By Tris Dixon
Ghosts linger in the welterweight division. Maybe it is because Sugar Ray Leonard loitered, incredibly youthfully, through fight week in New York. Maybe nostalgia loomed in part because CBS/Showtime compared the welterweight unification fight between WBA champion Keith Thurman and WBC ruler Danny Garcia to the first clash between Leonard and Tommy Hearns back in 1981 on some of their promotional artwork.
Maybe it’s only older fight fans, curmudgeonly types, who will laugh off any comparisons.
Leonard was 30-1 (21), Hearns was 32-0 (30). Going in to Saturday night at the Barclays Center, Thurman was 27-0 (22), Garcia was 33-0 (19).
Hearns had faced just the one Hall of Famer before he boxed Duran, and that was Pipino Cuevas, the gifted Mexican who was a far better fighter than that highlight reel obliteration he is remembered for suggests.
Leonard, of course, had come through the first two fights of his career against the brilliant Roberto Duran and had stopped Wilfred Benitez. Both had other good performances before they faced one another, of course, and it would be unfair to compare the likes of Rod Salka and Samuel Vargas to Benitez and Cuevas. But Garcia’s best career wins, over a faded Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah and Lucas Matthysse do not a Hall of Famer make. And for Thurman, Luis Collazo and Shawn Porter will not have the organisers at Canastota reaching for fresh printer cartridges when they start to mail out ballot sheets.
There’s plenty of work for Thurman and Garcia to do and this is the crux of it; it is time for them both to kick on, from this big national platform that they’ve shared this week. A helpful start would be to split the difference and meet the winner/loser from the IBF title fight between Kell Brook and Errol Spence. Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza said the April 22 clash between Andre Berto and Shawn Porter, allied to Saturday’s fight and Brook-Spence, will serve as some sort of unofficial tournament.
Both Thurman and Garcia are young, 28, and have good years ahead of them. But they must look up, not sideways nor backwards. So far they have been guilty of failing to capitalise on momentum and opportunities.
After all, it’s been more than three years since Danny Garcia unofficially stole the show on the Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez bill by humbling the feared Argentine Lucas Matthysse with the performance of his career. Some felt that would catapult him into mega-fights, against Mayweather et al. Instead, he stagnated.
Thurman, meanwhile, having punched his way into the rankings, talked his way onto the big bills. He promised violent knockouts and said all eyes would be on him when Amir Khan outboxed Devon Alexander, but he failed to dazzle against Leonard Bundu and then, despite the promise of fireworks, couldn’t stop Robert Guerrero and had his hands full with Porter.
For many, last night’s fight served as a metaphor for their careers. It started brightly, with Thurman landing hurtful shots in rounds one and two, and then, from the mid-rounds, he coasted. The iron was hot to strike, but he took his foot off the gas. Early cheers were replaced by dissatisfied boos from fans either unable or unwilling to appreciate the sport’s more technical aspects.
Of course, however, the ghosts linger, and not just those from the 1980s. Welterweight number one Manny Pacquiao, who might still meet Amir Khan in the next few months, and Floyd Mayweather – constantly teasing that bizarre fight with Conor McGregor – could feasibly still rule at the top of the division at the ages of 38 and 40 respectively.
With talented, legendary ghosts loitering, it’s hard to envisage the future until the past has been eliminated. It’s happened before, torches have been passed, legacies allowed to begin only when others have ended. But until messrs Pacquiao and Mayweather are no longer on the scene or unable to beat the cream of the remainder, the others will have a tough time carving their own paths.
The achievements of Mayweather and Pacquiao have been so grandiose that in order to step out of their decorated slipstreams, Thurman, Garcia and the others will have to go out and get the greatness, seek new challengers and challenges, fight the best, and compete for the legacy their talents merit. Not tread water.
‘One Time’ became ‘Two Time’ in New York. ‘Two Time’ could and should become ‘Three Time’. He should look for his ceiling, if nothing else, out of respect to the ghosts of the division.
Tony Bellew caused a huge upset in heavyweight and British boxing with a shocking 11th round victory over David Haye in London.
Haye was wild early on, but started to settle down and jab more in rounds four and five. Perhaps he had been trying too hard to deliver on his promise of an early knockout. But in the sixth, and by then Bellew had sustained a broken hand, Haye suffered a ruptured Achilles and was left with only a puncher’s chance until his corner threw in the towel in round 11.
From the moment the injury happened until the final bell, Bellew was in the ascendency. He stuck to his game plan, did not become blasé, and piled up the points. Haye’s bravery inspired, while Bellew got to live out another fairytale night. Those who drink from a half empty glass contend Bellew barely finished off a one-legged fighter while Haye, 36 and inactive, was not match fit and never will be again. Those with the glasses half full saw Haye vindicated for the aftermath of the Wladimir Klitschko fight and ‘toe-gate’ and Bellew chuck his name into the hat for fights with Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker.