by David P. Greisman
The mismatch is neither new nor uncommon. Records have to be built so fighters seem impressive enough to draw interest. Prospects need to be built so that they can learn small but important lessons in each early fight, developing until they become contenders.
The “sports entertainment” world of professional wrestling has its squash matches. Joe Louis had his “Bum of the Month Club.” And nearly every boxing card has one color corner, blue or red, assigned to the fighter expected to win. The other corner across the ring is reserved for the man who is there to lose.
Losing is generally not the opponent’s goal, barring those foes who know that their role is to put up a variable amount of resistance in defeat. Yet these opponents tend to be selected to further a cause. Some are there to be blown out. Some are there to make the name fighter work. And some are expected to put up a good battle before falling short, thanks to a combination of their limitations and the name fighter just being that much better.
Saturday night’s card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, featured nine bouts, all of which ended with the boxer from the blue corner announced as the winner. Four of the winners were prospects early in their careers: Marcus Browne pummeled Paul Vasquez for 28 seconds, D’Mitrius Ballard stopped Barry Trotter in two minutes and 35 seconds, and Zachary Ochoa and Prichard Colon scored six-round unanimous decisions over Luis Cervantes and Lenwood Dozier, respectively.
Sadam Ali, a welterweight prospect later in his development than those four, had a hard-fought split decision victory over Jeremy Bryan. Anthony Peterson, a former title challenger looking to get a second shot, needed less than a round to put overweight Edgar Riovalle down for the count. And once the main Showtime broadcast began, it was clear which boxers were there to win. The main remaining questions were “How impressively?” and “How soon?”
Danny Jacobs scored a fifth-round technical knockout over Jarrod Fletcher to win a vacant middleweight world title, one of three bestowed in the division by that sanctioning body. Lamont Peterson went to Edgar Santana’s body for the better part of 10 rounds before the bout came to an end. And in the main event, Danny Garcia hurt Rod Salka badly in the first round and knocked him out brutally in the second.
The mismatch is neither new nor uncommon. Golden Boy Promotions is not the only promoter to stage a card full of them. Showtime is not the only network to put on a broadcast featuring them. Yet this event drew ire from the moment it was announced, with the most indignation directed at the headlining bout.
The end of Garcia-Salka was no different than that of many other mismatches. Yet the condemnation from us upset critics came down even harder than Salka’s trip to the canvas.
Here’s where we need to take a brief break to remind ourselves that there’s not just one type of boxing fan. While there are many of us who want the best of each division to face each other regularly, there are also those who are content just to watch a night of fights and who are OK with the ultimately inevitable ending when gladiators are sacrificed to lions.
The more than 7,000 people in attendance at Barclays Center either didn’t know that they would mostly be seeing mismatches, or they didn’t care. The same can be said for the viewing audience; not all of them are among us addicts who will watch anything even if its mere matchmaking angers us.
Still, this was a bloodletting in Brooklyn. Salka wasn’t a gladiator gone to slaughter. He was a lamb left to the lion.
Salka was there on the strength of two performances — a majority decision loss last December to Ricardo Alvarez in a bout many believed Salka deserved to win, and a unanimous decision win this past April over the previously unbeaten Alexei Collado. Yet even the strength of those performances made a weak case for challenging the top guy at 140 pounds.
Alvarez had been nowhere among the list of junior-welterweight titleholders, contenders or even prospects soon to break out. The Collado fight came with both men weighing less than 133 pounds. Collado, while undefeated before, had only garnered victories over the kinds of opponents that prospects tend to beat early in their careers. Nearly all of those opponents had been at featherweight or lighter.
Not a single sanctioning body had Salka in its top 15 in any division. The Ring magazine didn’t have Salka in any division’s top 10, nor did the group of writers known as the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, nor did Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. The International Boxing Organization’s computerized rankings didn’t have Salka listed at 140 and had him listed as its No. 66 guy at 135.
Not even the sanctioning bodies, who are usually willing to put their stink on anything for the sake of collecting their percentage fees, were willing to allow Garcia-Salka to be for their belts. Instead, Garcia-Salka ended up being contested at a contractually agreed upon weight of 142 pounds.
While Salka deserved credit for what he’d done against Alvarez and Collado, he still needed to be regarded within the context of the level on which those bouts took place — and recognizing the difference in caliber between him and higher-tier fighters, a difference that seemed quite obvious.
