FRISCO, Texas -- After what Mikey Garcia called "a horrible performance" in his first fight in the welterweight division last March, he knew he had to answer an important question in his encore: He had won world titles in four smaller divisions, but was he a viable contender at 147 pounds?
Garcia answered in the affirmative, knocking down former two-division world titlist Jessie Vargas and winning a unanimous decision Saturday night in front of a crowd of 11,019 at The Ford Center at The Star, the training facility of the Dallas Cowboys.
Garcia won 116-111, 116-111 and 114-113 to potentially set himself up for a much bigger fight as he intends to remain at welterweight. ESPN scored the fight 117-110 for Garcia, who dropped the taller and longer Vargas in the fifth round.
"I feel very happy to be back and excited to be here," Garcia said. "I had to make adjustments to his reach and natural size [advantage]. As the fight went on I started to hurt him, closing the gap, finding my rhythm, and timing. In the end it worked out very well."
Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs), 32, of Moreno Valley, California, has won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight but wants to claim a title at welterweight to make it five divisions. He went from lightweight up to welterweight for an audacious challenge of world titlist Errol Spence Jr. last March 16 in a pay-per-view headliner at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Cowboys, in Arlington, Texas, but Spence cruised to a shutout decision.
Vargas, however, is no Spence, who is one of the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but he is a longtime contender and has won world titles at welterweight and junior welterweight. Garcia, however, handled him without too many issues.
Vargas took control in the opening two rounds thanks to a strong, stiff jab he powered down the middle to the head and body against Garcia, who often is a slow starter. But Garcia began to get going in the third round, landing to the body and coming over the top with a right hand that landed and forced Vargas back.
The fight broke into a brawl in the fourth round as they traded toe to toe with Vargas getting the better of the action, including landing a left hook and a right that nailed Garcia and backed him into the ropes.
"I got a little confident. In the fourth I thought I hurt Mikey," Vargas said. "I lightened up, but Mikey fought a great fight. I give him credit and don't take anything from it. It was a learning experience for me, entertaining fight for the fans in Frisco."
Garcia broke through in the fifth round when he landed right hand after right hand, and finally another one that knocked Vargas down in the corner. Vargas beat the count and had a smile on his face, but his body language made it clear he was hurt. His face was swelling, and he took many more shots over the final 30 seconds of the one-sided round.
"I carried the weight a little better [than against Spence]," Garcia said. "I felt better. I had my feet when I had to. He's a big man. I could feel the size difference, but my talent overcame that. I started to hurt him as the rounds went by. I landed a right hand where he went down. I hurt him again and got my rhythm, speed and power. It was perfect and did it against a bigger guy."
Vargas (29-3-2, 11 KOs), 30, of Las Vegas, looked to be fading in the sixth round as Garcia continued to rattle off jab-right hand combinations that regularly found their mark. Garcia put more punishment on him in the seventh round, hammering him with right hands. He had Vargas pinned on the ropes and was teeing off as the round came to a close as referee Jon Schorle was looking closely.
The pace slowed in the last quarter of the fight, but Garcia controlled the action as he continued find a home for his right hand. Vargas, in the meantime, seemed resigned to go the distance and lose a decision. He had very little left in the final rounds and rarely landed anything of note despite raising his hands in faux victory when the bell rang to start the 12th round, during which he showed no urgency.
Garcia, however, continued to sink hard body shots into his flank and gut, and wobbled him with a right hand with 30 seconds left in the fight.
According to CompuBox, Garcia landed 151 of 478 punches (32%), and Vargas landed 142 of 671 (21%).
"I'd like a rematch," Vargas said. "I think it was close. The knockdown made a difference. I was overconfident [that he didn't have] power. He has a good pop. I didn't follow guidelines [from my corner] exactly, but that's on me. I'm a little down because I didn't get the victory.
"No complaints. We will talk to my team. We will see what's next, but I would like to a rematch. I think he's a good fighter. He performed well today. I underestimated his power. He could match up with the top welterweights. I fought my heart out. Felt like it was closer than the judges scored it."
Vargas almost certainly will not get a return bout as attention will turn to Garcia in a much bigger fight at welterweight, possibly with world titlist and resident boxing legend Manny Pacquiao. There has been talk that it could take place in Saudi Arabia this summer.
To make the fight with Vargas, Garcia left the confines of Premier Boxing Champions to sign with Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn on a one-fight deal, although Hearn, according to sources, has the right to match any offer on his next fight. But Hearn has mentioned his desire to match Garcia with Pacquiao, who is not signed to a promoter. It's a fight Garcia wants.
"I think I'm ready to get back in with the best," Garcia said. "I want Pacquiao or a rematch with Spence. I'm better at this weight class. This is a great option to continue at 147."