BROOKLYN, N.Y.—At least it was free.
The long-awaited unification bout between WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman Jr. (28-0, 22 knockouts) and WBC belt holder Danny Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) couldn’t live up to expectations in Brooklyn on Saturday night. And while Thurman did squeak out a split decision on CBS (116-112, 113-115, and 115-113), becoming a unified champion in boxing’s deepest weight class, he did not do so convincingly.
“He ran all the way from the six, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th,” said Garcia’s trainer and father, Angel. “How you wanna fight? You got to be kidding me. This is a sport—you got to do contact with the fighter. You just can’t run.”
For what it’s worth, Thurman did not just run. The first round was reminiscent of his previous title defense, when he edged Shawn Porter at Barclays Center in what might have been the best fight of 2016.
Not only were both Thurman and Garcia active to start the fight, but the latter looked like he would be short work for Thurman after absorbing 15 power punches in the first round, according to CompuBox.
In fact, Thurman briefly stunned Garcia with an overhand right.
Garcia managed to reset himself and connect with some counters of his own, but Thurman’s movement and own counter punches seemed to overwhelm the Philadelphia native over the first three minutes.
And while Garcia landed a few good body shots in the second and third rounds, the thing that stood out most was his own chin because Thurman certainly tested it by landing 49 punches over the first nine minutes. Garcia, meanwhile, connected 41 times, according to CompuBox.
“It was a great night of boxing,” said Thurman, who never had the crowd in his corner at any point on Saturday. “He had technique, but I had greater technique. Danny didn’t like my movement. As soon as he took off the gas, I got right in his face.”
But it was Thurman, afterwards, who was accused of taking his foot off the gas.
Saturday’s judges only agreed upon a handful of rounds, but the 10th was undeniably in Garcia’s favor as spectators began to chant “Dan-ny” while their fighter connected 10 power punches in the frame.
The final two rounds were almost cartoonish, with Thurman shuffling right, left, and in any direction but Garcia’s.
“We knew we had the fight won,” said Thurman’s trainer Dan Birmingham. “Keith was still scoring while he was backing up—sticking and moving… We know Danny is a great fighter and there was a lot of great back and forth, but Keith was the better man tonight.”
Some likened his strategy to the one that cost Oscar De La Hoya against Felix Trinidad in 1999, when the former yielded the final rounds believing he already had the fight in the bag.
The difference on Saturday, however, was that Garcia was unable to capitalize in the way Trinidad did against De La Hoya.
“The lack of my output may have won him some rounds,” Thurman said afterwards. “But… there are rounds where, for every one punch [from Garcia], I was landing two to three punches in return. And I knew I was winning those rounds… He didn’t like my movement.”
“It was a good fight,” Garcia said. “I thought I did enough to win. I picked it up in the last four rounds and thought I won the fight. But I take my losses like I take my wins, like a true champion. All I can do is come back stronger.”
Garcia may have taken the loss like a champion, but his father wanted no part of that. (In fact, when asked if his father was upset about the results, Garcia laughed, saying that Angel Garcia is “always upset”).
“How do you win a championship running?” said Angel Garcia, who made waves during a January press conference when he unleashed a senseless string of racial epithets at Thurman. “Right now, I’m disgusted with boxing. I want Danny to retire right now… I wanted him to retire today. I really want him to retire. Rematch? No. The only person we’d give a rematch to is [Erik] Morales… We aint no stepping stone to nobody.”
Thurman, on the other hand, said he was open to a rematch if that was in the cards, but there’s really no saying where he could go from here.
“Right now, I’m gonna sit back and reflect,” he said. “I will be stepping back in the ring sometime later on this year. I’m not gonna do a whole one-fight performance [in 2017]. It’s unnecessary. We’re gonna have to see what manifests. There might be some form of a rematch fight. There might be some kind of a ‘stay busy’ fight. Then there might be a great fight in the near future because the welterweight division is a great division.
“The motto stays the same,” he continued. “I got an ‘0;’ I’m not afraid to let it go.”
Even if Thurman-Garcia disappointed on Saturday, the welterweight division will have ample opportunities to redeem itself.
Not only did the WBC announce an eliminator between Shawn Porter (26-2-1, 16 knockouts) and Andre Berto (31-4, 24 knockouts) to be fought at Barclays Center on April 22, but that winner will become a mandatory challenger for Thurman.
Perhaps a bigger opportunity could present itself after former American Olympian Errol Spence (21-0, 18 knockouts) and IBF world welterweight champion Kell Brook (36-1, 25 knockouts) fight in Sheffield, England on May 20.
