. fondly recalls those sun-filled days of his youth in Hanover Parish, Jamaica and how he and his seven brothers would circle around a battery powered transistor radio whenever Muhammad Ali fought.
A photo of Ali hangs prominently on Errol Jr.’s bedroom wall. It’s his “Wall of Inspiration” and it includes other fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Thomas Hearns. The wall is his daily reminder of where he wants his career to go.
“To me, it’s all about my legacy,” said the 29-year-old Spence.
There’s an adage in boxing about a good big man beating a good little man. It doesn’t apply here because Mikey is more than a “good” little man. He has won world titles at 126, 130, 135 and 140lbs. In this day where opponents are vetted more carefully than White House appointees, Garcia wants nothing but challenges. To beat him, you need to be better than good.
Spence, who comes from Desoto, Texas, - a city named after an explorer - is ready to conquer everyone in his path to achieve his legacy. Like that Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto, who became the first European to venture west of the Mississippi River, Errol is prepared to enter unchartered waters. Mikey, who boxed his first amateur fight not far from De Soto Avenue, near the Canoga Park-Reseda border, is his first great opponent.
“ To me, it’s all about my legacy. ” IBF World Welterweight Champion - Errol Spence Jr.
On March 16th at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Garcia, 31, looks to accomplish something few former featherweight world champions have done – conquer the welterweight division. Aside from Armstrong and Pacquiao, only two others flirted with top honors in the higher division. One was Jimmy McLarnin in the 1920’s. McLarnin, who threw such short, quick punches that fans filed out the arena after his fights asking one another, “Was it a left or a right?” fought in an era where thrones weren’t shared. Rated as high as number three, he very likely would have grabbed a belt at featherweight had there existed back then the number of sanctioning bodies that we have today.
As it was, the two-time welterweight champion never got a chance to fight for a featherweight title. Aside from McLarnin, the other former feather who flirted with championships in both divisions was Robert Guerrero, who captured an interim belt leading up to his challenge of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The exploits of both Armstrong and Pacquiao are well known and both are considered by many who saw them to be among the best fighters ever. If Garcia beats Spence, he too may enjoy similar accolades. On the other hand, if Spence wins, it will be a major step towards establishing the legacy he covets.
If you read those aged newspaper clippings on Mickey Walker, you will see that the bigger man doesn’t always win. Walker, a welterweight-turned-middleweight, eventually kicked aside the scale and took on and defeated good heavyweights such as Johnny Risko and Paulino Uzcudon. Against the great heavyweight Max Schmeling, Mickey came up short.
Both Spence and Garcia are following in the faded footsteps of Schmeling. Before upsetting Joe Louis, Schmeling told reporters, “I zee somethings.”
Garcia, 39-0 (30 KOs) says he “sees” something too, that he’s wanted this fight since seeing that “something” when Spence fought Lamont Peterson. Garcia needs to be like McLarnin, and Armstrong, and Pacquiao. He needs to be like Walker against Risko, and even like Schmeling against Louis.
Spence, 24-0 (21 KOs), who says he “sees something” as well, needs to be like Schmeling as well, on the night Max beat Mickey Walker. Make no mistake about it, this is more than an important fight, it’s one for the record books, the kind that cements legacies. It’s the type of challenge few fighters accept.
For the few who do take the risks, their names live on forever – like Armstrong’s, like De Soto’s.
In honor of all the exploring and conquering that Hernando De Soto did, American cities, schools, streets, and even automobiles were named after him. Similarly, Armstrong, Walker, and those fighters who dared to be great, community centers and foundations were named after them.
For the winner of this fight, perhaps above the entrance to a recreation center, or maybe on a street sign somewhere west of the Mississippi, they too will see their name.
For a closer look at Spence vs Garcia, check out our fight night page.