by David P. Greisman
Danny Garcia hasn’t lost yet, though he hasn’t won everyone over yet either. And those doubters existed even before he officially moved from the junior welterweight division up to welterweight.
That debut at 147 came this past Saturday against Paulie Malignaggi. Garcia came out with the victory once again, winning by ninth-round technical knockout. He remains undefeated, at least so far as the record books read, despite what his critics and some of the sport’s other observers believe.
Yet even his most ardent supporters should acknowledge that Garcia still has plenty to prove in his new weight class.
Garcia actually hadn’t fought at 140 for more than 16 months. He fought twice afterward slightly above the junior-welterweight limit. While that made him by definition a welterweight, he definitely had not jumped into those ranks just yet, not when his opponents were still from the 140-pound division or below. Malignaggi truly was a welterweight, albeit an undersized, underpowered one. Garcia won clearly and won easily.
That’s one win at 147, and that one win wasn’t enough to show whether Garcia will be able to compete against the other contenders — never mind the titleholders — at welterweight.
His reputation has long been on a rollercoaster ride.
Garcia transitioned from being a prospect to being considered a contender to challenging for a world title very quickly. In 2011, at 23 years old, he outpointed an aged Nate Campbell and won a decision over Kendall Holt. By 2012, four days after his 24th birthday, he stepped in with faded veteran Erik Morales and left with his first world title. Then he knocked out Amir Khan to unify two belts, and next came a demolition of Morales in a contractually mandated rematch.
Yet in the first half of 2013 there was Garcia struggling down the stretch against Zab Judah. Garcia survived, and his earlier work was enough for him to win on the scorecard.
Months later Garcia was in with the junior-welterweight division’s boogeyman, Lucas Matthysse, putting forth a smart and strategic performance to edge the only other claimant to the top spot at 140 pounds. Garcia was the best there.
He didn’t look that way in his next fight, which came in early 2014 and was supposed to be a homecoming bout of sorts in Puerto Rico, where his family was originally from. Garcia had difficulty with Mauricio Herrera’s style and skills. He came out with the majority decision win, though there were some who felt as if Herrera was more deserving of having his gloves lifted in the air.
It hasn’t gotten much better since then.
Garcia was roundly criticized for what came last August, an easy win in a mismatch with the far smaller, far less accomplished Rod Salka. There had been talk before about Garcia facing fellow junior welterweight Lamont Peterson — whom Matthysse had bounced off the canvas but who had since bounced back — yet their teams avoided making that fight in favor of taking a pair of easy wins on the same broadcast.
Garcia also came in just below 142 pounds for that fight, opting against defending his lineal championship and world titles at 140.
That seemed to be part of the plan put forth by his father and trainer, Angel Garcia.
“He wants to go to welter. Danny doesn’t have a problem making ’40. He sacrifices. He doesn’t starve. He’ll sacrifice. He wants to go to welter. I do, too, but I want him to do it the right way,” Angel Garcia had told me in October 2013, about five months before Garcia’s final fight within the junior-welterweight limit. “I want to do it slowly, blend him into welterweight. I’m not just going to jump him to 147. I’m going to blend him 147. I’ll take our next fight at ’44, ’43, catch weight. If not, we fight ’40. There’s always somebody out there for you
“I want to do it the right way. I want to do it the way it’s supposed to be done. You blend him into a welterweight. What happens is just because you can fight at ’40 doesn’t mean you can fight at ’47. That’s what people think, but when you fight the Top 10 motherfuckers, then all that shit goes out the door. So I want to blend him in, so when he fights the Top 10 — because you can fight ’47 and fight nobody, well, considered nobody, because everybody is somebody. But what I’m saying is names, because when you get to the Top 10, and then you melt away, then what happens to you? ‘I thought you was that killer.’ So I want to do it the right way, the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Garcia and Peterson ultimately fought this past April. Their fight had a contractual limit of 143 pounds, which Peterson’s camp said Garcia had demanded. Peterson gave away the early rounds by focusing more on making Garcia miss than on giving the judges enough landed punches of his own to notice. Peterson then turned up his pressure and activity too late, taking it to Garcia but not doing so early enough to win. Garcia escaped with a majority decision.
