Saturday night's HBO Boxing After Dark card is filled to the brim with elite fights, but there may be no more thrilling bout than the WBO featherweight championship match between Mikey Garcia and Orlando Salido.
Both men come into Saturday's bout on an absolute warpath. Garcia (30-0-0, 26 KOs) hasn't had a fight go to the judges' scorecards in his last eight fights, while Salido hasn't tasted defeat since an absolute thriller against Yuriorkis Gamboa in 2010.
They may not be on the level of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in terms of notoriety, but it's hard to argue that there are hotter fighters than Garcia and Salido at the moment.
With two fighters separated by such a thin margin, it will be critical that they execute in key areas. For that reason, let's take a look at the biggest areas of emphasis for Salido and Garcia Saturday night.
Keys for a Salido Victory
Get Close to Garcia, Work the Body
It's no secret that Salido is one of the more aggressive fighters in the featherweight division. Though that sometimes leaves him prone to power punches, it's also that fight-first nature that has allowed him to develop into one of the weight class' best at striking body blows.
Salido will undoubtedly need to work his way inside on Saturday night. Garcia is a younger, leaner fighter who will try to keep Salido at a distance with jabs and huge power punches. Salido needs to get in close not only to avoid being peppered with quick-strike punches, but also to give himself a chance to win on the scorecards.
In all likelihood, Salido isn't going to be able to win this fight with a knockout. Garcia can go the distance against just about any fighter in the world, and Salido isn't a knockout-heavy boxer.
Where Salido will have to impress the judges is by continually using his ability to get inside to land good, quality punches. He doesn't need to go barreling in and leave himself open to huge countershots by the more powerful Garcia, but he'll be able to win rounds by proving his in-ring experience.
Land Counterpunches With Authority
Though Salido needs to be smart first and foremost, he cannot go through 12 rounds lollygagging and hitting unimpressive blows to the body. Garcia is too much of a one-punch knockout risk to make that a smart strategy.
For that reason, Salido needs to stay alert throughout the fight. Too often, Garcia disarms his opponents with almost a Floyd Mayweather-like nonchalance in the ring, only then to strike like a cobra on prey.
Keeping close to the body offensively and being alert defensively are undoubtedly what can keep Salido in this fight. He needs to be ready for those quick-jab strikes, duck under them and be ready to land a crushing blow to Garcia wherever the opportunity arises.
If Salido is able to do that and garner a few exclaimed reactions from the crowd, he may be able to come away with a few close rounds. It's Garcia's power that is ultimately his calling card, but the key to him winning may be simply landing a select few of his own.
Keys for a Garcia Victory
Score an Early Knockdown
Even if Salido hits all of his marks and lands all of his punches, the fight will almost certainly be close. Garcia is a young tactician in the ring, someone with the power of a 25-year-old but a man with the in-ring grace of a fighter a decade his senior.
Fighting at Salido's speed, Garcia would win a few rounds based on talent alone. One has a hard time believing that the fight will be consistently a close-bodied, low power-punch type fight, but Garcia has the ability to survive if he ever loses control.
One way to make sure he puts a vice grip on the fight: Score a knockdown within the first quarter of the fight. As previously mentioned, Salido is an extremely aggressive fighter, and he tries to work his opponent early with body shots. That means there should be an opportunity for Garcia to find a spot where Salido missteps and land a crushing blow.
It doesn't even have to be an overtly innovative tactic. By nature, Garcia is a smooth fighter who pummels the opposition when they make a mistake. This is no different, only he's going to need to land a blow early to change the pace of the fight in his favor.
Use the Jab Heavily, Keep Feet Moving
Salido also won't be able to control the fight if he's unable to work Garcia's body. It's a tried and true method in boxing that whenever you have a fighter who wants to get in close, you pepper him with jabs to keep him away.
This is boxing 101, but it's something that Garcia needs to keep in mind throughout Saturday night's fight. He's already a fighter who heavily features the jab, but it should exclusively become his first instinct against Salido.
That also means he's going to have to switch up his pace to keep Salido off-balance. Garcia won't be able to use the same simplistic combination to keep Salido away. He'll have to constantly be moving and mixing both right and left hands into his strategy.
Granted, mixing things up with the jab would be a change of pace. Garcia usually likes working a stiff left jab throughout the fight, only switching to his right when power punches or wide openings come his way.
This is too big of a stage and Salido is too skilled of a fighter for Garcia to get lazy. If he mixes up his punches well and scores a big knockdown, then Garcia should walk away with the WBO Featherweight title.
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