“He came over here and took the title in hostile territory,” Spence said Saturday at Barclays Center, referring to Brook’s majority decision over Porter in August of 2014. “So I’m going there to hostile territory, basically in his kitchen, to bring the title back to America.”
After fearlessly moving up to middleweight in September to fight Gennady Golovkin, who broke his eye socket, Brook, a native of Sheffield, could have taken the easy route, staying above 147 pounds and allowing his title to fall to Spence without a fight.
Instead, Brook committed himself to returning to welterweight and defending the title against one of boxing’s brightest stars and the only fighter to knock out Long Island welterweight Chris Algieri.
“Do I want to see three world titles strapped around me?” asked Thurman about facing the winner of Brook-Spence. “Of course I do. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an undisputed welterweight champion. I don’t know when, but it will manifest.”
Adding to Thurman’s menu of potential challengers, legendary welterweight Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2) is scheduled to face fading star Amir Khan (31-4) in May, and could represent a major payday for the Clearwater, Fla. native. Controversial former super lightweight champion Adrien Broner (33-2)—who was in attendance on Saturday in Brooklyn—is moving up to welterweight and could help to make an enticing fight card. And veteran Timothy Bradley Jr. (33-2-1) is still lurking at 37.
Even super lightweights Terence Crawford (30-0) and Viktor Postol (28-1) coached feasibly be coaxed into boxing’s deepest weight class.
Among the undercards on Saturday, Erickson Lubin (18-0) earned a title shot by knocking out Jorge Cota (23-2) in their WBC super welterweight eliminator. Not only did the 21-year old put himself in position to become one of the youngest champions ever, but he did so by delivering a fourth-round knockout that might end up ranking among the best in 2017.
“I baited him with the jab,” Lubin said, describing the moments before his overhand left floored Cota. “I knew he was going to come with the big shots early… I put my hands down to bait him in, I did a squat and then it was night-night. I was ready to follow-up with a right but he was already out.”
Light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara (29-4-0, 17 KOS) earned a 10th-round stoppage over Chad Dawson (34-5-0) in what may have been the most exciting bout of the evening. The Polish native was fighting for the first time since suffering a technical knockout loss to Joe Smith Jr. last June—a defeat that may have cost him a title shot at the time.
Fonfara would be even further removed from a title chance had he not turned things around against Dawson over the final two rounds of the fight. After dropping the former WBC light heavyweight champion in the ninth, Fonfara stunned Dawson in the tenth before pushing the Connecticut native into the corner with a flurry of punches before the fight was stopped.
"I heard the scores were not in my favor,” Fonfara said afterwards. “Right now I can't say whether or not I agree with them. I thought I was winning the fight, but I'd have to go back and watch closer… I hope that this will put me in a position to either fight Adonis Stevenson or Joe Smith again. I think that both of those fights would be really good rematches for me.”
Fonfara lost a unanimous decision to Stevenson in May of 2014.
Stevenson, the WBC world light heavyweight champion, was ordered to fight Eleider Alvarez, but could face off against another opponent on April 29th at the newly remodeled Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the evening came from Sergey Lipinets (12-0, 10 knockouts), who earned a stunning TKO win after dropping Clarence Booth in the seventh round. A former kickboxer, Lipinets is one of several super lightweights who could ultimately make a bigger splash at 147 pounds.
Aside from a compelling undercard, Thurman-Garcia also sold well. There were 16,533 in attendance—a record for combat sports at Barclays Center—and CBS topped all networks in primetime with a 2.2 rating, according to Nielsen overnights. That’s a 22% improvement over Thurman-Porter last June, when primetime boxing returned to the network for the first time since Muhammad Ali lost to Leon Spinks in 1978.
But for as well as it sold, Saturday’s title fight will be remembered for Thurman’s passivity. For someone who earned his nickname, “One Time,” by scoring 22 knockouts, Thurman only seemed interested in squeaking out a win on the cards against Garcia, who may have won were it not for his disappointing first round.
“Keith ran half the fight,” said Angel Garcia. “Boxing is about hitting, not running. Danny tried to be the aggressor, but Keith was moving around too much.”
“You're not just fighting your opponent sometimes, you're fighting the judges,” said Thurman. “They have their own perspective. I know I was backing up and being defensive, I feel like a lot of Danny's power punches were ineffective. I was controlling the fight from the outside. There were some rounds that I was dominating. I knew that I had pulled ahead. We felt like we definitely earned the victory tonight.”
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