The Crazy Market: On Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman
“Boy, it is quiet in here.”
At some point during the third round of last Saturday’s proceedings in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an observer at press row felt the need to note, to no one in particular, the severe decibel shortage inside Temple University’s Liacouras Center. It was the third round of WBC welterweight titlist Danny Garcia’s yearly tune-up and the momentum stemming from his knockdown of opponent Samuel Vargas in the last round was nowhere to be felt. Instead, a yawning, chasmic silence seemed to take possession of a larger-than-anticipated crowd not typically known to be mum during sporting spectacles. Sure, the oohs and aahs came here and there to break up the general diffidence whenever Garcia landed something of note but ultimately there was a marked absence of any sustained verve, of genuine buzz. Heads were collectively poised tentatively between this-or-that ordeal on the iPhone and the show in the center of the floor, a clear sign that the main event lacked any semblance of intrigue and uncertainty. There were some attempts by the crowd to enliven the night but they were mostly pathetic. In a far corner, there were weak smatterings of “U-S-A ! U-S-A ! U-S-A !” but the slogan never caught on, not only because a USA-versus-Canada rivalry doesn’t really exist in boxing but because no one could really muster the strength to care that much. And so, back to the electric hum in the room. Was this really a picture of what many have referred to as stardom? Vargas lasted until the seventh stanza before referee Gary Rosato stopped the fight.
Flanked by fellow Philadelphians in Allen Iverson and Meek Mill, Garcia – leopard print trunks, mask and all – certainly looked the part of a superstar entering the ring. Optics told only half the story, however. The pop-icon radiance of Iverson-Mill seemed out of place, given the rather small stakes of the fight. Vargas’ only noteworthy achievement, after all, was that he once faced Errol Spence Jr. and hung around for four rounds before getting blitzed. The turnout for Garcia-Vargas perhaps said more about Philadelphia’s longstanding fight heritage and loyalty than it did about Garcia’s natural drawing power. If Garcia were really the attraction in his hometown that many have claimed, wouldn’t his fights be held at a much larger venue, say, the Wells Fargo Center where the 76ers play?
On this night, however, the Liacouras’ shade-over-10,000 capacity seating would do just fine. A pity because, if there was a greater effort to promote Garcia regularly at home (to say nothing of fighting regularly), he could’ve been a true regional draw by now, even if his opposition, in recent years, hasn’t necessarily merited it. None of this, as they say, is rocket science. The case of Terence Crawford and Omaha, Nebraska, prove this. Then there’s that glaring piece of detail: Nobody under the Premier Boxing Champions banner has sold out a large-capacity arena in its two years of operations…
How else have Garcia’s handlers failed him? One need only to browse through a Twitter timeline to see the extent of the damage his name has taken, a name that has been metonymically reduced to a cherry-meme for his reluctance to take on challenging fights. Whether or not the criticism is warranted in the age of online trolling doesn’t have much bearing on the fact that Garcia has been a lone trooper in deflecting the vitriol that has come his way – save, of course, for his volatile father, Angel. When Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum commented earlier this year that Golden Boy Promotions was making a mistake by preventing its charge, current WBO junior middleweight titleholder Canelo Alvarez, from facing unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin in 2016 because it was hurting the former’s popularity with the hardcore fans, he was perhaps speaking out of promotional oneupmanship. But Arum was also simply stating common sense. Part of promoting is protecting the fighter’s image and that involves ensuring his appeal retains luster – not tarnish – in the eyes of consumers. Alvarez is a bona fide pay-per-view star, with an entire nation backing his ascent, so he’s insulated from the effects of otherwise unpopular moves. Garcia, however, doesn’t share that same luxury. Whatever Alvarez’s situation, he at least has a promoter who will appear in front of a dais and publicly defend him, however feeble his reasoning.
Luckily, “Swift” can once again revise his standing in the eyes of many when he takes on Keith Thurman next March. He’s done it before, when he tamed then 140-pound boogeyman Lucas Matthysse in 2013 and there’s a feeling here that he’ll find a way to come out on top against Thurman.
Say what you will about his flat-footedness, his insufferable father and inactivity, when Garcia fights. He is looking to hurt the other man. Consider last Saturday’s sole knockdown. Toward the end of round two, Vargas, who had neither the speed nor power to keep Garcia honest, decided to enter Garcia’s range and throw a short combination. Immediately, Garcia unleashed a screaming overhand right, sending Vargas flipping over onto the mat. Garcia, to his credit, hardly comports himself in the ring the way one supposes a cherry-picker might.
In this way, to call Garcia a counter-puncher is not to merely restate a fact but to also somewhat distort it. He’s a counter-puncher but not of the poke-and-prod, gallivanting kind. What distinguishes Garcia from others of his ilk is that anyone observing won’t be misled to think his intent is anything other than to hurt – badly, at that – his opponent. This is refreshing in an age littered with dancers and preeners in the ring. That he’s willing to stand in the line of fire to line up one of his toe-digging hooks is proof of this ambition. In the end, it’s a commitment to bloodshed, a wager on his own power, that makes Garcia a very watchable fighter.
It’s no surprise then that the Liacouras Center was loudest when Thurman got up from his commentary perch and stepped into the ring to meet Garcia for a makeshift face-off. Both sputtered at each other. The proposed bout remains months away – and it wouldn’t be any surprise if the bluster for the promotion wears off – but at least there is some kind of story arc here. And if the decibel levels from the crowd were any indication during their inaugural spat, the formula for enthusiasm remains the same. Pair any elite fighters in their primes and the crazy market that is boxing will respond accordingly, perhaps even graciously.
There was no trace of protest outside the steps of Philadelphia’s City Hall on Saturday, nothing to indicate the unrest that swept the country’s urban capitals after it was determined on Tuesday that Donald Trump would become USA’s 45th President. There was no trace of protest, that is, unless you counted the haggard gentleman inside the arcade clutching an already antiquated blue Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine sign, asking a security guard, to the effect of, “Well, where is everybody?” The guard, wholly accustomed now to this line of questioning, told him promptly, pointing yonder, “Just follow the sirens.”
A few police cruisers whistled down South 15th street, amid a backdrop of nascent holiday cheer – toddlers, lovers-in-arms, and a busy skating rink with wooden kiosks being reared surrounding it. Something else caught the eye just then: A large, garishly tattooed bus loomed into view, its rear emblazoned with white letters long familiar to those who’ve seen it stitched across numerous trucker caps and hoodies: TMT. Yes, boxing’s First Family for the modern era was in town. As boxing scribes would later learn that night, Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be making a scheduled appearance at a South Philly nightclub, presumably to spread the TMT love but also to celebrate what was expected to be Garcia’s 33rd career victory. Only “Money”, as inveterate a cherry-picker there has been in recent years, apparently didn’t much think of actually sitting around to see that achievement. Temple University was somewhere uptown – and the TMT coach? Well, it was cruising down South 15th, heading in the opposite direction.