by David P. Greisman
It takes plenty of hard work to get on top. It takes even more hard work to stay there.
Danny Garcia reached his pinnacle a year and a half ago. On the chief supporting undercard bout of the second-biggest pay-per-view ever to air in the United States, Garcia went from being just one of multiple junior-welterweight titleholders to being seen as the true champion at 140 pounds.
He did this with a close-fought majority decision win over Lucas Matthysse, the only other person qualified to vie for the same throne. Garcia used a smart game plan and wise tactics, survived difficult moments and earned the victory. It should’ve been a launching point for his career. Instead, so much since has been disappointing.
That may seem a strange conclusion given that Garcia is still undefeated, still the junior-welterweight champion and the winner of three more fights since the night he triumphed over Matthysse. The latest was a majority decision over Lamont Peterson this past Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the announced crowd of 12,300 included a mix of Philadelphia-area fans rooting for Garcia, Washington, D.C.-area fans cheering for Peterson, and New York-area boxing fans who had seen Garcia headline in that arena three times before.
But it’s the way those three wins have unfolded that draws ire. And those flames are further fueled by the expectations that come with being champion.
Garcia’s first fight after Matthysse was an event in Puerto Rico that was billed as a homecoming for a boxer whose family is from the island. His opponent was Mauricio Herrera, a good opponent with an awkward style but not someone who was expected to win. No matter how the promoter or network attempted to portray things, the money and marketing muscle were behind Garcia. Herrera was supposed to play a supporting role as the foil in Garcia’s tale, a willing foe who would fall short.
Herrera wasn’t willing to just be that. He gave Garcia difficulty. Garcia won the official decision. Some observers believed Herrera deserved more credit than the judges gave him. Others at least wanted to see more out of Garcia.
They also wanted to see him in a rematch with Matthysse or defending against Peterson. Though Peterson had been knocked out in three rounds by Matthysse earlier in 2013 — in the fight just before Garcia vs. Matthysse — he remained highly ranked at 140.
Showtime executives said they tried to make Garcia-Peterson but were told that it couldn’t be made just yet. Instead, the network broadcast a set of mismatches on paper that turned out to be exactly that in the ring on an August night. Peterson treated Edgar Santana like a flesh-colored heavy bag while Garcia turned Rod Salka inside out within two rounds.
Salka wasn’t anywhere near one of the best fighters in the junior lightweight and lightweight division, where he’d recently competed. He definitely wasn’t an accomplished fighter at junior welterweight. He was a light-hitting boxer with only 3 knockouts in his 19 wins. And he was going into the ring against a bigger man and a bigger puncher at a contractually agreed-upon weight limit of 142 pounds.
It was a joke, and Garcia’s and Peterson’s teams — and their shared adviser, Al Haymon — were laughing all the way to the bank. Showtime had paid for the card to keep relationships with fighters it had been building up and in the hopes that it could air Garcia-Peterson next. Instead, Haymon was biding time for the launch of his “Premier Boxing Champions” venture and saved Garcia vs. Peterson for a main event on NBC.
This was a big opportunity for Garcia. He was headlining on a major vehicle for boxing, fighting in front of a larger television audience and against a respected opponent. He could leave behind the events of 2014 and start his 2015 campaign off well. Though both Garcia and Peterson made their names at 140, this fight was taking place with a weight limit of 143 pounds. Garcia was expected to move all the way up to the welterweight limit of 147 pounds afterward. He could close the chapter on junior welterweight and move on to new challenges.
Instead, he escaped with a majority decision, a bout in which the winner looked worse than the loser — both during the action and in terms of the facial markings visible after the final bell rang.
Peterson came out as a spoiler, using movement to make Garcia chase around the ring, weaving his body away from shots to make Garcia miss, trying to frustrate Garcia in the process. It wasn’t pretty. The judges still favored Garcia in those rounds, giving him six of the first seven rounds on the scorecards.
“I stuck to my game plan the whole time. It was about making him miss, tiring him out, seeing where I could take my chances and capitalizing,” Peterson said afterward. “People can call it a slow start. I thought I was controlling the pace of the fight.”
Peterson indeed came on later, winning five of the last six rounds on two judges’ scorecards, and four of the last six on the third. He began to hit Garcia often with accurate power shots, digging to the body with hooks and clubbing Garcia’s head with hooks and crosses.
The thing about boxing is that a fighter can win several rounds by a landslide, only to lose a bout to an opponent who did far less in the rounds he won — but who won more of them. While Peterson often made Garcia miss in the first half of the fight, the judges didn’t feel like he was landing enough telling blows. It can be hard to win rounds on defense alone. Garcia was able to bank those early rounds, providing enough of a margin to hold up to Peterson’s late charge.
“It was just a tough competitive fight, just like any other fight at this level,” Garcia said. “I fought a top-level guy. We went in there and mixed it up. He moved. He came at me at the end. And you know, I found a way to win like I always do. No excuses.”
Except Garcia will be judged on perception, which is that he didn’t look like a winner. It is better to look strong late instead of sustaining punishment and surviving down the stretch. Peterson was able to do more to Garcia. He just wasn’t able to do it in enough rounds.
But Garcia is also being held to a higher standard thanks to his lofty perch. As the 140-pound champion — even in a fight above that limit — people want to see Garcia distance himself from the competition. They want him to be clearly superior to his opponents, not merely barely better on the scorecards.
“I’ve been in some tough fights where I faced adversity before,” Garcia said. “He came on strong at the end. Every fight’s a learning experience for me. It’s just another tough fight in my career.”
Zab Judah came on late against Garcia. Matthysse gave Garcia a competitive fight. Herrera posed problems for Garcia. Peterson was the one who looked superior.
There shouldn’t be any shame in getting a tough fight from a capable opponent. Judah was a former champion making one final stand. Matthysse and Peterson are very good. Herrera has shown himself to be a worthy contender.
It also isn’t easy to catch someone whose primary goal is not to be hit and who is capable of achieving just that. Yet when Peterson was there to be hit, it was Peterson who was hitting Garcia.
And it is Garcia’s reputation that has taken another blow.
The Matthysse fight was a year and a half ago. It was a big win on a grand stage. It’s in the past, though. Garcia had earned his spot at the top. But he will need to do more to stay there.
It’s not just about being undefeated. He’s good enough to win close decisions over the rest. He’ll need to do better than that if he’s going to be the best.
The 10 Count
1. Peter Quillin also has some rebuilding to do.
It’s not that he had a bad performance against Andy Lee. Like Garcia, Quillin remained undefeated after his battle with Lee ended as a split draw. He dropped Lee twice, got dropped once himself and was part of an entertaining battle against an opponent who’s in the middle of a career resurgence.
But he spent about a year out of the ring before this bout. He dropped his world title for reasons that seem to change every time he speaks about it. As one post on the Reddit Boxing forum broke it down, Quillin’s reasons for vacating his belt and skipping a bout with Matt Korobov last year to sit on the sideline included:
- Being a businessman and listening to adviser Al Haymon.
- A bigger picture outlook for the future with other opportunities available against top middleweights.
- Spending time with his newborn child.
- Spending time with an uncle and mentor who was dying of cancer.
Word of the uncle only seemed to come out recently prior to the Lee fight. I can understand wanting to keep family tragedy private, but I also think people would’ve been more sympathetic had Quillin been straightforward about it. Beyond that, there’s still the fact that Quillin’s team kept asking for the Korobov fight purse bid to be postponed, and there were the statements released after Quillin vacated his belt that mentioned other big fights being available for him.
Quillin turned down 1.4 million for Korobov and got paid $500,000 for Lee. No money is worth what he got from spending time with his son and uncle.
Many people believe that those weren’t the reasons, though, and they think that Haymon came into play. The winner of the Quillin-Korobov purse bid was Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports. The rapper’s famous pop star wife, Beyonce, had sued Haymon years ago. Roc Nation also is a potential promotional rival. Not allowing Quillin to fight Korobov on its card ended up meaning that the card didn’t happen.
Then there was the fact that Quillin came in overweight for the Lee fight, which didn’t help his cause.
It’s a shame, because Quillin has been in some entertaining bouts. He deserves attention, even if the jury is out on how far he’ll go at middleweight (if he remains at 160, if he can still make it).
I don’t know if we’ll see a rematch with Lee or if Quillin will still go forward with facing stablemate and fellow Brooklynite Danny Jacobs. I do know that I’ll still be tuning in. And a good performance from Quillin could help get fans back on his side.
2. Ratings for the second “Premier Boxing Champions” broadcast on NBC, and third overall on free broadcast television, weren’t as strong as the premiere. An average of 3.4 million watched the early March debut.
Final numbers hadn’t been reported yet as “Fighting Words” was going to press, but the “fast national” numbers had the broadcast starting at 2.62 million and going up to 3.07 million in the last half hour of the show.
The final number will likely rise a little, as the way “Fast Overnight” ratings work isn’t wholly accurate for things like live sports. “Fast Overnight” ratings collect the Nielsen viewership for that time slot based on the time zone, so, for example, it collected the audience on the West Coast from 8 to 11 p.m. Pacific Time, which would be the three hours after PBC went off the air on NBC.
And it’s still much better than the 1.3 to 1.4 million that were believed to have watched the inaugural PBC on CBS broadcast. That’s says more about the CBS ratings, though.
As for the commercials, I saw a few national products: Corona, the beer company that remains a sponsor; the “Game of War” app game; and the new Fast and Furious movie. This was much better than the overwhelming lack of ads on the CBS show. There’s still a long, long way to go in terms of quantity and quality.
