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Mikey Garcia vacates 140-pound belt, intends to defend lightweight title

In a surprising about-face, Mikey Garcia has vacated his junior welterweight world title and plans to instead defend his lightweight belt.

On March 10 in San Antonio, Garcia won a unanimous decision against Sergey Lipinets to take a 140-pound world title. With the victory, Garcia also became a four-division titleholder and only the third fighter in boxing history -- along with legends Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez -- to win world titles at junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight. Garcia previously won a featherweight title.

Garcia also holds a 135-pound world title and after defeating Lipinets he had to make a decision about which belt he wanted to hang on to, because it is against sanctioning body rules to hold titles in two divisions at the same time.

The IBF, whose junior welterweight title he won from Lipinets, gave Garcia 10 days to make a decision. He notified the sanctioning organization in a letter in late March that he planned to keep the junior welterweight belt.

Keeping that title came with the stipulation that Garcia make his first defense against mandatory challenger Ivan Baranchyk (18-0, 11 KOs), 25, of Russia. The IBF immediately ordered that fight and asked for negotiations to be complete by April 22. If they weren't, the IBF would order a purse bid.

Garcia then had a change of heart.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman told ESPN that Garcia had notified him that he would defend his lightweight title next, which is why the WBC had not yet stripped him of the belt.

And then Garcia notified the IBF of his change of plans.

"The IBF received an email from Mikey Garcia on Sunday indicating that he was relinquishing the IBF junior welterweight title," IBF president Daryl Peoples told ESPN on Tuesday. "We were a little surprised as well."

Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs), 30, of Moreno Valley, California, won the lightweight belt in January 2017 when he scored a spectacular third-round knockout of Dejan Zlaticanin. But rather than defend the title, Garcia moved up to junior welterweight for the opportunity for a major fight with former titlist Adrien Broner, whom he easily outpointed in July.

Then Garcia took a second fight in a row at 140 pounds, against Lipinets. Now he is headed back to lightweight to make his first defense, though his specific plans are unclear.

The two biggest fights for Garcia in the division would be either a unification bout with Jorge Linares or a showdown with pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, a junior lightweight titlist moving up in weight. However, neither is available to face Garcia because Linares and Lomachenko are scheduled to fight each other on May 12 (ESPN) at Madison Square Garden in New York.

So that leaves the possibility of a unification fight with Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 KOs), 27, of Toledo, Ohio, who, like Garcia, is associated with adviser Al Haymon and Showtime. Easter has been calling for a fight with Garcia.

Baranchyk will get the opportunity to fight for the vacant junior welterweight belt.

"We'll go through the ratings to try to identify the leading available contenders and direct them to begin negotiations," Peoples said.

Garcia could not be reached for comment.