Earlier this week, Orlando Salido and Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia crossed paths at a Manhattan boxing gym between promotional appearances at their media workouts.
The fighters are preparing to face each other Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT) in the main event of a world title tripleheader at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. But when they saw each other, there were no dirty looks and wasn't any pushing. There was nothing but respect between Salido, the veteran featherweight titleholder, and rising contender Garcia.
"I just told him that we should go out there and put on a good show -- a show that people will talk about for ages," Garcia said of his brief words with his opponent. "He agreed."
Indeed, many expect their clash to produce fireworks in the main event of a card that also features two other potentially explosive fights: hard-punching middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin (24-0, 21 KOs), 30, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist from Kazakhstan, defending his belt against Gabriel Rosado (21-5, 13 KOs), 26, of Philadelphia in the co-feature; and junior lightweight titlist Roman "Rocky" Martinez (26-1-1, 16 KOs), 29, of Puerto Rico facing mandatory challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (30-1, 20 KOs), 24, of Mexico in the opener of the broadcast.
Salido and Garcia both enter the fight believing they have something to prove.
Salido (39-11-2, 27 KOs), a pressure fighter who will be making his third title defense, is a bit of a late bloomer at 32 and is trying to continue the tremendous run he has been on the past two years. He wants to demonstrate that he scored two resounding upset knockouts of Juan Manuel Lopez in 2011 and 2012 because he is that good, not just because he had Lopez's number.
"I think that the JuanMa fights were big for me, but this is more important," Salido, of Mexico, said through Top Rank publicist and translator Ricardo Jimenez. "My legacy is growing, and this is the kind of fight and win that will make it grow bigger. Beating JuanMa led me to this fight in New York and I have to take advantage of the opportunity. It's a big card, it's New York, it's HBO."
Garcia (30-0, 26 KOs), 25, of Oxnard, Calif., turned pro in 2006 and has been highly touted for years. He is looking to win the world title many have predicted he would claim.
"Becoming world champion would show the world that I'm someone to really pay attention to," said Garcia, who is trained by his older brother, former junior lightweight titleholder and 2012 trainer of the year Robert Garcia, and their father, Eduardo. "I fought other good opponents, but this will really put me on top. Everybody expects a tough fight for me and I expect it also, but winning will also launch me to the very top of the division.
"It has been a very intense training camp because we know that this is the most important fight of my career. I believe I have the skills and the strength to beat Orlando Salido, but I know that I have to be very smart and very patient in the ring. Orlando Salido is the best featherweight champion in the world and he has earned the right to be called that. He is very strong and very experienced and this will be the toughest test of my career, but I am ready for it."
Said Robert Garcia: "This is the hardest test for Mikey, but it's time already. The experience Mikey has with decent opponents and the experience me and my dad bring, I think it should be more than enough to handle somebody like Salido. But the fight won't be easy."
The bout was supposed to take place Nov. 10 in Las Vegas, but it was postponed because Salido broke a finger when it was accidentally slammed in a car door. The finger is fine now and Salido is ready to roll.
"I think my experience makes me a better fighter and better prepared," Salido said. "Garcia is a young fighter and we'll find out if he's ready for this kind of opponent."
Having fought on cards together, the fighters know each other well. On the undercard of Salido's 10th-round knockout of Lopez in the rematch, Garcia scored one of his biggest wins, a seventh-round knockout of former title challenger Bernabe Concepcion.
"I've been following him," Salido said. "I know what he likes to do. I respect him a lot. He's done very well in his young career."
"I've seen Salido a lot in the past," said Garcia, who isn't fooled by his opponent's pedestrian record. "Those losses don't mean a whole lot. Mexican fighters like him started very young. He really didn't have the amateur background like we have in the States. Those losses came early in his career. He is probably the best champion in the division. He's proven. He upsets guys."
Salido's record needs to be examined closely to understand it. Yes, he has 11 defeats, but he took several while he was still a teenager. Eight came in 2001 or earlier, including his 1996 pro debut. But since the end of 2001, Salido has lost just three times, all decisions in featherweight world title fights: to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004, to Cristobal Cruz in 2008 (a highly debatable split decision) and to Yuriorkis Gamboa (whom Salido knocked down) in 2010.
"I know that a lot of people look at my 11 losses and think I got lucky to become champion," Salido said. "But I know how hard I worked. I'm an elite fighter now and I want to remain an elite fighter, and this is the kind of fight that can keep me as an elite fighter."
Still, Salido admitted that he was discouraged with boxing after losing six of his first 15 fights.
"I thought maybe I shouldn't be doing this," he said. "But I took time off, went to work [in construction], and then I was offered another fight for good money. I realized if I prepare for fights and work harder, I could do something."
A few years later, he was thrown in with Marquez (who was coming off his first battle with Manny Pacquiao) on the Bernard Hopkins-Oscar De La Hoya undercard. Salido lost a lopsided decision, but he realized that he could compete with an elite fighter.
After the Gamboa fight, Salido went to Puerto Rico and scored the major upset of Lopez in a memorable battle to win the title and then returned to defend the belt in the rematch, another hellacious fight.
In between, Salido made one defense and earned a nontitle win, but neither came easy. Given all of his tough fights and the heavy expectations for Garcia, Salido again is the underdog.
He and his team are used to it.
"We're not getting any credit at all," said Sean Gibbons, Salido's manager, citing the promotional muscle of Top Rank on Garcia's behalf. "Orlando has fought the best over the last 10 years, and all they're talking about is what's next for Mikey. That's fine, but they are very mistaken. All the plans are for Mikey.
"Let them make their plans. We'll ruin them. I'm telling you, Orlando Salido is in even better shape for this fight than he was for the JuanMa fights."
Gibbons believes Salido has the style to deal with Garcia's precision punching and technical skills.
"He's a one-dimensional fighter," Gibbons said of Garcia. "He's a good fighter, a great technician, but so is Orlando. People think Orlando is just a face-first brawler. But you gotta be a technician to handle fights with Gamboa and Marquez.
"Salido is a complete fighter, and Mikey Garcia has never been in a real fight. He's been in some boxing matches. But all the dudes he fought, it was like him hitting the pads. If Salido takes his best shots, Mikey is in deep s---."