With one month gone in 2013, undefeated WBO featherweight champion Mikey Garcia (31-0, 26 KOs) has already established himself as a front-runner for this year's breakout star in boxing.
On January 19, the 25-year-old captured his first world title by thoroughly dominating the very tough veteran Orlando Salido (39-12, 27 KOs), knocking him down four times en route to a unanimous, shutout technical decision.
Garcia entered the fight highly regarded, but I'm not sure very many people expected him to handle Salido with such ease. Despite Salido's double-digit loss total, in the past decade he has developed into one of the elite featherweights in the sport.
Going into the fight with Garcia, Salido's only loss in the past four years had been to Cuban phenom Yuri Gamboa by unanimous decision. Since then, he had handed Juan Manuel Lopez the first two losses of his career, both stoppages, to lock down the WBO strap and the No. 1 world ranking at 126 pounds.
I saw quite a few people's top 25 pound-for-pound lists in the last few months of 2012, and Salido was on many of them. I had him on mine.
Garcia made him look like a rough, unschooled amateur. The youngest son of one of boxing's premier families, Garcia put on a virtuoso clinic, using incredible lateral movement and dangerously accurate straight punches to batter Salido again and again as he tried to come forward and score big with his looping overhand right while moving into range to attack Garcia's body.
The ending of the bout will be viewed as controversial in some quarters, but it shouldn't be. Garcia's nose was badly broken on an illegal headbutt and his corner, knowing he was way ahead, let the decision go to the cards after eight.
The headbutt wasn't exactly a flagrant foul, but it sure looked to my eyes like it might have been what's called a "veteran" move by Salido, who realized he was way behind as the fight was entering its final third, and knew he needed to do something desperate to claw his way back into the fight.
But since he was still scrapping at the time of the technical decision, Salido's supporters will probably clamor for a rematch. If it happens, expect Garcia to win just as convincingly the second time around.
Salido is crafty, and he'll make adjustments, but Garcia outclassed him thoroughly. He'll be ready for whatever adjustments Salido makes.
Mikey Garcia won the first big fight of 2013 and captured a world title in the process. Expect him to be involved in some of the sport's biggest events in the coming years.