It's time: Bring on the best
Danny Garcia, the new WBC junior welterweight champ, has shown in three fights what many reigning champions have failed to demonstrate in 30. Defeating opponents as complicated as Nate Campbell, Kendall Holt and Erik Morales one after another in quick succession demonstrates that Garcia, just 24, is undefeated for good reason.
In his exciting battle with Morales, we saw a well-prepared fighter, physically strong, one who could stand to improve the technical aspects of his defense -- but one who also showed courage, ambition and the authentic personality of a champion. He didn't back down at any time, didn't allow himself to be intimidated by a bloodied nose late in the fight and didn't give too much respect to his opponent's storied history.
Garcia is a legitimate champion, and his recent run in the ring serves as clear testimony. In 2010, he traveled to Cancun, Mexico, and knocked out Jorge Romero, who had a 17-2 record at the time. Later, he finished a respected contender in Greece's Mike Arnaoutis. In 2011, Garcia defeated John Figueroa in the second round, proceeding to then defeat Campbell and Holt in his next two bouts. Both of those fights went the distance.
Garcia is undefeated in 23 ring appearances and has won 14 of those by knockout. His career so far has been clean, meaning he has never needed the help of the judges or referees for a definitive edge in any of his fights.
How is it possible, then, to assert that Garcia isn't ready to face the best guys out there? The Philadelphian has defeated the best fighters he has been matched with, and there's no indication that he or his managers have ducked anyone. He is a champion, and as such he must ratify his stature against rivals who should be just as challenging, or more so, than any of those he has faced to this point.
There is a common phrase used by promoters to justify when a fighter is held back from facing a higher quality of competition: "The kid ain't ready yet." Emblematic of that approach has been the handling of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, a 21-year-old junior middleweight champion who, despite the experience of 39 professional fights, continues to be brought along slowly. Recent criticism from another champion, one who has faced the best and only the best, was blunt:
"'Canelo' has not demonstrated that he is at the level required to face opponents such as [Floyd] Mayweather," said Juan Manuel Marquez, a former world champion in three separate weight classes. "Alvarez says that he learns more and more in every fight, but he must stop fighting tailor-made opponents. It is time for him to fight the best fighters on the same level and then go even higher and fight the best fighters available."
Just as Alvarez and Marquez are (or have been) champions, so to is Garcia. And to borrow a phrase from Marquez, it is time for Garcia to fight the best, to demonstrate that his crown didn't fall from the sky and into his lap. And it's my opinion that Garcia has the skills to defeat the top competition the 140-pound division has to offer.
Garcia is consistent, fast and aggressive. He has a good jab, excellent counterpunching skills and a healthy inclination to land solid left hooks to the body. He's courageous, doesn't shy away from exchanges and excels under pressure. He needs to improve his defense because he remains dangerously open to counters and doesn't use enough head movement -- which is something Morales took advantage of.
But Garcia showed he can persevere and be disciplined in a fight, suggesting that he can overcome those mistakes and make the proper adjustments during training before taking on the best of the division, whether it be Marquez, Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson, Marcos Maidana, Timothy Bradley Jr., Zab Judah or others. All of those fights could be available to Garcia, and without a doubt, he'd emerge victorious from any of them.
Garcia has a long road ahead
Some 15 years ago in El Paso, Texas, Erik Morales -- who had just turned 21 -- captured his first world title, a junior featherweight crown, against a boxing legend in Daniel Zaragoza.
Last week, on another Texas night, Morales -- now fighting at junior welterweight and resembling Zaragoza in age and record at the time Morales had vanquished him -- succumbed to an undefeated 24-year-old contender, one whose career, it could be argued, aligns pretty closely with that of a young Morales.
So far, those are the only similarities we can draw. We still don't know whether Morales will emulate Zaragoza by calling it quits after Saturday's fight in Houston. What we can predict within a slim margin of error is that Danny Garcia, who defeated Morales to lift his title belt, will very likely fail to achieve the heights Morales reached during his decorated career.
Let's be clear on something: Fighters such as Morales come around about as often as comets, and there are very few in today's rankings who could claim to have Morales' determination and courage in the ring. Boxing is given a Morales only once or twice in a generation, and asking Garcia to continue walking in his footsteps, on a path to the Hall of Fame, is a bit too much to ask. In fact, it's unreasonable even to expect Garcia to shine at the top of a 140-pound division filled with so many talented boxers, fierce fighters and heavy punchers.
Morales was a tough challenge, and Garcia overcame him with commendable resolve, but it was clear that the Mexican icon's 35 years, recent gall bladder surgery and dozens of grueling ring battles over the course of his career had taken their toll, having eroded Morales' formerly extraordinary powers.
Make no mistake, Garcia earned his title fair and square, his win over Morales a legitimate achievement. Still, I wonder how Garcia -- with his nose badly broken in the 10th round and his mettle suddenly put to the test, as it was against Morales -- would have fared against stronger punchers or fighters with more accuracy and zip on their punches.
The truth is, despite being enormously talented, Garcia lacks the depth and versatility to measure up to fighters such as Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marcos Maidana, Devon Alexander and even the strong second line of up-and-comers and battle-hardened veterans such as Mike Alvarado, Zab Judah and Lucas Matthysse, among others.
Garcia's formerly lazy left hook proved to be better than expected in Houston, and it was one of those punches that sent Morales to the canvas in the decisive 11th round. But throughout the fight, Garcia's defense on that flank showed some worrisome holes that any other fighter in the top echelon of this deep division would have exploited with greater efficacy.
These are just a few of the question marks that surround the career of a fighter who, although undeniably talented, is toiling in one of boxing's elite divisions in a highly competitive era. Forget outshining all others at junior welterweight. Garcia will be challenged to merely stay afloat.
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