When Miguel “Mikey” Garcia steps into the ring on Saturday night to fight for his first world title shot against Orlando Salido in the Theater at Madison Square Garden he won’t be alone. The reason is that not only will his corner consist of his father Eduardo and brother Robert but at ringside he’ll also have 43 fellow Garcia’s straight from Oxnard CA., cheering him on. For some it may be a metaphor but for Mikey Garcia he’ll quite literally have his family behind him.
For Mikey Garcia, Saturday night will be the culmination of the long hard journey that all boxers have to take. For some this journey that’s based on dedication and hard work is often a lonely one, spent in far off training camps away from loved ones. But Garcia has reached this point for two reasons. The first is that he’s one of the top fighters in the world at his weight class, but the second is that he’s had his family around him at all times - especially his brother Robert.
Back in 2001 Robert Garcia, then a top super-featherweight, was in the ring facing veteran John Trigg when he realized that he’d reached his limit. Every boxer reaches the end, but for Garcia he was a mere 26 years old. Despite being at the zenith of his powers, a world title under his belt and with only three defeats as a pro, Garcia knew that the sport of boxing had truly beaten him.
“Inside the ring it really hit me,” recalls Garcia. “Do I really want to do this? I did not even want to hit my opponent. I finished the fight, I stopped the guy but then in the locker room when my father, my team and everybody were celebrating I turned around and said that this was my last fight and that I’m never going to fight again.”
For Garcia the toll of lengthy camps and isolation proved to be a weight he couldn’t carry anymore. Married and with two children to care for boxing had given the opportunity and means to provide for them but gave so back little in return.
“I missed my kids - their first day of school, soccer practice - I missed a lot of things. We were sometimes fighting four times a year. That’s up to eight months you’re away from home.”
After retiring, Garcia stayed in the sport though. After all, how could he not? Boxing was all that he and his family had known. He’d had his first amateur fight at age five. He recalls his father taking him to see the great Roberto Duran train in Los Angeles. He was given a tour of all the legendary boxing venues on the west coast. He fondly remembers watching Mike Tyson fights with his father on closed circuit. Boxing was indeed was what all the Garcia’s had known.
“My dad always gave me good boxing advice. He never advised me to go to school or get a degree, it was all boxing. Boxing was the only thing my father knew and was what I was good at so he pushed me.”
When I picture his arm being raised and named the new world champion, I get emotional just thinking about it - my little brother becoming world champion. Just thinking about it gets my eyes watery.
- Robert Garcia, Boxing Trainer
Soon Garcia started helping to train fighters with his father Eduardo, whose notable pupils included Fernando Vargas. He started travelling to the bouts and started enjoying everything that he’d missed out on in his career. Soon his roster of fighters grew too.
Today Garcia is one of the most respected trainers in the sport. This year he’s favorite to be crowned Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year, the same award that’s been dominated by Manny Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach for many years. One of his fighters is many people’s favorite for the Fighter of the Year award Nonito Donaire. But for Garcia the real accolade will be in the late hours of Saturday night if his younger brother Mikey is triumphant.
“The only difference between training Mikey and any of my other fighters is that when I think about the fight, and when I picture his arm being raised and named the new world champion, I get emotional just thinking about it - my little brother becoming world champion. Just thinking about it gets my eyes watery.”
To ensure Mikey and any of his fighters had the best shot at success he wanted to ensure their happiness. For starters any fighter who trains under Robert could spend as much time with their families as they liked as long as they trained just as hard.
“My dad has the old school mentality to camp,” recalls Robert. “You’re not supposed to be around family you’re not supposed to be around friends. So my training camps were miserable. Right now, Mikey goes home after training to his wife and kid. Nonito Donaire’s wife is at the gym every day, the same with Antonio Margarito whose wife came around every day. So that’s something that I allow, because I know what it’s like not having it. Now my fighters are happy because they know they are going to go home to their wives and kids.”
As for Mikey Garcia he’s grateful for what his older brother has given him as a trainer.
“This camp I’ve got a taste of what it must have been like for Robert,” explains the younger Garcia. “For the last part of camp I did not see my wife and kids for three weeks except on the weekends. But Robert did for much longer periods so it must have been so much harder.”
For Mikey Garcia, boxing came much later in life than for his older brother. It was a chance visit at age 14 to a gym to see his cousin box in an amaetur show that finally got him hooked. Discovering that one of the kids at the gym did not have an opponent and egged on by Robert and his father, Mikey got in the ring with no training other than fighting his cousins in the backyard. He lost. But something made him come back.
“I remember thinking I could beat that kid.”
A year later Mikey Garcia beat the same kid in the amateurs and now more than a decade later faces another kid he thinks he can beat, but this time he’s the world champion and his name is Orlando Salido.
“I feel that I have the best corner in the world,” concludes Garcia. “Between my brother and my dad they have a lot of world champions so they really know what they’re doing. Boxing is what we all know most.”
On Saturday they will all find out if they know more than Orlando Salido.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.