It is not clear when “The Mikey Project” began, but certainly it took off in full sometime in the first few rounds of his breakout win over Orlando Salido a little over a year ago. What is The Mikey Project? It’s Top Rank’s plan to make Mikey Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs) the heir apparent to Manny Pacquiao, a pay-per-view caliber star and a fighter you can’t miss watching. Now, this project is now in its most pivotal phase: calendar year 2014.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum has an aging superstar on one end of his stable and several young former Olympians and high-end prospects on the other. In the middle is Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia, the most viable option to become Top Rank’s next main attraction.
For the better part of six years, Pacquiao has controlled Top Rank’s pay-per-view market. Now, the Filipino superstar is coming off an unanimous decision victory over Brandon Rios, an important comeback win over his devastating knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez. Still, Manny’s reign is nearing its end and there is no young heir apparent waiting in the wings — or is there?
Superstars are hard to come by, and while Top Rank has an excellent group of former amateurs with gold medals and other credentials, they are simply not ready to assume such a role. Timothy Bradley is still undefeated and has earned some credit with his brawl against Ruslan Provodnikov and win over Marquez, but the casual fans have not gripped onto him. Elsewhere, Nonito Donaire suffered a setback, and the man who beat him, Guillermo Rigondeaux, has had even more difficulty becoming an appealing attraction than Bradley.
In order for Top Rank to continue to compete in the PPV market against Golden Boy Promotions, they need someone to crossover from being an elite fighter and become a superstar, exactly what Pac-Man did almost six years ago — to the Golden Boy himself via an eighth-round KO.
Garcia has now defended his belt at 130 pounds this year and has made it clear that he plans to fight at 135 next. If all goes as planned, his stay there will also be quick. Then, it would be 140 pounds sometime by the end of the year, or perhaps the beginning of next. With a victory at 140, it would be the last step to set up the blockbuster for early to mid 2015 — Pacquiao vs. Garcia. There is sure to be an alphabet title or two up for grabs, but the only one that would matter would be for the PPV future of Top Rank.
The promotion would have all the necessary storylines to sell. Mikey’s revenge for the beatdown Manny laid on his teammate Brandon Rios, and another Freddie Roach vs. Robert Garcia pairing. Then there is the Roach and Alex Ariza feud, which would once again rear its ugly head.
But most importantly, it’s the young undefeated champion versus the legend, a potential changing of the guard. It’s either a passing of the torch match a la Pacquiao vs. De La Hoya, or a legend’s last stand against an up-and-coming star.
In the fight game, it is not difficult for a fighter to blow up his record fighting unknowns, but it is not the way to create a superstar. A superstar needs to be tested. He needs to be put into battles, perhaps even wars, with the ability to come out on top and shine on the big stage.
Garcia needs to be challenged this year; he needs to be put in against top level competition, and he needs to fulfill his talent by taking each one of them out in order to successfully position himself as the next PPV attraction. If all goes well in 2014, he can arrive to 2015 with a loyal fanbase, a developed brand and most importantly, what it takes mentally and physically to be crowned king.