NEW YORK -- Undefeated Mikey Garcia, out of action for 2½ years because of a contract dispute with former promoter Top Rank, is finally returning to the ring.
The former featherweight and junior lightweight world titleholder, who settled the contract battle in April, will face former featherweight titleholder Elio Rojas on July 30 (Showtime) in a 10-round bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The fight will be the co-feature on the card headlined by featherweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz's defense against former unified junior featherweight titleholder Carl Frampton.
Garcia and Rojas will meet at approximately 138 pounds. The weight has not been contractually hashed out, but Garcia eventually plans to move down with the hopes of challenging for a world title in the 135-pound lightweight division.
"The best of my career is what's next," Garcia said during a small media session with reporters on Saturday night at Barclays Center before the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter welterweight title fight. "I think you'll remember me most for what I achieve from here forward than for what I've done. The best challenges are next.
"All I have wanted is a date and a fight and to get back to boxing. I didn't want to be waiting, guessing and thinking about when I might fight. Now I have a date, I have a fight and I am very happy."
Garcia, 28, was flanked by Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark and promoter Lou DiBella as they made the announcement.
"(Adviser) Al [Haymon], Stephen and Lou worked out this fight for me almost as ... a trial type of work," Garcia said, adding that he has no deals with anyone beyond the July 30 bout. "Stephen and I have talked in the past. He really wants me to be part of the Showtime network, and Al has a lot of fighters that I would love to fight, and I won't have access to those fighters if I don't do business with them.
"I need to make up for lost time. I need to get back. This (protracted legal battle) took too much time. The court system isn't something you just walk into and handle it. It takes time."
Garcia, considered one of boxing's best pound-for-pound fighters before the layoff, said he has been wooed by multiple promoters, including Mayweather Promotions.
"Floyd [Mayweather] has been trying to push to maybe get something going," Garcia said. "We have been talking on how we can arrange something. Floyd proposed maybe a short-term opportunity to work with him. Al also proposed his idea of what he thinks he can do for me. And having Stephen as a network, great things are about to happen. I just want to make sure whatever I do is best for me, for my career."
Garcia has not fought since retaining his 130-pound world title by unanimous decision against Juan Carlos Burgos on Jan. 25, 2014, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York on HBO.
Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs), of Riverside, California, eventually vacated the title in October 2014 in the midst of his layoff while battling with Top Rank. Garcia was unhappy with the high six-figure purses being offered to him, what he said was Top Rank's lack of disclosure of revenue for his fights and promotional contract extensions that would trigger if he fought under an agreement he believed had expired. Garcia sued Top Rank in 2014 to end their relationship, finally settling earlier this year. Garcia won a featherweight title by dominant eighth-round technical decision against Orlando Salido in January 2013 but never defended the belt. He failed to make weight for his first defense against former titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez six months later. He knocked Lopez out in the fourth round, and the title remained vacant.
Garcia, younger brother of top trainer Robert Garcia, who is his manager, then moved up to junior lightweight and won a world title in his first fight in the division, knocking out Roman "Rocky" Martinez in the eighth round in November 2013. Then he beat Burgos.
Garcia said he was a bit frustrated waiting for the legal process to play out with Top Rank, but he trained regularly at his brother's gym and stayed in shape.
"A year ago, we made a few attempts to settle this. If [Top Rank] believed I owed them anything money-wise, give me a number. They said no, that's not available, that's not for sale," Garcia said. "So that kind of frustrated me. It motivated me to go full on and go through litigation.
"As a fighter, you're supposed to stay in the gym. This is what I do. I don't do anything else. I don't do any other sport. I box. I like to be in the gym with the guys. I've been in shape the whole time. I've been training, sparring. I helped just about every single guy Robert has in the gym. We had guys come from other gyms looking for sparring with me because they wanted to get in shape. I didn't mind it. I said let's do it. It helps me stay in shape."
Garcia said he would like to fight three times this year and eventually move up to junior welterweight "and make a run there." Robert Garcia said he thought that ultimately the layoff would be good for his brother.
"I think the two years off was good for him. He focused on other things," he said. "Now he wants to pick up a title at 135, 140 and maybe 147. Things were too easy for him before. Now he has challenges in front of him. I think he had fought for the past two years maybe because he would be bored and not want to fight anymore."
Mikey Garcia said his issues with Top Rank were over its lack of transparency. He said he could have continued to fight for the company, but he did not think it would have ever let him go. He said he could not get a straight answer as to when it thought his contract was up.
So he said he declined fights because "it's hard when they don't give you an exact number of fights they believe you owe them. I believed my contract was up. I still stand by that. They believed there was an extension that applied. I didn't see how that extension could apply, especially when they never gave me their own interpretation. Every clause, every contract they had with me would never end the way they have it written down. They wanted me to get a title fight so they could extend for another three years, and then before that's up, they get you another and it never ends."
From the time he turned pro in 2006 until the Burgos fight, Garcia fought for Top Rank and he said he appreciated what Bob Arum's company did for him.
"I have always said they did a very good job building me up," Garcia said. "They picked the right dates, the right times, the right fighters as opponents for me. There's a few things I was not happy with -- some of the disclosures, some of the revenues, stuff they should be sharing with me and I never got to see certain things and I questioned it. And when they promise you a purse and then they come back with a $100,000 or $150,000 less, it just doesn't look right."
Rojas (24-2, 14 KOs), 33, of the Dominican Republic, had his own contract battle with promoter Don King. It's the main reason he has had just one fight since 2012.
He won a featherweight title by decision against Takahiro Ao in an upset in 2009 in Tokyo and made one defense, a decision win over former titlist Guty Espadas Jr. in 2010 in Mexico.
Rojas was eventually stripped for inactivity, and when he got another chance at his old belt in 2012, he lost a decision to Jhonny Gonzalez. He signed with DiBella and returned from a 28-month layoff in August 2014, winning an eight-round decision against Robert Osiobe, but Rojas has not fought since. DiBella said this layoff is because of King's assertion that he still has a contract with Rojas.