The Art of the Tarry: On Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia
BROOKLYN, NY – A crowd of 16,553 eager spectators flocked to the Barclays Center (a non-Nets event record for attendance) on Saturday night to witness a clash between two of the top 147-pounders, billed as a fight forged straight from the white flames of the 1980s. In its invocation of that era’s brand of brash pugilism, however, the fight, broadcast during prime time on CBS, raised a standard largely unattainable by today’s current crop of performers. Among the names conjured up from the past were Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns but you might as well have been talking about woolly mammoths or pterodactyls; their kind simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Once again, a top-notch unification match went to the ballot box to determine an outcome and, in this particular outing, Keith Thurman, 28-0 (22), picked up a split decision victory over fellow Premier Boxing Champions darling Danny Garcia, 33-1 (19), making him one of the few unified champions in the sport. But the fireworks both men promised would occur in the ring – save for the first few rounds – went unfulfilled. What was supposed to be a throwing down of the welterweight gauntlet ended with the soft, bitter confirmation that the fighter from Clearwater, Florida, was a little better than the fighter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an outcome thus falling in line with pre-fight forecasts.
Early on, it looked like the more dynamic Thurman was intent on making it a short night. A series of cleanly-landed power punches – check hooks, uppercuts and straight rights – knocked Garcia off balance, a reassuring sign that the pre-fight animosity was perhaps more than mere posturing. But by the fifth round, Thurman reneged on his blitzkrieg and settled into a more mild-mannered, potshotting approach. When he continued to keep this up in the later rounds, there was genuine puzzlement. Did Thurman hurt his hand? Did Garcia rock him hard with something we didn’t see? In the middle of the sixth round, a Garcia fan from Pittsburgh in a floor seat yelled, with audible frustration, “Stop running like (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr.) and put on a fucking show!” Thurman wasn’t giving away rounds but he was dangerously close to doing so. Luckily for him (and not so much for us), Garcia, slower and unschooled in the method of cutting off the ring, wasn’t able to do much better.
Aside from the continual inability to land their punches, both fighters spent most of the second half of the contest locked in a staring contest, their gazes threatening to exploit the tense space between – but no such violence ever emerged. A slow groan of boos filled the air in the middle of the sixth round and which would permeate into subsequent ones: The Theater of the Unexpected had been upended by the Art of the Tarry. There’s a case to be made that Thurman-Garcia was not even the most eventful match that day. That distinction belongs to the slugfest waged in London between David Haye and Tony Bellew.
True, some fights just fail to pan out the way they are expected, even if, on paper, they had all the ingredients of being a success. To that end, some writers were quick to point out that Thurman-Garcia was a case of incompatible styles – but that sounds a tad disingenuous, given that Thurman and Garcia have long been known for their propensity for knockouts, even if, say, Garcia is a natural counterpuncher and Thurman, ever since Jesus Soto Karass, is a bit too fleet of foot. We expected more from a fight that took two years in the making.
Ultimately, it’s a question of mentality. For all of Thurman’s adamant insistence that he couldn’t care less about his undefeated record (“I’ve got an ‘O’ and I’m not afraid to let it go”), his actions in the second half of the fight told a different story. His comments at the press conference after the fight were revealing and perhaps offer some insight into the psychology of more than a few world-class prizefighters of this generation:
“When a fighter has his hands up and he’s blocking and the other fighter does throw a one/two, and it kind of pushes him to the left, throws him to the right, whatever – it does have an effect on the judges. If (Garcia) did that, you know, I try to at least think to myself, you gotta get a little bit back in this round; you gotta push at a few moments in this round. There were times when Danny didn’t like the movement, right? He stepped back into the middle of the ring. What did Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman do? Step right up. I wasn’t sitting in the back, saying, ‘Nah, man; nah, man. Come, come chase me.’ As soon as he took off the gas, I got right in his face because I just wanted to be awkward for him. I mean, we had to do what we needed to do to win tonight.”
You will be hard-pressed to find a fighter today, who is more well-spoken and charismatic than Thurman, but his self-reflection here gets the better of him and explains, most of all, why he sought to coast through the second half of the fight. Would Sugar Ray Leonard have taken credit for simply pushing the action, for stepping toward his opponent, when he took a step back? Either you are what your moniker says you are – which is a knockout machine looking to inflict real damage on your opponent and thus obliterating the need for scorecards – or you’re not.
The knock on the PBC has long been for its shoddy matchmaking and haphazard schedule resembling the press briefings of the current White House administration. But, for the first time since its inception two years ago, the PBC – perhaps not as financially strapped as it once was – has put forth a schedule of fights that do indeed have rime and reason – fights, in other words, with real consequence. An unofficial tournament is now in the planning stages, according to Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza, and with Thurman-Garcia now in the books and Kell Brook-Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter-Andre Berto in the pipeline, the welterweight division, as it pertains to the PBC, should finally begin to produce some semblance of definition. Hopefully, if Thurman’s post-fight enthusiasm was any indication, it will not take another year or two to put together a fight of Saturday night’s magnitude.
“Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman is not just a boxer but a boxing fan,” the newly-crowned unified champion said, “and the world of boxing deserves history. We live a life to make history. Countries nations – (Donald) Trump is president, people, come one! History, OK! Barack (Obama) got in office, two terms – history! So it’s been a long time since we’ve seen an undisputed champion of the welterweight division, right? It will manifest, I just can’t tell you guys when, right here, right now on this podium today.”
If Thurman is true to his word here, he will fight more than twice this year and one of the fights will be against Errol Spence Jr.