Enough foreplay. January's ESPN2 Friday Night Fights and Showtime ShoBox cards have been all well and good, but the first "down to business"-style boxing event of 2013 is upon us Saturday on HBO. As the main event was rescheduled from late 2012 after one of the combatants suffered a training injury, it christens the New Year quite by accident.
That main event, Orlando Salido-Mikey Garcia, might be overshadowed for pure action by one undercard fight, Roman Martinez-Juan Carlos Burgos, and another undercard bout has the most dynamic fighter in the show, Gennady Golovkin.
Salido-Garcia is the most well-rounded fight of the show, though: Garcia is a dynamic talent in his own way, while Salido guarantees action with his pressure; Garcia is an up-and-coming young fighter, Salido is a hard-nosed veteran; Salido is the world's #1 featherweight, Garcia inhabits the top 10; and it's got an appealing style match-up between a boxer-puncher and an intelligent brawler. And it's a pick 'em fight, as far as I'm concerned.
Garcia is the favorite to win. It strikes me as mildly odd. It's not that Garcia hasn't impressed in his appearances on HBO. It's just that Salido is a far more proven commodity. Garcia has climbed into the divisional top 10 primarily from beating a variety of fringe and ex-contenders. His best win might be over, who, Bernabe Concepcion? Salido beat Juan Manuel Lopez twice, who knocked out Concepcion in two rounds before Garcia ever got a hold of him.
Based on the skills he's displayed, the sense seems to be that Garcia is merely a better fighter, despite being so much less experienced. And the skills are indeed impressive. He's accurate to a fault, to the point that he doesn't throw as many punches as he ought to out of perfectionism. He has real power — 26 knockouts in 30 wins — and while he tends to lunge with hooks at times, he's basically a very sharp offensive fighter with a two-handed attack upstairs and downstairs, often set up by a stiff jab. Defensively, he controls range well with his legs and keeps his hands up high and tight, although punches can occasionally sneak in when he's attacking, or when someone tosses at his body.
Salido's game is all about throwing strong punches in volume, but there's craft to what he does. He is tricky with his money punch, an overhand right, and while he's far from fast or defensive-minded, he can slip punches better than one might think. He can take a hell of a punch, too, which comes in handy if you're not fast or defensive-minded. That's not to say he is invulnerable entirely, because he has hit the deck a few times in recent fights, including against Lopez, in a loss to Yuriorkis Gamboa and most worrisomely, against little known Weng Haya. Still, he's a sturdy customer, prone to getting right back up even when felled by a monster shot, or, if he's wobbled, gathering himself by backing out of the action for a brief spell. The injury he suffered to postpone the fight the Garcia first time was only a broken finger, so he ought not have any lingering effects, but he is getting older all the time — it's been a hard 32 years — and while he hasn't had a big layoff, last fighting in July, you wonder if the older he is on fight night, the worse off he is.
What I saw a glimpse of in Garcia's last fight is why I'm picking Salido to win. Jonathan Victor Barros didn't win many rounds, but he troubled Garcia when he pressured him. Garcia's tendency to want to wait for just the right moment to throw punches leads to slow starts in fights, but it also made it so that when Barros was up close, Garcia was a little flummoxed. Brawling in wild fashion doesn't come naturally to him, or so it looked to me, nor could he stifle Barros' aggression with precision countering. Eventually, Garcia's power did in Barros, but power doesn't so easily do in Salido; I think Lopez hits harder than Garcia, punch-for-punch, and Salido stood up to it. And Salido has said his plan is to get all up in Garcia's business, crowding him and not letting him think.
Garcia's best chance of winning, then, comes via his trainer-brother, Trainer of the Year Robert Garcia, having noticed the kinks in the Barros fight and come up with an answer for them when the same difficulties are posed by Salido. Alternately, or in addition, they need Salido's punch resistance to have faded further. I'm not banking on that. I see Salido winning early, Garcia turning it on in the middle and Salido outlasting him late for a decision victory where both men look very battered by fights' end.