The first few pages of Mikey Garcia's senior high school yearbook feature two back-to-back spreads with conflicting messages (both inspired by the school's name -- Pacifica). The first is titled "Taking a dive into the abyss." The second: "Fear the abyss."
You could argue that the tension between the two -- the conflicting impulses to follow one or the other at various points -- defines Mikey's career (the years he spent away from the ring, not challenging anyone, including an undefeated man he'd been slated to meet, Yuriorkis Gamboa; the attempts at conquest he's made in his return, including his failed effort Saturday night against Spence) -- and perhaps any boxer's -- or person's.
We all sense the unknown just ahead. To enter it without any hesitation is more than unwise -- it's damn dangerous. Think of the men who fought with such abandon -- dudes already deceased, if inimitably electric while still alive -- Valero, Tapia.
And yet, the appeal of Mikey's recent bids for belts has indeed been their daring -- even as the later rounds against Spence seemed a result only of harmful heart, of obstinate, self-defeating endurance.
I literally -- and involuntarily, to the degree speech is ever voluntary in the first place -- yelled at Robert to shut it down 20 ringside rows back. To save his brother. Wrote it on Twitter. Felt helpless.
Urging the Oxnard team to tack to the first message -- to be fearful.
Not of immediate loss or bodily injury (though Mikey endured both) but of the darkness that sets in years later, insidiously and then suddenly, when the body, as if vengefully recalling past wounds, betrays a certain type of boxer.
That was the abyss Spence presented. Only a fool or neophyte would consider Mikey's uprightness at the final bell an accomplishment (a tip: don't take medical advice from the camp of Jake LaMotta).
It is 13 years now since Mikey posed for the above yearbook photo in his pre-knotted bowtie. Nobody stays 18 forever. And sure, we all amount to much more than what's outwardly visible. Which doesn't mean newer photos can't tell a story of where we dared to go and the consequences thereof.
You look at the kid, and your impulse is to protect him. Then the week rolls on, and by Friday or Saturday night, you've got that poisoned blood again -- that red heat, those itchy fingers, to see the primal and gab about it.
If you're lucky, you see a hero brave the abyss and reemerge with only a minor blemish. If not, there's always the following week.