How Mikey Garcia overhauled his training for the fight nobody thought he should take

Original Article: ESPN

By Steve Kim

Sunday, March 10, 2019

With a 39-0 career record, 30 knockouts, world championships in four weight classes and a happy family with three kids, Mikey Garcia could've played it safe.

He could've chosen his spots carefully over the next few years, maintaining an undefeated record by picking off the right opponents as he continued to build up his legacy and his bank account.

But that's not the way Garcia wanted to do it.

Rather than taking on another challenger who was closer in size, or a lesser fighter in a bigger division in order to get his legs underneath him as he climbed in weight, Garcia wanted to make the biggest splash he could think of by challenging Errol Spence Jr. -- a welterweight world champion with an undefeated record and dominant legacy of his own.

Garcia's family, his team and almost everyone around him told him not to take this fight, but Garcia persisted, and ultimately got his way. In an era when dream fights don't come together often, Garcia wanted to step forward and make a statement.

"It's funny because a lot of times with other careers, other fighters, they start off looking for legacy, looking for titles and at the end of the career, it changes," Garcia told ESPN ahead of Saturday's bout in Arlington, Texas. "It becomes more of a financial reason, it's a business. They look for the biggest, most lucrative fight, so they can make the biggest amount of money and take the biggest purse home, not necessarily for the titles.

"They don't really care about the titles -- they vacate that title at the moment to fight the guy that's going to make them the most money," Garcia continued. "But for me, it was kind of reversed. I did it early for the money and fine, I got a title -- it's not that important, it wasn't that special. Now, it's different. I've already had the money -- yes, there's a lot more that I can make -- but that's not why I'm doing it. I'm doing it to cement my name and add to my legacy and keep the Garcia name living for years to come."

Preparing for this fight presented a lengthy list of challenges. Garcia's most recent outing, at lightweight against Robert Easter back in July, took place at 135 pounds. This welterweight championship fight against Spence will happen at 147 pounds.

Spence, on the other hand, has the body and frame that will one day allow him to compete all the way up to middleweight (160 pounds). By contrast, Garcia won his first professional title at 126 pounds.

Making weight is only one piece to the puzzle. With weigh-ins taking place more than 24 hours prior to the first bell, the opponent stepping on the scales on a Friday afternoon looks much different than the guy staring across the ring at you on Saturday evening.

"I'm probably going to be fighting a guy who will be outweighing me by about 12, [maybe] 16 pounds," Garcia said, "so I've got to be able to hold my own and be able to hold that size."

With this daunting task ahead of him, Garcia made a decision that dramatically altered his typical, more traditional approach to a fight. The 31-year-old wanted to take advantage of every tool at his disposal, and the allure of innovative science was too much for Garcia to resist.

With so much on the line, Mikey Garcia placed his confidence and his fate in the hands of Victor Conte.

"My first reaction was 12 pounds of muscle mass is a huge advantage," said Conte, recalling his immediate reaction. "In talking to Robert [Garcia Sr., Mikey's brother], he expressed that his dad [Eduardo] and others' initial reaction was they didn't want him to do this. They didn't think it was a good idea, either."

Just as he had convinced his family, Mikey quickly got Conte on board.

Some might frown upon working with a name that might seem radioactive in the world of sports, recalling Conte's role with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative -- better known by the infamous acronym BALCO -- and the steroid issues attached to baseball, track and field and many other sports, but the fighting world sees Conte in a different light.

For his part, before getting involved in such a high-profile fight, Conte made it clear that there would have to be stringent drug testing. Over the past decade, Conte has been focused on supplements and cutting-edge technology, while encouraging the strictest of drug testing for anyone he works with.