Thurman vs. Garcia: Boxing Gets Something Right (For A Change)

Fightland Blog

By Alex Raskin

Photos by Amanda Wescott/Showtime

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—For all of boxing’s sins, like overpriced pay-per-view spectacles and uneven matches aimed at inflating one fighter’s record, the sport does manage to get things right now and again. Saturday’s unification bout between WBA champion Keith Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) and WBC belt holder Danny Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is a good example. 

It won’t be on pay-per-view, and will instead become just the second primetime boxing match broadcast on CBS since 1978. And as if being free to television viewers wasn’t enough, Thurman-Garcia has significant ramifications for the winner, who will be hoisted atop boxing’s most talent-laden division, and the loser, who will be stripped of his title and perfect record.

Best of all, there is no clear-cut favorite. 

“It’s really close to a pick ’em fight,” said veteran Showtime broadcaster and Boxing Hall of Fame class of 2017 enshrinee, Steve Farhood. 

Thurman is getting slightly better odds in Vegas, but Garcia, a former unified champion at junior welterweight, has carved out a reputation as an underdog, upsetting the likes of Lucas Matthysse and Amir Khan, the latter of whom he beat by technical knockout in just four rounds. 

“I've been the underdog before,” Garcia said at Thursday’s press conference. “All 'underdog' means is that there are a whole bunch of people who don't know what I can do.”

Those dismissing Garcia would be wise to look at his recent string of dominance. His last 11 opponents have managed to connect on just 13.6 punches per round—4.1 fewer than the welterweight average, according to CompuBox.

And when has been hit, Garcia has shown an impressive ability to withstand punishment. 

“I haven't seen Danny Garcia hurt before,” said recently crowned IBF super welterweight champion Jarrett Hurd. “I've seen Keith Thurman hurt to the body against Luis Collazo. Garcia took punches from hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse. No matter how much Garcia's been the underdog, he always finds a way to pull the upset.”

But what really sets Garcia apart is his offense. 

Against his last 11 opponents, the Philadelphia native landed 40.2% of his power punches—most notably his infamous left hook he used to knock down Khan, Rob Salka, and Erik Morales. 

“Can it be a factor?” Farhood asked rhetorically of Garcia’s left hook. “Yeah. I think a lot of that power is natural. It’s kind of hard to explain. Danny throws the left hook occasionally a little wide. But when you watch a left hooker punch, you can just tell. It’s a very natural, flowing punch. It is with Danny. Can he knock out a full-fledged welterweight, who has a good chin, with that punch? That’s part of the appeal of this fight: we don’t know the answer to that.”

And therein lies the biggest challenge for Garcia, who has only faced a handful of true welterweights.

Thurman has had his sights set on the 147-pound division since he was 16, when he dropped out of high school on the advice of late former trainer Ben Getty. (With his days free, the young Thurman had time to spar against former champions Jeff Lacy and Winky Wright.)

“If there is an edge, it might be that Thurman is a far more experienced at this weight—and more accomplished at this weight,” said Farhood. “He’s not a more accomplished fighter than Garcia, but so many of Garcia’s wins came at 140 pounds. He’s only had, I think, four pure welterweight fights, where Thurman has been a welterweight his entire career.”

Thurman has resisted the urge to move up to 154 pounds, where his punching power would be less remarkable and he would be forced to use 10-ounce gloves rather than his preferred eight-ounce pair. 

And as any of Thurman’s 22 knockout victims can attest, the lighter mitts make a difference. 

Naturally, Garcia has dismissed this notion (“I’m taller than him, I’m wider than him, and I have a bigger back than him”) but others see Thurman’s power and experience paying dividends on Saturday. 

“I'm choosing Thurman to stay undefeated because, I think not only is he a little stronger, and a little smarter, but I also think his boxing ability is superior to Garcia’s,” said Shawn Porter, who lost a unanimous decision to Thurman at Barclays Center last June in what many considered the best fight of 2016. (Another freebie on CBS)

But Thurman isn’t just throwing wild punches. Over his last eight fights, he’s surgically landed 48% of his power punches, which is 10.3% higher than average welterweights and ranks fourth among CompuBox’s leaders.

He’s also avoided significant punishment over that time. 

Thurman’s last eight opponents connected just 11.1 punches per round, or 6.6 fewer than the welterweight average. 

And when he has been hit, like when Porter pushed him to the brink last June, Thurman has shown impressive durability. 

“Thurman’s been down only once in his career and it was a long time ago,” said Farhood. “Thurman’s been in some shootouts. Parts of his fights have been shootouts, and he’s shown no vulnerability in terms of his chin.”

The key for Thurman, according to the 28-year-old Clearwater, Fla. native, will be to avoid leaving things in the judges’ hands, as he has in each of his last five bouts. 

“I know that there have been some judging that have been very controversial in the sport of boxing, but I say I bring my own judgings,” the mercurial Thurman said Wednesday. “It’s called my left and my right hand.”

This matchup did draw some negative attention back on Jan. 18, when Garcia’s father and trainer, Angel Garcia, aimed a nonsensical, racist tirade at Thurman during a press conference. 

Since then, the New York State Athletic Commission has met with Angel Garcia and ultimately ruled that he would be able to man his son’s corner on Saturday night. 

Thurman, the son of a Hungarian-Polish mother and African-American father, has put the incident out of his mind: “We’re not here for Angel Garcia. We’re here for Danny Garcia.”

That’s wise, because the winner on Saturday will be in the driver’s seat later this year, when another unification bout could be on the horizon. 

Former Olympian and one of America’s brightest boxing prospects Errol Spence Jr. will get his first title shot against IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook on May 20 in Sheffield, England, and the winner could see Saturday’s victor in a lucrative blockbuster bout before the New Year. 

“That would be ideal, especially if the winner of Spence-Kell Brook is a clear winner,” said Farhood. 

If that doesn’t happen, Saturday’s winner will have a menu of bankable options in boxing’s deepest weight class, such as Shawn Porter, former junior welterweight Adrien Broner, or possibly even legend Manny Pacquiao. 

And while it’s one thing to have talent in a division, it’s another to have elite boxers who are willing to face one another. Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather didn’t get into the ring together until years after their prime, and Mayweather’s win over an aging and possibly injured Pacquiao never carried much weight with boxing fans. 

Now, not only are these welterweights willing to fight, but they’re increasingly willing to do so on network television and cable as opposed to pay per view. 

“Yes there’s money to make in pay-per-view because you’re paying for a view,” said Thurman, who is hoping for over 5 million viewers on Saturday. “So, simple math, $20, 1 million views, that’s $20 million generated in one night. So yes there’s lots of money to be made in pay-per-view. But when it comes to the sport of boxing, instead of $20 million being generated, I would love to see one day, 20 million viewers back into the sport of boxing. 

“You have so many fighters that are in their prime that are willing to make these fights happen,” he continued. “That, in general, is something that is gonna help bring the sport of boxing back to the forefront of popularity in America.”


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