by Peter Silkov
One thing to be sure of in boxing is that the best laid plans will never turn out quite the way you want them to turn out and usually when you least expect it. Last night in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and the land of his parent’s birth, Danny Garcia (28-0, 16koes) defended his WBA and WBC world light-welterweight titles, in what was supposed to be a showcase performance for him, against heavy underdog Mauricio Herrera (20-4, 7koes). This was a night for Garcia to shine and stay busy, as he waits for bigger fights down the line.
Unfortunately, for the champion, the challenger had not read the script, turned in a performance that very nearly upset the Garcia applecart, and all of the plans they have been making for the future.
Garcia came into this contest with a run of impressive performances, culminating in last September’s victory over Lucas Martin Matthysse, which marked him out as one of boxing’s elite champions. Against Herrera, it looked as if the fire and focus was missing from the champion. Faced with an opponent, against whom he was a healthy favourite, for the first time since first winning the world title three years ago, Garcia suffered a slump in form; even fighting in front of his own Puerto Rican fans failed to reignite.
While Garcia certainly fought below his best, it would be unfair to ignore the performance of Herrera himself, who definitely had some hand in Garcia’s off night.
Herrera fought a clever and brave fight, utilizing the experience he has gathered over the past few years of facing tough opponents, often in their own backyards. Herrera is a boxer who has seldom been granted a favour and this night would be nothing new.
From the start of the fight, Herrera used his jab and movement, while Garcia looking sluggish, surprised by moving back, rather than being aggressive. Herrera was often able to get onto the inside and manhandle Garcia around, breaking up Garcia’s work and generally making the champion look uncomfortable. The boxer’s heads came together a number of times, as both wrestled on the inside, and Herrera’s head ducked below Garcia’s. Both boxers did not gel together well style-wise. As the fight developed, Garcia was having trouble letting his shots go and getting into any kind of rhythm, while Herrera fought energetically and busily, his jab a constant nuisance to the champion.
As the fight entered the middle rounds, we knew that Garcia was ahead on points, through the WBC’s awful ’open scoring’ policy, (why not just tell us the final result before the end of the fight guys?) But, it was a close 2-point lead on two cards and even on the other. Despite the lead, in the corner between rounds, Angel Garcia, Danny’s father/trainer was getting more heated and frustrated as the fight rolled on.
By the middle rounds, Garcia had himself going a little more, and was landing the harder punches of the two, but he was still fighting sporadically and looking as if he was waiting for a knockout opportunity. Herrera’s success was soon being written over Garcia’s face, as his nose was bloodied by the 6th round, and continued to bleed for the rest of the night.
The Puerto Rican fans seemed unsure of what to make of the fight early on, as this was not the dominating ‘coming home’ performance that had been expected from Garcia. There were even some boo’s early on, as the fight failed to turn into a crowd pleaser. However, by the later rounds, the crowd seemed to have come to terms with the fact that Garcia was struggling with his challenger, and got behind their newfound hero. While Garcia seemed buoyed by the support, it didn’t help him get out of the rut he had fought himself into. Perhaps he was trying too hard to impress, perhaps he simply didn’t expect such an organized and proficient performance from his challenger.
When the fight entered its last third, and we had experienced another dose of ’open scoring,’ it was clear that Herrera would need something special to turn around the two scorecards that still favoured Garcia. Many will say that Herrera did just that, as he continued to work hard, out maneuver, and outscore the champion over the last three rounds. In the last round, Herrera found Garcia with some good shots and at the bell ,while Herrera went to his corner with his arms raised and still comparatively fresh and unmarked, the champion returned to his corner in a subdued manner, his face bloodied and marked.
The final scores were 114-114, 116-112, and 116-112; a majority decision for Garcia. While this was not a robbery of Chavez Jr. vs. Vera 1 or Beltran vs. Burns proportions, in what was a genuinely close fight, Herrera by virtue of his higher and often more accurate work-rate, especially in the early and closing rounds, seemed to have done enough to earn the decision. Many of the rounds could have been open to interpretation, but overall Garcia could not get going properly and allowed Herrera to outfox and out hustle him. Garcia again showed a tendency to be troubled by an opponent with a good jab, just as he was in his match with Zab Judah.
