One of the great misconceptions in sports is that boxers aren’t deep thinkers. Mikey Garcia is the latest fighter to debunk that theory.
A onetime world champion at 126 and 130 pounds, Garcia has proven to be one of the most skillful boxers in the sport, able to box circles around opponents or knock them out with a single shot—as evidenced by the fact that he’s 35-0 with 29 knockouts.
But as gifted as he is with his fists, Mikey Garcia is equally as deft with his mind, as he proved when we recently went “12 Rounds” with him ahead of his January 28 showdown against 135-pound world champion Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0, 15 KOs) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
In addition to going in-depth on a variety of boxing-specific topics, the 29-year-old from Oxnard, California, shared his thoughts on a fighter’s lonely life away from the spotlight, his favorite hobby (hint: Garcia is a big fan of the Second Amendment) and the one subject he flat-out refuses to debate with anyone—including his family.
If you could spend 20 minutes picking the brain of any fighter in history—living or dead—who would it be, and what would you want to learn?
There are a few people, but the one fighter whom I would really like to spend some time with on a nice, deep level is Floyd Mayweather Jr. He’s done such a great job promoting and marketing himself in the sport, generating his own business model and promoting a stable of fighters.
I’ve seen the work he’s done, but it’s one thing to see it, it’s another to speak to the man. I’ve had some moments of conversation, but not at the level I’d truly like to have them. I would want to really get to know how he’s done it, pick some things up and use those techniques on my own.
Who’s the one fighter in history you wish you could’ve fought?
There are three of them who would generally test my fighting skills: Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather. Those three guys would bring out the best in me, challenging me physically and mentally.
What about a fight with Marquez would’ve been appealing to you?
With me being a Mexican-American, and him a Mexican, it would kind of be like Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez. I admire Marquez and appreciate his boxing legacy.
Marquez is a cerebral, technical fighter who is aggressive when he has to be. He is one helluva fighter who can box, punch and bang and is probably the best fighter out of Mexico that I can appreciate.
I would have really liked the opportunity to get into the ring with a man like him for those reasons. I don’t know how it would end.
How about Pacquiao?
Pacquiao’s always been that aggressive, come-forward-with-everything guy who has an all-out attack of power-punching, footwork and angles out of that southpaw stance. He’s got determination and heart, and he never quits or takes a backward step.
That would be a very physical, dangerous fight, but it would really challenge me to get to that next level.
That’s a fight that might not be as entertaining for the fans, but to me, it would be the biggest challenge, because he’s so smart and fast.
I think we would both be trying to figure things out in a low-action fight. If he made a mistake, I’d take advantage and vice-versa, so it would be a very cerebral chess game in that way.
“ [Boxing is] all fine and good when you’re a champion, but when you retire, a lot of times you’re forgotten and it’s back to being a nobody. So it can get very lonely at times. ” Mikey Garcia, former two-division world champion
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would …
… probably be an attorney. I love to argue, and I like to be right. I’m never wrong!
How old were you the first time you put on a pair of boxing gloves and stepped into the ring, and do you recall your emotions at that moment?
I was probably about 4 or 5 years old. I remember getting into the ring with Fernando Vargas’ little brother, Felix, who is maybe the same age or a year older than I am. It was for fun.
It was just a round at the most at a Boys & Girls Club in Oxnard, California. I remember getting in there, we don’t know anything, we’re throwing punches, he sticks his hand out and starts spinning around like he knows something.
So with respect to your introduction to boxing, was it love at first punch?
No, not at all. The first time I really started to enjoy it was my first exhibition when I was 13 years old. That’s when I was more competitive and it caught my attention the most.
Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in your division right now?
The recognition [usually] goes to Jorge Linares, but you could have Terry Flanagan or Dejan Zlaticanin in there.
Zlaticanin has the power and that aggressive style that can be very fan-friendly, and if it wasn’t for me fighting him next, he could probably dominate the division.
Linares has the experience and is the kind of fighter who can be either technical or aggressive. Flanagan is a strong fighter who is technical and a southpaw who carries good power. So it’s very close to pick [one] guy. They’re all worthy of being named the best. But I’m better than all of them.
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you wish you could compete in?
I would compete at 147, because there are some great fighters in that division, like Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman, Manny Pacquiao and other guys who would make great fights for me.
Describe what it feels like to land the perfect punch.
