By Cliff Rold, photo by Premier Boxing Champions
To a certain segment of the fan base, the perception of control is everything.
This has been a regularly disappointing year in boxing. Several big fights have fallen through or been delayed (with no guarantee they ever happen). The Heavyweight Champion of the World couldn’t hold himself together long enough to make a single title defense. Fans have been reduced to cheering in almost surprise when the end of the year premium cable slate came up with some good fights as if they don’t pay a monthly stipend in large part for that very thing.
Blame is always easy to pass around. Who gets blamed varies.
In the case of Danny Garcia, the now WBC welterweight titlist, blame for his choice of opponents often falls on him. He’s been savaged in certain corners of the social media echo chamber because of the Rod Salka fight, a battle with a faded Paulie Malignaggi and for a tune-up tomorrow night Samuel Vargas.
Here’s the rub: since his career defining win over Lucas Matthysse, have Garcia’s opponents really been that bad? Mauricio Herrera, Lamont Peterson, and Robert Guerrero were all solid opponents. The first two of those three arguably beat him. Guerrero gave a good account of himself.
And if Garcia defeats Vargas Saturday (Spike TV, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST) as he is expected to, it sets up a unification bout his next time out with undefeated Keith Thurman. Based on television rating produced under the PBC banner, it is the biggest fight that can be made on their side of the street.
With that fight looming, complaints about a tune up sound like so much wasteful air. One or both parties before a big, tough fight taking a softer touch one fight out is as old as boxing itself.
True, today it’s more acute. When Julio Cesar Chavez took a soft touch, it was part of a five or six fight yearly plate. When Harry Greb did it, it was just in lieu of camp before he grabbed a drink; his whirlwind schedule was commensurate to the style attributed to his legend.
That excuse doesn’t fly today. If a proven talent is only going to fight every six-to-nine months, soft touches feel like an insult to some fans.
The insult intensifies if control is perceived.
In the case of Garcia, his is a team that is perceived to be calling their shots. His father, amusing to some in a laugh at and not with him sort of way, making public statements validating the perception doesn’t help. It’s not to say here that perception isn’t reality.
However, there is something to be said for the strength of narratives that form and their ability to weather comparison. Garcia has managed at least one world-class, if not prime elite, opponent per year since Matthysse. That’s, sadly, pretty much par for the course for almost all star fighters right now.
What makes Garcia so much worse an offender than others?
In his case, it’s because for many it creates the appearance that this is exactly as hard as he wants it. For a segment of the fan base, Al Haymon has replaced Don King as the cancer that is holding boxing back, no matter the myriad other examples of people protecting their home court. Garcia is a big part of the Haymon. There is also the idea that his connections were the difference in decisions against Herrera and Peterson.
Maybe those scraps explain it best. Fans don’t like a pretender. Those two fights, after a Matthysse fight that elevated his respect among fight fans, showed how beatable he is. His soft touches then aren’t just about whom he’s fighting but that he’s avoiding a comeuppance.
If Garcia isn’t good enough to beat Thurman, well, we’ll find out shortly. If he is, then he’s just another guy in this era underachieving from what his real potential might be with an infrequent fight schedule and inconsistent opposition.
That’s not really a Garcia problem. It’s a boxing problem in the 21st century.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]