This was a fight where the hungriest man seemed to be the challenger, and the champion seemed relieved to get home in one piece.
After this disappointing performance, you would think that Garcia’s chances of a mega fight with Floyd Mayweather in the near future would have taken a blow, but then again, in the often topsy-turvy world that is professional boxing, it may well have the opposite effect.
One positive to come of this fight for Garcia maybe the conviction that his days at 140 pounds have come to an end, and that it is finally time for him to move up to welterweight. Being tight at the weight would certainly explain Garcia’s lack of spark last night and his willingness to spend much of the contest on the back foot, when being more aggressive and moving forward seemed to be a better strategy against the challenger. Such a move to 147 pounds would not hurt Garcia’s chances of a Mayweather match either.
In all, Danny Garcia is not likely to forget his ’homecoming’ in a hurry. Next time he might want to make it a purely recreational visit.
As for Herrera, he comes out of this fight with a huge amount of credit, after being dismissed by some as being a class below Garcia and past his best. Herrera showed that he can compete at the top level and has more to offer if given the chance. Whether he will find it easy to get another title shot is another question. With his awkward, bustling style, it is unlikely that any of the other light-welterweight ’world champions’ will be too eager to put their belt on the line against him anytime soon.
The undercard to Garcia vs. Herrera featured two fights that were both explosive and controversial.
In what was being hailed as his ’breakout’ fight; Deontay Wilder (31-0, 31koes) took on his most dangerous opponent to date in Malik Scott (36-2-1, 13koes). What looked like an intriguing fight on paper was over in just 96 seconds of the 1st round. The action started quietly with both men sizing each other up, Wilder stalking, and Scott moving about the ring.
Scott seemed content to stay on the outside and reluctant to engage with Wilder, who tried to edge close to Scott and did a good job of cutting off the ring.
Scott then found himself momentarily cornered on the ropes; Wilder landed a left hook to the side of Scott’s head, then a straight right to the face, which seemed to have been blocked by Scott’s gloves. Scott was already going down from the left to the head. Collapsing into a heap in the ropes, as if he had been shot. Malik struggled to rise, as the referee toiled the count, but didn’t seem to be able to get his legs to work, much to the derision of many in the audience and on the net.
Questions have been raised about the genuineness of this result, but heavyweights are notorious for going down and out from seemingly innocuous punches. The punch to the side of the head that floored Scott was similar to Tony Thompson’s first knockout win over the previously unbeaten David Price last year. Price got up, but had totally lost his legs. Last night, Scott couldn’t get up it seemed, due to the incapacitating quality of Wilder’s shot to the temple. Punches to the temple are known to rob fighters of their balance and control of their legs, even though they may seem to be perfectly clear-eyed. This is especially true when heavyweights are involved, where one accurate shot, with all of 230+ pounds behind it, is often all that is needed.
Looking over both men’s careers, up to this point, the result should perhaps not be so surprising. Wilder has made a career of knocking his opponents out in often brutal, leg twitching, fashion. While most of his opposition has been limited at best, the impressive thing about Wilder’s victories has been how he has demolished all those put before him, often with single punches. Malik Scott was fancied by some to have the technical skills to take Wilder past the middle rounds of a fight for the first time in his career, to test the ‘Bronze Bombers’ own stamina and endurance. But he was always going to need the durability to handle some of Wilder’s power on the way to those later rounds. The clue that durability was not in Scott’s arsenal can perhaps be found in the selective way he has been matched for much of his professional career, and his performance last year against England’s Dereck Chisora. After out-boxing Chisora for the best part of 6 rounds, Scott collapsed after taking a rather innocuous looking shot behind the ear, and then was counted out (though the fast counting referee didn’t do him any favours that night.)
The evidence points to the fact that Scott does not respond well to being hit cleanly about the head, by a heavyweight of decent power.