The left hook to the body against “Rocky” Martinez (in November 2013). I had hit him upstairs in the face several times with very solid shots, but they didn’t really hurt him that much. He would get hurt and recover very fast.
But when I landed that body shot (in the eighth round), he knew that was it and that it was over. The way he went down, his facial expression and the way he was breathing, I knew the fight was over and that I was champion once again.
Who has hit you the hardest in your career?
That would have to be [late champion] Edwin Valero about 10 years ago when I was first starting out. That man just hit hard, and in sparring, he wouldn’t take it lightly on anybody. He knocked out guys all day.
I would come in to spar with him, being 18 or 19 years old at the time, and I would have to be very careful and very technical with what I did, and be very defensive so I wouldn’t get hit.
Every time he hit you with any punch—whether it was a left hand or a right hook—you could block it or it could be on your shoulder, but it just didn’t matter because you always felt that power. That man had scary power.
Favorite punch to throw?
The jab. I love my jab. It’s everything. The jab dictates the distance, the pace and you can use it as a range finder or a defensive move.
I used it very effectively [leading to] the knockout of Juan Manuel Lopez (fourth-round TKO in June 2013). Even though Lopez was a southpaw, I was able to connect [with] my jab, measure him with the left hand and connect with my left hook before I landed the right hand. So that stands out as one of the best performances for my jab.
What is the one thing about the life of a pro boxer that the general public doesn’t know?
It’s lonely. You see all of the glory inside the ring, and when you’re out there after a win and people are congratulating you and all of that. But it’s a lot different when you’re training by yourself in camp.
That’s when you’re away from your kids, you don’t have all of the communication and attention. So it’s all fine and good when you’re a champion, but when you retire, a lot of times you’re forgotten and it’s back to being a nobody. So it can get very lonely at times.
What’s the one meal that’s the toughest to give up while training for a fight?
I’m very disciplined about my diet and honestly don’t have any real problems with that. But if there was anything that I would crave during training camp, it would probably be a burger—a Big Mac with no cheese.
Aside from your family, what is your most prized possession?
All of my guns. I love my guns. I probably have about eight pistols and two rifles. I buy guns that I really like for different reasons. All of my [pistols] are .45-caliber model number 1911. … I just got a new .45-caliber 1911 Les Baer Custom. That exact model that I have was the only one in the U.S. until the rest just went out [this month].
The gun that I value the most is a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver—a .38 special that my grandfather gave to me before he passed away. I haven’t shot it since he gave it to me.
What is your favorite actor and why?
Adam Sandler. He’s great and funny. I love his movies, with Happy Gilmore being my favorite.
Besides Happy Gilmore, what are your other favorite movies?
Saving Private Ryan is probably one of my favorite war movies. Pulp Fiction is a classic, along with Django Unchained. I love Quentin Tarantino. He’s genius.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to portray you?
It would have to be a Mexican or a Latino. I would think maybe Michael Pena, who is a great actor. Or maybe Esai Morales, who is another great one. He did Bad Boys with Sean Penn.
Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to learn that I …
This is going to be controversial, I know, but people would be surprised to learn that I’m not very religious. I don’t really follow religion—not that I’m atheist or anything like that, but I’m probably more into logical thinking and creating my own rationalization on the world than following religion.
My mom and dad are religious and have recently been picking up church a lot more. My sisters go to church. But I try not to get too involved in deep discussions, because I know that can create problems.
You’re never going to win a discussion with anybody regarding religion, because everybody has their faith. You’re not going to change their beliefs, and I’d rather not get into that with anyone. I keep my own thoughts and my own beliefs to myself.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
Nikola Tesla [the renowned inventor, engineer and physicist], Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Gen. George S. Patton.
If you could change one thing in the world, what is it?
Racism. People want to say that it doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s still there. You should not be judged or treated in any different way based on your race.
What’s on your bucket list?
There are a couple of things I would like to do. I would like to be at the peak of Mount Everest and have that experience and that view.
I want to take a road trip to Alaska, and take two or three different vehicles and spend some time up there, maybe a few months. Maybe have a safari adventure in Madagascar, that sort of thing. And I would like to spend some time in the Amazon jungle.
Those are adventures that I would really like to experience. I love those types of things.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: Former three-division world champion Leo Santa Cruz and current 126-pound world champion Carl Frampton.