by David P. Greisman
Not every fight means everything, but every fight means something. Some of these somethings mean less, though just because they mean less doesn’t mean they mean nothing at all.
We knew that this past Saturday’s Showtime card aired out of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, wouldn’t be the most meaningful broadcast. That didn’t make the fights meaningless. Boxing at times can resemble episodic television programming, moving the characters and drama along and building toward conflict and a conclusion.
Middleweight contender Daniel Jacobs is being built up toward his second world title shot, which will likely come against Peter Quillin.
Heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder is being built up toward his first world title shot, which is expected to come against the winner of the upcoming rematch between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola.
Junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia is continuing to be built up as a star and potential future opponent for Floyd Mayweather Jr.
This was supposed to be a showcase night at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez. There weren’t expected to be many surprises on the televised portion of the card. Jacobs, Wilder and Garcia got their wins — as did Juan Manuel Lopez, who saved his career on an evening that it could have essentially ended. And now we move toward the next episode, with some questions answered and others left up for debate.
We still haven’t seen Jacobs or Wilder face top opposition, never mind beat an upper-level opponent. That won’t preclude them from their title shots, however.
Jacobs was similarly unproven in July 2010, when he was 23 years old, a prospect named “The Golden Child” whose biggest win of note was a decision over Ishe Smith. Nevertheless, Jacobs appeared on the pay-per-view undercard to Juan Manuel Marquez’s rematch with Juan Diaz. He and Dmitry Pirog were fighting for a vacant middleweight title that just months beforehand had belonged to Sergio Martinez.
Pirog landed a perfect right hand in the fifth round and won by technical knockout. Jacobs fought twice more, winning each, before cancer left him partially paralyzed and battling for his life first, his career second. He beat the cancer, and he not only regained the ability to walk but also the ability to fight. Since returning to the ring in October 2012, Jacobs has now gone 5-0, all by technical knockout, stopping Josh Luteran in the first round, Chris Fitzpatrick in the fifth, Keenan Collins in the fourth, Giovanni Lorenzo in the third and, this past Saturday, Milton Nunez in the first.
As impressive as it is that Jacobs has been able to recover and return, we cannot grade his campaign for a world title shot on a curve. Jacobs has done what he needed to do, dispatching his first few overmatched opponents, then stepping up with his highlight-real knockout of Lorenzo, a fringe contender and former title challenger.
We didn’t learn anything from the victory over Nunez. Though Nunez’s record indicates that he has power, with 24 knockouts in his 26 wins, he also lacks a sturdy chin. He’d failed to see the final bell in six of his nine losses before meeting Jacobs. Five of those knockout losses occurred in the opening round. Granted, several of those defeats came against recognizable names, including Gennady Golovkin (in the first round), Sergio Mora (in the fifth round), and prospects Dmitry Chudinov (first round), Jorge Melendez (first round) and Matt Korobov (an eight-round decision).
The result was inevitable. Nunez had lost three of his last four, five of his last seven, eight of his last 13 — and not a single one of his wins during that time frame had come against an opponent listed on BoxRec as having a winning record. Jacobs knocked Nunez down 97 seconds in and put him on the canvas two more times within the next minute.
There’s been talk since last summer of Jacobs challenging Quillin, a pairing that makes sense given that they are both with Golden Boy Promotions, advised by Al Haymon, and live in Brooklyn. Quillin first has to beat Lukas Konecny on April 19, though that, too, will be seen as a keep-busy bout of sorts.
This is the way fights are too often made, with careful matchmaking that doesn’t endanger the end goal. Jacobs is far from the first boxer to challenge for a world title on questionable credentials, but it’s far less offensive for him to take this step up than it would be for him to keep biding his time against opponents clearly not at his level.
We still don’t know how Deontay Wilder will look against upper-tier heavyweights. But we do know how Wilder looks against those who aren’t — frightening, a 6-foot-7 power-puncher standing tall over fallen foes.
Wilder has won by knockout or technical knockout in all 31 of his pro fights — 18 of which have ended in the first round, 24 within two rounds, 28 within three rounds, and all 31 within four. The latest to fall was Malik Scott, who went down this past Saturday from the first solid punches Wilder landed. And even that summation comes with the caveat that those two punches didn’t look devastating until we saw Scott go down and fail to beat the count.
Initial replays left some observers wondering whether Malik Scott, who is friends with Wilder, had taken a dive. But Scott Christ of BadLeftHook.com has a good set of visuals showing Wilder’s punches landing — the lead left hook landing on Scott’s ear and beginning to send Scott backward, and the follow-up right cross splitting Scott’s gloves.
We did expect more of Scott, whose only loss beforehand had been a controversial stoppage against Dereck Chisora last year. Scott’s record was rather unlike Wilder’s in that he had scored only 13 knockouts in 36 wins. With his boxing ability, he was expected to at least take Wilder rounds.
He didn’t even take him one.