We still don’t know whether Wilder is really for ‘real‘. How will he react when he is finally tagged on the chin? Or is taken into the later rounds for the first time?
Until Wilder takes on a fighter with proven durability at the highest level, we will not know whether ‘The Bronze Bomber’ really is the heavyweight that American fans have been longing for since Evander Holyfield got old, and Iron Mike Tyson grew rusty.
The old adage that the last thing a fighter loses is his punch was proved correct again in the night’s rematch clash between Juan Manuel Lopez (34-3, 31koes) and Daniel Ponce De Leon (45-6, 35koes) for the vacant WBO International Super-featherweight championship. This was a rematch of the pair’s first meeting back in 2008, when a then young and fresh Lopez had deprived De Leon of his WBO World super-bantamweight championship, with a 1st round stoppage. In the years since, both men have taken part in more than their share of give and take wars, but it was generally thought going into this match up that De Leon, despite being three years the senior at 33 years of age, was the better preserved of the two warriors.
While De Leon has become more ring wise and cagey over the years, Lopez has simply become ring worn and battle scarred. After defeating De Leon in 2008, Lopez engaged in the best part of a dozen world title fights, most of them wars. His two stoppage defeats to iron man Orlando Salido in 2011 and 2012 seemed to indicate an erosion of ability in Lopez. This erosion seemed to be dramatically confirmed last June, when Lopez was stopped in the 4th round, of a one sided match, by Mikey Garcia, in their WBO world featherweight championship fight. Lopez’s performance that night seemed to confirm that he was a shot fighter, who would be better off saying good-bye to the ring, rather than stepping into it again. But Lopez is still only 30 years of age; an age where any man, let alone a fighter, can find it hard to accept he is no longer the man he once was.
In the 1st round, Lopez was very cagey, while De Leon went after him aggressively, trying to land one of his bombs, the two men swapping southpaw jabs, with Lopez looking to counter De Leon’s aggressive attacks. Both men connected with some good punches towards the end of a lively opening. The 2nd round started in the same manner with De Leon marauding forwards and putting everything into the punches he was throwing. Lopez was mainly on the retreat and countering. Then a big left-hook floored Lopez momentarily. Lopez bounced up straight away though, blinking, but steady on his legs. De Leon rushed in, now looking for the finish, and both men swung at each other wildly, but it was Lopez who connected, with a short right hand to the wide-open De Leon’s chin. De Leon crashed down flat onto his back and when he got up was wobbly legged. As Lopez came in to the attack the still wobbly De Leon tried to grab hold of him, and instead fell onto his knees on the canvas. Getting up again, he was given the 8 count, and waved on to continue. At this point, De Leon’s legs seemed stronger than they had when he’d got up from the first knockdown.
Lopez came in firing punches, drove De Leon into the ropes, where he crouched over, and covered his face with his gloves, as Lopez swung with both hands. The referee then decided to step in and stop the contest, much to De Leon’s disgust. De Leon seemed to know what he was doing and was blocking most of the shots coming at him. It would have made more sense had the referee stopped the fight after the first knockdown, when De Leon really seemed out on his feet, but at the time of the stoppage, he seemed to have partially recovered, and to be trying to ride the storm. In a fight like this, with two vulnerable big punchers, one punch either way could turn things around. De Leon was deprived of his chance to try and turn things back into his favour. While safety is always paramount, this is world-class boxing and in a fight where both men have just tasted the canvas in the same round, the referee jumped the gun a little too soon, and pulled the plug on what was developing into a classic multiple knockdown shootout.
Victory certainly saved Lopez’s career, while De Leon was left to ponder his second stoppage defeat in a row.
After his win, Lopez said he would like another match with the iron-chinned Orlando Salido. It was a challenge that says much about Lopez’s fighting heart, and lack of concern for his own personal safety. While a third meeting between Salido and Lopez is likely to be another almost darkly entertaining brawl, it will also very probably end upon the same disastrous note for Lopez, as their previous two fights.