“I feel like I have to go up in weight,” Garcia said afterward. “It’s affecting my performance.”
He wasn’t a true junior welterweight anymore, but he wasn’t allowing himself to be a full welterweight either. Those extra two or three pounds was leeway he no longer had to lose, but he apparently was still working so hard to make weight that it came at the expense of his performance in the ring. He wasn’t being blended into 147. He was being bound.
“I was just squeezing my body down to 140. And I feel like I'm going to be a way better fighter at 147 and be able to use my legs more,” Garcia said on a media conference call ahead of this Malignaggi fight. “At 140, I felt like I wasn't strong no more, so I just had to walk forward all night and knock my opponents out.
“But I feel like at 147, you're going to see a more athletic Danny Garcia and be able to use my legs more, using my jab more and see punches clearer. When you drain yourself as hard to see punches, then you get hit with a lot of dumb punches because your vision is not clear. I feel like my vision is going to be a lot clearer and be able to move my head, see the punches better, use my feet.”
“We added things to our workout now,” he said at another point in the call. “We added a lot of explosive workouts, a lot of agility, a lot of footwork, a lot of things to making you more explosive, things I couldn't do at 140 because I didn't have the energy for it. But now the extra weight is really helping me. I'm eating — I'm adding more meals to my base to make me stronger, like before I had to skip meals. I was always weak.”
Still, Garcia’s team picked a safe choice for his first fight at 147.
Malignaggi hadn’t fought in more than 15 months. For part of that layoff, he thought he’d never fight again. He had been beaten up badly against Shawn Porter last year, blown away in less than four rounds, left concussed and nursing the symptoms that can follow that injury for some time afterward. He had a good job as a boxing broadcast analyst, but the allure of competition beckoned and he came back.
Malignaggi never had much power at 140, never mind at 147, with just seven knockouts in his 33 wins. He’d gotten by on skill and strategy and speed and footwork and a lot of heart. It hadn’t always been enough, but he was good enough to beat a second or third tier of opponent and was managed well enough to pick up a world title in each of those weight classes.
While Malignaggi had been at welterweight since the end of 2010, it was Garcia who would still be bigger and stronger. Garcia also was fresher.
Malignaggi didn’t have enough pop to keep Garcia away. His jab wasn’t pushing Garcia backward enough either. Rather soon, Malignaggi opted to emphasize defense, blocking and dodging Garcia’s punches in hopes that it would disrupt Garcia’s rhythm. Malignaggi was never able to seize momentum for long. Garcia kept coming, picking his spots so as not to over-exert himself with missed shots, hitting what openings there were and allowing the damage to accumulate.
By the ninth round — with Garcia far ahead and landing flush more often, and with Malignaggi lacking the ability to score a come-from-behind knockout — the referee jumped in and ended the bout. Malignaggi subsequently acknowledged that he was likely done fighting for good.
Garcia didn’t plow through Malignaggi the way Porter did. That’s also not Garcia’s style; he’s shown one-punch power before, but he tends to be a counterpuncher who looks for openings and exploits opportunities.
Garcia remains undefeated. It’s not unfair for his doubters to remain unconvinced. They might never change their minds, but Garcia will have more fights at 147 that could do so. This was the very beginning of his campaign, the former 140-pound champion starting over at 147.
There are many in the division who are better than Malignaggi. Leave aside Floyd Mayweather Jr., who may very well have one fight left and then retire, or who may stick around longer to further pad his bank account. Leave out fighters with other promoters who aren’t working with Al Haymon, adviser to Garcia and some 200 others.
Haymon’s stable at 147 includes Devon Alexander, Andre Berto, Robert Guerrero, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, Shawn Porter, Errol Spence and Keith Thurman, among others. Some, like Berto and Guerrero, are clearly beyond their better days. Others, like Alexander, need to show whether they can rebuild. There’s also a lower tier of measuring-stick opponents available.
We won’t know whether Garcia can truly do well at welterweight until he’s in with a truly good welterweight.
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]