By Lyle Fitzsimmons
The boxing crowd is a notoriously tough one to please.
Sit at a fight for a minute or two of less-than-Hagler/Hearns action and you’re likely to hear boos begin raining from the impatient rafters. Decide to give up on a fight with less than a flat-lining heart monitor and you’ll be branded a quitter or a coward by the mom’s basement keyboard set.
Or as Mikey Garcia has found since Saturday, fail to boil an already gaunt 128-pound frame down to the legal featherweight limit and have a career-defining win dismissed as both unpardonable and cheap.
For whatever reason, that’s the one that’s got me particularly irritated.
It’s not as if I don’t recognize and appreciate the sanctity of the sport’s weight classes. They’re there for a reason. They serve a valid purpose. And for 99.9 percent of the title fights in a given week, month or year, adherence to them is never a significant factor to fighters, writers or others.
But I also feel like I can recognize the difference between an honest effort and a mailed-in one.
And based on the images I saw of him at the Friday weigh-in in Dallas, Garcia looked like a guy who’d put in the gym work, ran the miles and watched the diet about as well as he could have while preparing to risk his WBO belt against Top Rank stablemate Juan Manuel Lopez.
Maybe he missed a couple days of training, as he told HBO’s Max Kellerman after the fight. Maybe he got to a point where he’d drained as much excess weight as a rangy 5-foot-6 guy could be expected to drain, and two more pounds seemed impossible. Or maybe he just didn’t want to.
Regardless, the guy I saw on the scale Friday and in the ring Saturday was not nearly as embarrassing or infuriating weight-wise as some others I can remember in the last few years. His taut body showed the visible evidence of sacrifice – and that was good enough for me.
So the meatiest part of the outrage is just silly.
And it makes me wonder what sort of draconian punishment would have been deemed appropriate to the crime. Should there have been 100 lashes with a diamond title belt and a suspension, or maybe he should have written "I'm sorry for being so fat" on the blackboard a few hundred times.
As for the fight itself, the criticism surrounding it is inane at best.
Had Lopez and Co. felt the idea of getting punched by a behemoth slanted the playing field so dramatically, they could have stood firm on principle, turned down the “six-figure” sum offered as compromise by Bob Arum and waited for the old man to get him another belt chance on another day.
Instead, they chose to make it a catchweight fight. And having picked that option, all concern expressed by anyone not on the team makes as much sense as railing about a bad decision when the beaten fighter (a la Austin Trout after his recent bout with Canelo Alvarez) doesn’t quibble about the scoring.
Here’s a tip, folks: Once the champion of your cause opts out, the cause is toast.
Of course, all of this pales when laid next to Saturday’s inalienable fact, which is that the 2013 version of Garcia was so superior to the 2013 version of Lopez that it wouldn’t have mattered who weighed what – chubby Mikey was going to sharp-shoot skinny JuanMa into lumpy-faced oblivion.
Any claimants to the contrary were clearly not conscious for the 10 minutes and 34 seconds of actual interaction in Texas. And while the critics’ unswerving defense of the worth of the WBO’s title is admirable, it seems odd when an honest indiscretion like Garcia’s prompts the same sort of railing as perpetually questionable rankings and as many as three belts per weight class.
If the nonsense that’s already plentiful 24/7 isn’t enough, they’ve got no business starting here.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC cruiserweight title – Moscow, Russia
Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (champion) vs. Rakhim Chakhkiev (No. 2 contender)
Wlodarczyk (47-2-1, 33 KO): Fifth title defense; Seventh fight outside Poland (4-1-1)
Chakhkiev (16-0, 12 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled beyond 10 rounds
Fitzbitz says: “The Pole is taking a risk by traveling to foe’s native land, but he’s still a level above anything the comparative novice has experienced thus far.” Wlodarczyk by decision
WBA welterweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Paul Malignaggi (champion) vs. Adrien Broner (unranked)
Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KO): Second title defense; Third fight in Brooklyn (2-0)
Broner (26-0, 22 KO): Sixth title fight (5-0); Never weighed-in at more than 140 pounds
Fitzbitz says: “The odds indicate a blowout for Broner in a welter debut, but it seems a more difficult challenge for the rising lightweight than the books indicate. Still, he wins.” Broner by decision
Vacant WBC super middleweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sakio Bika (No. 1 contender) vs. Marco Antonio Periban (No. 3 contender)
Bika (31-5-2, 21 KO): Fifth title fight (1-2-1); Held IBO title at 168 (2008, zero defenses)
Periban (20-0, 13 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight in United States (3-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Mexican suitor has a pristine record and a nice KO ratio, but none of the names compare to those Bika has beaten – let alone lost to. Looks like another title for the veteran.” Bika in 10
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 0-3
2013 picks record: 32-23 (58.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 495-175 (73.9 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.