Salka’s résumé wouldn’t have been enough to make him a legit contender at 130. It wouldn’t have been enough to make him a legit contender at 135. And it wouldn’t have been enough to make him a legit contender at 140, never mind to face the lineal junior-welterweight champion, and never mind to do so at 142 pounds, which only gave Garcia more strength and further disadvantaged Salka.
For while Salka had fought at 140 earlier in his career, he was a naturally smaller fighter. The size advantage was apparent and significant, reminding at least a few observers of when Arturo Gatti beat Joey Gamache in 2000. That fight also ended in two rounds. It left Gamache injured and ended his career.
The mismatch is neither new nor uncommon. Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello served as sacrifices on HBO this year to the light heavyweight lion that is Sergey Kovalev. Yet this mismatch seemed particularly bothersome.
This card, like other sets of mismatches, was taking place to help set up a potential bout between Garcia and Peterson. Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza said he tried to make that fight for this August card.
“The promoter could not deliver that fight to us,” Espinoza told BoxingScene.com as the arena was being broken down while Saturday night became Sunday morning. “I negotiate with promoters. I negotiate with Golden Boy Promotions. I asked for that fight. They couldn’t deliver it. It could not be made... very likely it could be made in December or early next year, but it was not a fight that was available.”
Espinoza said he printed out a list of 140-pounders from the BoxRec.com computerized rankings. “[We] crossed off each one who either had a fight or was locked up with another network or was with a promotion company that doesn’t work with Showtime,” he said. “It was either the late 30s or early 40s of the top 100 rankings before I even found a 140 that was available.”
Later, he added: “Salka was not one of the first ones on the list. Ultimately there were a pool of opponents that were acceptable to the promoter and the fighter representatives. I chose from that pool. One of the attractive things about Salka as an opponent is he had a very similar style to Mauricio Herrera, [who] gave Danny so much trouble [in an April fight]. That was one of the attractive things. That’s one of the reasons I thought he’d be an entertaining opponent.”
Instead of Garcia-Peterson, Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions made a deal to put on Garcia-Salka and Peterson-Santana.
“Each of those guys needed a fight. They’re both guys that we had invested in. The choice is either to make the best of what you can and try to build toward the future, or just walk away and risk not having something in August,” said Espinoza, referring to boxing programming for the month. The upcoming Aug. 16 tripleheader on the network hadn’t yet been made.
“There are a confluence of different factors,” he said. “The timing. The need for programming. There’s supporting promoters and fighters that we have worked with in the past, and building for a future.”
Both Showtime and HBO have put on some very good fights in recent years, and both have put on mismatches. Ever since Golden Boy Promotions moved a majority of its fighters over to Showtime, the network has been accused, fairly or unfairly, of doing what is in the best interester for the promoter and for boxing adviser/manager Al Haymon, who works with a huge number of major fighters. Showtime executives disagree, saying the network caters to its subscribers, that it wants to put on programming that helps it make money.
Meanwhile, Eric Gomez, vice president of Golden Boy, was challenged afterward about why Salka deserved this fight. He kept on mentioning Lucas Matthysse, the boogeyman at 140 pounds who had made quick work of Peterson last year. Matthysse subsequently lost to Garcia in September 2013. That, Gomez claimed, meant Garcia had cleaned out the division.
That still didn’t explain why Salka was the best option available for Garcia.
While Garcia is still relatively young at 26, and while other young fighters such as Fernando Vargas and David Reid had their careers shortened by the tough opponents they faced, there still is an expectation that comes once you reach a high level. Garcia is a lineal champion. Carl Froch, who holds world titles at 168, has faced one of the toughest slates of foes in recent years. So, too, has Abner Mares, who captured belts in three divisions before getting upset in one round by Jhonny Gonzalez last year.
For whatever reason or reasons, Golden Boy and/or Al Haymon and/or the fighters themselves couldn’t or wouldn’t make Garcia-Peterson just yet. Garcia, whose fight with Herrera was tougher than some had anticipated, received a gift this past Saturday — an opponent whom a fighter with Garcia’s talent and power could take out with a knockout for his highlight reel.
“I came here to purge,” Garcia said afterward.
He got his catharsis — a therapeutic bloodletting at Salka’s expense.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]