Throughout the history of boxing, top-class pugilists have decided to step up by one or two weight divisions to take on a boxer who they perceive to have some weaknesses, but more often than not, those who take the leap often come into the fight as the underdog.
As boxing is a pure sport, contests are kept fair by the use of weight divisions as heavier fighters, for the most part, can generate more power than those who weigh less or are smaller in frame. Errol Spence Jr is very big for a welterweight, while Mikey Garcia, who has successfully dabbled in super-lightweight, is a standard-sized lightweight. Even though they will be of similar weight at the weigh-in, Spence Jr will be far more accustomed to the mass than Garcia and has a frame that’s proven to be effective in dealing immense power at that weight.
Pound-for-pound, many would place the 39-0-0 Mikey Garcia above the 24-0-0 Errol Spence Jr, with both being contenders for a top-15 seating on the list, but stepping up by two divisions appears to be enough to sway experts against Garcia.
Garcia’s style suits the step up
There have been some famous instances of boxers stepping up to a weight that has been perceived as going too far, with the decisive difference between success and brutal failure often being the style of the boxer who steps up.
In 1987, Sugar Ray Leonard was looking to step back into the limelight following multiple stints of inactivity due to injury. The infamous lightweight boxer decided to go for middleweight champion Marvin Hagler to the dismay of many. Through the use of slick upper-body movement, clinical and speedy combinations, and dazzling footwork, Leonard came out as the split-decision winner.
On the flipside, in 2016, Amir Khan opted to step up from welterweight to take on the middleweight world champion, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. After a series of unanimous decision victories, the Brit believed that his offensive speed would be enough to topple the increasingly powerful Mexican. For the first five rounds, Khan went on the back foot, unable to deploy his hand speed to great effect and often leaving himself open up close when trying to do so. Alvarez kept prodding away, Khan seemingly unable to block or evade shots, until 33 seconds left in the sixth, the Mexican whipped a right overhand to immediately finish off Khan.
If Mikey Garcia is to learn anything from those who have tried to embark on this uphill battle, it’s to utilize speed in defense, be cautious about shot selection, and keep moving. Against Sergey Lipinets in 2018, his last fight at super-lightweight, Garcia did exactly this, staying mobile, using feints and decisive shot selection to get the better of his foe, all while on the back foot and keeping his guard high. Garcia has enough power for his counter punches to floor any boxer.
Bookies aren’t convinced of Garcia’s fundamentals
Mikey Garcia is one of the most technically proficient boxers in the world and is certainly one of the smartest in the ring. His boxing IQ is off the charts, so when he says that he took this fight because he’s seen a weakness in Errol Spence Jr that he can exploit, we should believe him. On paper, however, it’s still a two-division step up that the experts see as being too much.
The bookies have Spence Jr at -555 to win the fight, with Garcia at +350 and a draw at +2500. The lightweight champion stepping up has certainly put him at longer odds to win the bout, but regardless of this, he boasts the technical skill to come out on top. Spence Jr will be the bigger boxer on the night, boasting three-and-a-half extra inches in height, four inches in reach, and certainly a few pounds in weight in the ring. However, Garcia has already proven himself to be skilled enough to vanquish bigger foes, winning by unanimous decision against Robert Easter Jr, who boasts five inches in height and eight inches in reach on Garcia, but was sent to the mat in the third round.
Pound-for-pound, these are two quite closely matched boxers, and if Garcia can nullify Spence Jr’s power and accuracy with quick movement and counter punching, he could come out on top. For now, though, the bookies only see it going the way of the bigger boxer.