Mikey Garcia ended a 2½-year ring hiatus in July when he earned a fifth-round stoppage victory over former champion Elio Rojas, but not before first having to stalk the elusive Dominican native for a couple of rounds. As he gears up for his next bout, though, Garcia is pretty certain he won’t need his running shoes.
A former two-division champion, Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) expects a firefight to erupt from the opening bell Saturday when he battles 135-pound world champion Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0, 15 KOs) of Montenegro at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
While Rojas is a lanky, slick-boxing veteran who fights behind his jab and uses defense to set up his offense, Zlaticanin is a come-forward, 5-foot-4 bull—one who will be looking for his third straight knockout (and sixth in his last nine fights) as he makes the first defense of his title.
“I expect him to come in and try to knock my head off. He’s a power puncher, and that’s what he does,” says Garcia, a former 126- and 130-pound champion who knocked down Rojas four times in their July 30 fight in Brooklyn, New York. “If he wants to pressure me, I’ll be ready for that.
“I’m picking up right where I left off. It’s my second fight back, and I get to fight against an undefeated world champion. But [facing an opponent] the quality of Zlaticanin means a lot more to me than picking up a world title. I know how dangerous this guy is. He has power, but I also have power. Anything could happen.”
Zlaticanin burst into prominence in June 2014, when his blistering left cross dropped former 135-pound world champion (and current 140-pound titleholder) Ricky Burns within the first 30 seconds of a split-decision win in front of a pro-Burns crowd in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 32-year-old southpaw followed the Burns victory with a unanimous decision over Alex Boone in October 2014 and a fourth-round knockout of then-undefeated Ivan Redkach in June 2014.
That led to Zlaticanin’s first world championship bout on June 11 against Franklin Mamani. In a battle for a vacant title, Zlaticanin dropped and stopped Mamani in the third round to become the first native of Montenegro to win a boxing world title.
“ I expect [Zlaticanin] to come in and try to knock my head off. He’s a power puncher, and that’s what he does. ” Mike Garcia, former two-division world champion
Zlaticanin says one of the keys to his success has been his in-ring adaptability, a trait he intends to employ against Garcia.
“I change my style for every fighter,” he says. “If Garcia tries to go toe-to-toe or stay in the center of the ring, I will knock him out. If he tries to jab and move, then I will have to find my way to his head and break him down.”
Likewise, Garcia says he and sibling trainer Robert Garcia prepared for every scenario during training camp in Riverside, California. That includes working with a variety of sparring partners, such as 130-pounder Erick De Leon (14-0, 8 KOs), 140-pounder Ashkat Ualikhanov (1-1, 1 KO) and 147-pounder Jose Correa (13-2, 3 KOs).
“Ashkat is physically very strong, and he’s doing the power-punching and pressure,” Robert Garcia says. “Correa is very similar, less powerful and comes forward with a lot of punches. Erick comes in the last few rounds for his speed. He’s very fast.
“Even though we might not need it for the last four rounds, it’s giving us the confidence that Mikey’s ready for whatever Dejan brings.”
Mikey Garcia last faced a southpaw in June 2013, when the 29-year-old from Oxnard, California, lost his 126-pound title on the scales but went out and scored a fourth-round stoppage of former champion Juan Manuel Lopez.
“Zlaticanin’s naturally bigger, stronger and might be able to give and take a punch better than Lopez, since we were at 126. But I’m on another level than the guys he’s faced,” says Garcia, who at 5-foot-7 will have a three-inch height advantage over Zlaticanin (to go along with a three-inch reach edge).
“I'm going to be able to box, apply pressure, stand toe-to-toe and do whatever it takes to win. I won’t have a problem with his southpaw style. I know that I have what it takes to beat him.”
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