To be sustainable, PBC will need to attract the major national brands. We still have to see where the ratings go. It’s no surprise if some of the curious people from the first NBC show didn’t tune in again, but it’ll be good if some of these new or casual fans become and remain regular viewers.
Then again, WWE gets very good cable audiences, yet executives there reportedly still have to deal with the frustration of not getting the kind of ad rates commensurate with the viewership. Companies and products will need to be sold on the value of being associated with — and appealing to — boxing fans.
3. A couple of other nice touches related to PBC:
One, its YouTube channel includes several full fights from past broadcasts, including the inaugural NBC and SpikeTV shows. That’s much easier for PBC to do than would be for others given that the rights aren’t being split up between the promoter and the network.
Two, its agreement with SiriusXM to have PBC fights called on the radio. I imagine there will be a limited audience, but those who do listen —people who are driving or have jobs where they can’t be in front of a television or taking time to watch a computer screen — will appreciate it.
None of this will be make or break for having PBC turn a profit. But I like the idea of it, just as I like how more promoters have been streaming undercards on their websites and increasing their digital content.
4. TMZ reported the other week that Floyd Mayweather Jr. has customized mouthpieces made that tend to include “things like gold flakes, diamonds and real $100 bills (sealed inside the mouthguard).” The cost? About $25,000.
A $25,000 mouthpiece? I thought Mayweather paid Leonard Ellerbe far more than that…
5. The purse bid for Adonis Stevenson vs. Sergey Kovalev is scheduled to take place this Friday. As often as we criticize the sanctioning bodies, and as much as they deserve it, this may be a case where sanctioning body politics and maneuvering actually helped a bout get made.
We shall see.
6. Boxers Behaving Goodly mini-roundup:
- Gervonta Davis, a 20-year-old featherweight/junior lightweight from Baltimore, spoke at an event in the city called “Saving Our Sons,” according to The Baltimore Sun. “The event was created to get youths involved in activities and away from trouble on the streets,” the article said. Davis “spoke to kids who face the same challenges that he did in the same neighborhood.” Davis is 10-0 with 9 KOs.
- “Bronco” Billy Wright — a 50, yes, 50-year-old and 300-something pound heavyweight who is still active and is 47-4 with 38 KOs — is trying to raise $50,000 for cancer research by walking, running and bicycling 500 miles between Las Vegas and the Phoenix area, according to a press release. No specific charity was mentioned, nor was there any indication of how much of the money raised will go toward the donation and how much toward expenses. More info can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/broncobillywright .
7. Boxers Behaving Badly: Silver medalist turned pro prospect John Joe Nevin was allegedly involved in a bar fight last week that ended with Nevin and four other men being arrested, according to the Irish Independent.
Nevin “was charged being intoxicated in a public place and engaging in threatening and insulting behavior,” according to BBC. He has a court date scheduled for May 21.
This is the second arrest to make headlines for Nevin this year. In February, he was accused of criminal damage after allegedly “causing 200 euros worth of damage to ornaments and a glass cabinet belonging to a Rosemarie Nevin,” the Irish Independent article said.
Nevin was a bantamweight in the 2012 Olympics in London, dropping a decision and the gold medal to British boxer Luke Campbell. The 25-year-old made his pro debut last year, fighting as low as 131 pounds and as high as 138.25 pounds, according to BoxRec. He is 3-0 with 2 KOs and last fought in November.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Darren Johnstone — a Scottish boxer who fought between the junior-lightweight and junior-welterweight divisions — has been found not guilty of “intimidating relatives of a man he had been charged with murdering,” according to the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.
As for that murder case, it ended in a “not proven” verdict, the article said.
Johnstone, 33, fought between 2003 and 2007, going 10-0 with 2 KOs.
9. Boxing Trainers Behaving Badly: Tony Morgan is the trainer to Willie Monroe Jr., who faces Gennady Golovkin this May, and previously worked with welterweight Andre Berto. But according to police in Florida, Morgan also allegedly was involved with another pursuit — dealing drugs.
Morgan was arrested last week after undercover police officers purchased four ounces of methamphetamine from him, an amount valued at $6,400, according to reports by The Daily Ridge and The Tampa Tribune. He’s facing one count each of “trafficking in meth over 28 grams, maintaining a vehicle for drug trafficking and possession of paraphernalia,” the Tribune report said.
Morgan worked with Berto until 2013. Berto now works with Virgil Hunter. Monroe, meanwhile, has a May 16 bout against Golovkin in California.
10. Tony Morgan was asked about his training technique for Willie Monroe’s fight against Gennady Golovkin.
“There’s a meth to the madness,” he said.
Morgan then delved into the prospect of changing up Monroe’s style in preparation for Golovkin.
“We’ll have a few tweaks,” he said.
No word from Roger Mayweather, meanwhile, on whether Morgan — trainer of a designated opponent vs. GGG, was dealing in B-side meth.
A boxing trainer selling meth? Sounds like the plot of the next episode of “Better Call Saul Alvarez.”
“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@example.com