Mikey Garcia vacated one of his lightweight world titles on Tuesday, a signal that he is moving closer to going up two weight divisions for the fight he has said he has wanted for months -- a big-money showdown with welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr.
Garcia, who still holds the WBC 135-pound belt, vacated the IBF version rather than go forward with a purse bid for his mandatory defense against Richard Commey that was scheduled to take place at 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The Garcia and Commey camps had notified the IBF earlier this month that they made a deal for the fight, so the sanctioning body canceled a previous purse bid and gave both sides the usual two weeks to provide signed contracts. While Commey promoter Lou DiBella submitted one on Commey's behalf, Garcia never did. In the end, he is simply looking for a bigger fight and said he was not going to be pressured into fighting Commey based on the IBF deadline.
"Yes, I vacated," Garcia told ESPN on Tuesday afternoon. "I just didn't have enough time to negotiate the Commey fight in the time the IBF required so I needed to vacate. I have a lot of options but the fight with Spence is the fight I want."
Garcia declined to get into details on where his team stands in the talks with Spence, though if a deal is finalized it would be a pay-per-view fight likely in February or March. Garcia and Spence share adviser Al Haymon, meaning the fight doesn't figure to be too complicated to make.
"The IBF was pushing for the Commey fight ASAP but with the WBC I have more time to decide what I want to do," Garcia said. "But I'm looking for bigger fights. We have options and I just couldn't get excited for the Richard Commey fight and the timing [the IBF] required to get it done was not enough time to negotiate considering the other options I have."
It is the second IBF belt Garcia has vacated this year. In February, he moved up to junior welterweight and outpointed Sergey Lipinets to win its 140-pound title. Rather than make a mandatory defense against Ivan Baranchyk, Garcia vacated to return to lightweight, where he met Robert Easter Jr. in a title unification bout on July 28 in Los Angeles. Garcia knocked him down in the third round and won a lopsided decision to unify and win a world title in his fourth weight class.
Now Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) wants to go for a title in a fifth division against Spence (24-0, 21 KOs), 28, of DeSoto, Texas, a fellow pound-for-pound ranked fighter and widely considered the No. 1 welterweight in the world.
Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer, who works with Garcia, said Garcia has made it clear that the fight with Spence is what he wants -- and Spence has also said he is interested in facing Garcia.
"I met with Mikey and the fact is Mikey is not the kind of guy to say something for the heck of it," Schaefer said. "When he said he wanted to fight Spence and that it was the fight that motivated him and excited him, he was serious. He takes pride in winning these world titles, but if you are one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world you want these big events and big challenges. For Mikey to get motivated after already having achieved so much, he really wants to test himself. He wants to dare to be great and the fight with Spence is the fight he told me he wants to pursue and that's the fight we are pursuing.
"I will be sitting down with Mikey and Al and see if we can get it done. I know both fighters want it and hopefully it's the fight we will see. It will be a big, big event. You have two guys on top of their game, two guys in the top five pound-for-pound in the prime of their careers. It doesn't get much bigger than that."
Schaefer said the deal is far from being finalized but that he believes that Garcia's decision to vacate one of the lightweight belts is another indication of how serious he is about fighting Spence.
"The fight is being discussed but there are a lot of things that need to be addressed," he said. "There are ongoing conversations, but Mikey's statement in vacating the IBF belt is, 'Hey, I want that big challenge, I want Spence.' That's the statement. And so now it's a matter to see if in fact it can be done. But it's not like it's going to be announced next week.
"Mikey realizes if he goes and beats Errol Spence he will be the new pay-per-view star and he would be No. 1 pound-for-pound and for Spence to beat Garcia would be a tremendous start to establish himself as a pay-per-view fighter."
After Garcia, 30, of Moreno Valley, California, relinquished the belt, the IBF later on Tuesday ordered Commey (27-2, 24 KOs), 31, of Ghana, to fight Russian contender Isa Chaniev (13-1, 6 KOs), 25, for the vacant title, sending an email notifying Commey promoter Lou DiBella and Chaniev promoter World of Boxing that they should begin negotiations. If they are not completed by Nov. 30, a purse bid will be ordered.
The fight will be Commey's second shot at a world title. He lost a split decision to Easter, whom he knocked down, for a vacant belt in September 2016.
"It was not unexpected," DiBella said of Garcia's decision to vacate. "Now I will be working out a deal for Richard to fight Chaniev. Richard wants to fight the biggest and best fights at 135 pounds. We made a deal with Mikey but we knew there were other fights being discussed so we're not shocked. I think Richard beats Chaniev. I will look to make that deal and get him in the ring as soon as possible."