By Cliff Rold
31-year old Jr. Middleweight Roberto Garcia (31-3, 20 KO) of Weslaco, Texas, picked up one of the better wins of his career on Friday night at the Convention Center in Pharr, Texas, posting a unanimous decision over 25-year old Antwone Smith (21-4-1, 12 KO).
Smith came into the bout at 151 lbs. while Garcia weighed in spot on the Jr. Middleweight limit at 154. The referee was Lee Rogers.
Smith came out popping and grunting, each shot called out with an echoing roar while Garcia, the slower man, pressed forward looking for short right hands. Smith scored well with a right underneath to the belly, but his offense was about touching rather than hurting blows in the first.
Rounds two and three were more of the same, Smith’s grunts taking on the appeal of a World Cup vuvuzela. Garcia’s body work stood out and a minor shift in excitement came about in the latter round’s final thirty seconds, Garcia landing a stiff right and Smith responding with a flurry off the ropes.
Buoyed by the strong finish to the third, Garcia came out hard to start the fourth. His left jab was working better and he continued to wail at the body in close. Smith answered with looping blows but struggled with accuracy.
Smith controlled the first two minutes of the fifth, touching, sliding, and countering Garcia. In the final minute, Garcia timed him going into the ropes and landed a booming right. Smith fired back but Garcia would be on him again just before the bell, both men smiling and nodding at each other.
The fight continued in its steady, workmanlike fashion in rounds six through eight, neither man truly stealing the momentum of the evening. It almost happened in the ninth, Garcia landing the heavier lumber, finding his right and paying off a night-long commitment to the body. Smith continued to fight back, but the round was clearly Garcia’s.
It was Smith to the body to start the final round, Garcia answering over the top with a thudding right. A pair of hard Garcia rights to the body forced Smith to the ropes, muscling his foe with use of the elbow to keep Smith pinned. Smith worked back to ring center and kept plugging, stemming the tide Garcia had built. Garcia closed with three solid rights to the head in the final fifteen seconds as the bout headed to the judges.
The judges favored the heavier hands of Garcia at lopsided scores 98-92 and 97-93 twice. Garcia makes it three straight wins since a decision loss to former Welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito in May 2010.
Smith takes his second loss in three starts and third in his last six.
The undercard featured a pair of fighters trying to stave off their second brush with defeat.
An awkward second round knockdown served as a solid wake up call for 24-year old Jr. Middleweight James De La Rosa (21-1, 12 KO), 155, of Harlingen, Texas, who never looked back en route to a unanimous decision in eight over 27-year old Tyrone Brunson (21-2, 20 KO)154 ½, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The knockdown came on a counter left hook, catching De La Rosa in transition and sending his right glove scraping across the canvas. Referee Tony Garcia dished out the mandatory eight but De La Rosa recovered and was landing big shots by round’s end.
Throughout the contest, Brunson looked for a bomb while De La Rosa worked behind the jab and scored more both inside and out. The final scores seemingly reflected the recovery and sounded wide, but were inaudible enough on the broadcast to not be accurately recordable.
De La Rosa bounces back from his first defeat, a unanimous decision loss to Allen Conyers last year. Brunson, making his first start since 2009, drops his second straight. Brunson began his career with 19 consecutive knockouts but has struggled since elevating the quality of his competition.
The card was televised in the U.S. on ESPN2 as part of its “Friday Night Fights” series.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]