Scott is far and away Wilder’s biggest win on a record that also includes first-round wins over long-past-his-prime former heavyweight titleholder Sergei Liakhovich and career disappointment Audley Harrison. We still don’t know how well a top heavyweight will take Wilder’s shots. We also don’t know how well Wilder will take a top heavyweight’s shots.
As with Jacobs, we could throw a fit about a sanctioning body’s No. 3 heavyweight getting a world title shot on the strength of a win over the No. 23-ranked opponent. It’s a fair critique. There are other interesting opponents for Wilder within the top 10 of the World Boxing Council’s rankings, including Bryant Jennings, Mike Perez, Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury.
But Wilder’s handlers aren’t going to endanger a title shot for the sake of disproving his doubters, not when his next fight can do it anyway. When he faces the winner of Stiverne-Arreola 2, he’ll either prove himself as belonging in this modern heavyweight division, or he’ll be exposed as another imperfect big man with a manufactured record.
Between Jacobs’ and Wilder’s fights was a rematch between Daniel Ponce De Leon and Juan Manuel Lopez, who first met in 2008. Ponce De Leon held a 122-pound title at the time, and Lopez knocked him down twice en route to a first-round technical knockout.
They met this past Saturday as 130-pounders who had seen better days. Ponce De Leon’s career had seen highs and lows since 2008. He’d lost a close fight to Adrien Broner, who was then a junior lightweight, and dropped a technical decision to Yuriorkis Gamboa. He’d beaten Jhonny Gonzalez to pick up a title at featherweight, and then he’d been dropped and stopped by Abner Mares.
Though Lopez had beaten Ponce De Leon decisively once before, he was considered the underdog for this rematch. In a RingTV.com poll of 20 writers and observers, 18 picked Ponce De Leon to win.
Lopez was considered by many beforehand to be shot, which is a strange conclusion if you looked only at his record and saw that his three losses had come in competitive bouts with Orlando Salido (twice) and in a blowout loss to Mikey Garcia. Yet those who saw Garcia demolish Lopez last year were concerned about Lopez’s physical faculties; he didn’t look good. Lopez placed the blame on his having trouble making 126 and on Garcia coming in overweight for that bout, also noting that Garcia is quite good.
Lopez’s rematch win over Ponce De Leon this past Saturday only proved that he’s not done — yet.
He’s still quite hittable, and when Lopez gets hit, he gets hurt. Ponce De Leon clocked him and knocked him down in the second round. And better boxers will still be able to take advantage of Lopez’s deficiencies, unlike Ponce De Leon, who walked into a hard counter from Lopez, went down once, then soon went to the canvas a second time. Ponce De Leon again failed to hold on while hurt, and instead he covered up to the point that the referee jumped in, albeit at a moment that many felt to be a bit too early.
This win for Lopez bought him one more notable bout, one more chance for him to prove us wrong and show us what, if anything, he has left.
The biggest surprise of the night came in the main event — with just how close Danny Garcia came to losing to Mauricio Herrera.
Officially, Garcia is the winner by majority decision. One judge had it a draw, while the other two scorecards gave Garcia eight of the 12 rounds. But there was a chorus of voices online that saw Herrera as the winner.
Garcia’s keep-busy bout was unlike Jacobs’ and Wilder’s in that he was coming off a big bout rather than on the verge of one; he defeated Lucas Matthysse last September on the undercard to Floyd Mayweather’s win over Canelo Alvarez. Saturday’s fight with Herrera was intended to get Garcia back in the ring and to do so in Puerto Rico, where Garcia’s parents are from.
Garcia has spoken of moving up soon to the welterweight division, though he’s also said he’s not desperately seeking a fight with Mayweather, the best boxer in that weight class and in the entire sport, as well as the cash cow of boxing. “If it happens, it happens,” Garcia said in October. “If it don’t, I’m just going to continue what I do and just keep winning.” He put forth similar sentiments last month.
Herrera wasn’t expected to win, though he wasn’t expected to just roll over for Garcia either. While he has neither the fame nor accomplishments of Garcia’s recent opponents, Herrera’s record includes a 2011 win over Ruslan Provodnikov and losses in 2012 to decent junior welterweights in Mike Alvarado and Karim Mayfield.
Herrera put forth a remarkably disciplined and intelligent performance against Garcia, using crafty movement and timing to throw Garcia off, working behind a dedicated jab, throwing punches on a different rhythm than Garcia was used to, and doing a good job of blocking, dodging or smothering Garcia’s shots. But the judges apparently gave the champion the benefit of the doubt in the closer rounds. And Garcia was able to leave with a debatable victory.
This may just have been a bad night against a good opponent. Still, as well as Garcia boxed against Matthysse in September, he definitely does not yet look ready for Mayweather.Then again, Mayweather’s record shows that no one ever truly is ready for him.
And so we move on toward the next, with the last in mind. Every fight means something. Garcia, Lopez, Wilder and Jacobs all have storylines coming out of Saturday’s proceedings in Puerto Rico.
These were but chapters in as-yet-incomplete tales, though, and how these storylines conclude is still to be determined.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new 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]