By Jake Donovan
Mauricio Herrera stared down Danny Garcia during their pose following Friday’s weigh-in, and could be seen mouthing to the defending champion a simple message – “You ain’t s***!”
While the statement isn’t at all true, it could certainly the judging panel that sat ringside and came to the conclusion that Garcia did enough to retain his lineal 140 lb. championship.
Garcia’s first fight in Puerto Rico wasn’t one for the scrapbook, but his edge in landed power punches proved to be enough to remain king of the super lightweight division. Herrera strolled into Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez a determined challenger, but what he had to offer didn’t make a great enough impression on the judges.
The expectation heading into the fight was that Garcia – on the heels of a career-best win over Lucas Matthysse last September – would breeze through the modest-punching challenger in a fight intended more as a “homecoming” than a competitive championship contest.
Given how the rest of the card played out, it’s fortunate that the main event didn’t live up to the scouting report. It can be argued that Garcia expected it to go that way, as he came out aggressive and intent on being the first to stop the granite chinned 33-year old challenger.
Herrera has never been dropped through more than six years as a pro. The Californian displayed his granite chin and ability to absorb early on, his overall toughness enough to force the defending champion to rethink his approach. Garcia’s early abandonment of his jab made the night’s work much more difficult than it needed to be.
The judges didn’t quite see it that way. Garcia was up on two of the three scorecards through four rounds, as revealed by open scoring. It wasn’t enough for Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and head trainer who insisted his son change strategy heading into the fifth round.
However, it was Herrera who continued to work behind the jab while Garcia seemed to fight to please the crowd. The bout was his first in Puerto Rico, the original home to both of his parents before relocating to Philadelphia, where Garcia was born and raised.
Throughout the promotion, the fight was sold as a homecoming. But Garcia proved to be anything but the island’s favorite son. On a night when Juan Manuel Lopez resurrected his career with an off-the-canvas knockout, Garcia was scratching and clawing, trying to figure out a way to get past a challenger who – on paper – was viewed as out of his league, while at times contending with boos coming from a displeased audience.
Things turned around in the eighth, when Herrera suffered a cut under his eye. The most severe cut, however, was to his soul when open scoring through eight rounds revealed that - for all of the challenger’s hard work – he could fare no better than a draw with a clean sweep in the final four rounds.
Garcia was up 78-74 on two cards, while Herrera was (rightfully) ahead 77-75 on the third. The announcing of their cards perhaps spooked two of the judges, whose scoring over the final four rounds provided head scratching moments.
One round after drawing his opponent’s blood, Garcia was forced to contend with the sight and feel of his own. A stiff jab by Herrera busted the challenger’s nose, although managing to awake a sleeping giant. Garcia picked up the pace, returning back to his desire to turn the fight into a brawl. Herrera was all too willing, getting the better of the action even if at a power-punching disadvantage.
The double-digit rounds were make-or-break for both fighters. Garcia knew he was comfortably ahead, regardless of how close attention he claims to pay – or not pay – to the fight’s surroundings. Still, a clean sweep by the challenger is no way to end a championship fight, at least not for a defending champ. Garcia held his own in round ten and stepped up his game in the 11th round, which all but sealed the fate of the challenger.
That hardly deterred Herrera from trying to unseat the champion. The high-octane contender came on strong in round 12 to close the show, dismissing the fact that he was mathematically out of it on the judges’ scorecards.
His prideful effort down the stretch was unable to produce a draw on one scorecard, with one judge viewing the bout 114-114 even. The tally was overruled by matching scores of 116-112 in favor of Garcia, who makes the first successful defense of his lineal crown and fifth combined defense of his alphabet 140 lb. titles.
If his post-fight statements are to be taken into consideration and not viewed as reactionary, then Saturday’s bout will most likely be his last at the weight. Garcia’s record improves to 28-0 (16KO), but it’s impossible to say he’s improved in the process.
You can easily say that for Herrera, whose record falls to 20-4 (7KO). The night hardly comes down to a challenger adding a loss to his record, the latest unable to become the first to put an L on a defending champion’s ledger. Instead, Herrera’s stock goes way up, this as a fighter previously best known for being the first to hang a loss on the ledger of Ruslan Provodnikov.
The same couldn’t happen here, even if it can be argued that it should have been the case.
For Garcia, the performance was a far cry from his win over Matthysse six months ago or even his knockout over Erik Morales in their second fight. What the fight did represent was further proof of his ability to overcome adversity.
Garcia is generally viewed as a groomed fighter, protected by adviser Al Haymon and carefully maneuvered towards a title shot. Even if the latter part were true, the Philly native – who turns 26 on Thursday - has long ago proven his mettle.
He overcame a slow start to run through former champ Kendall Holt, putting himself into position to fight for a title. The aura of fighting for a title admittedly got to Garcia a bit in his first fight with Morales, winning a decision and the belt but not delivering an otherworldly performance.
Heads turned in his next fight, rallying from a deficit to drop Amir Khan three times en route to an upset 4th round knockout win in their July ’12 clash. Following a knockout over Morales in their rematch, Garcia managed to fend off a late rally from Zab Judah after dropping him earlier in their April ’13 bout to win a decision on the road in Brooklyn.
The opposite proved true in his showdown with Matthysse, scoring a surprise knockdown and enjoying a strong second half surge to win the fight and win over the fans and critics alike.
His performance on that night was enough to emerge as one of a small handful of fighters worthy of consideration as a future high profile opponent for Floyd Mayweather Jr. Garcia removed himself from the mix, insisting that there was still work to be done at 140 lb. until he outgrew the division.
The stiff challenge received on Saturday was enough to convince the unbeaten champ that perhaps it’s time to move onward and upward. Mayweather is slated to face Marcos Maidana on May 3, with only three more fights beyond that night remaining on his lucrative six-fight pact with Showtime.
Garcia looked good enough in his last fight to enter the sweepstakes. On Saturday night, winning would just have to be enough to make sure he remained in the hunt. Following 12 rounds of doing everything in power to attempt to make that happen, he received just enough help from two of the three judges to secure his place in line.
Judges weren’t needed for the most significant portions of the undercard.
Deontay Wilder remains a knockout every time out. The unbeaten heavyweight was believed to be facing his stiffest challenge to date, but instead ended like all the rest of his pro bouts to date as Malik Scott was drilled inside of a round in their co-feature.
A left hook was enough to get the job done, as Wilder wasn’t even permitted the chance to finish him off with a follow-up right hand. That moment – and the official stoppage – came at 1:36 of round one.
Wilder (31-0, 31KO) is now the official mandatory challenger to the winner of the upcoming vacant title fight between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola. Stiverne won their first fight, scoring a landslide decision last April but hasn’t fought since, while Arreola returned to knock out Seth Mitchell early in their heavyweight bout last September.
Juan Manuel Lopez was believed to be a done fighter, following a pair of stoppage losses to Orlando Salido and a four-round drilling at the hands of Mikey Garcia. The Puerto Rican southpaw picked the perfect time and setting to resurrect his career, scoring a repeat knockout win over Daniel Ponce de Leon.
The bout was a rematch to their June ’08 encounter, in which Lopez scored two knockdowns en route to a 1st round stoppage and his first major title. Both fighters were in need of a win here, but it was believed that Ponce de Leon was the far fresher of the two.
That appeared to be the case early, as Ponce de Leon started strong in round one and floored Lopez in the second. The local favorite rose from the canvas to score two knockdowns and force his familiar foe into a defensive shell in forcing the stoppage towards the end of round two.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox