Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Opinions and Observations: The Salido-Garcia Card

Throughout Saturday's fight, Mikey Garcia performed a specific maneuver that illustrated his expert ring intelligence. He tied up Orlando Salido on the ropes and then literally walked him to the center of the ring. Practically each time referee Benjy Esteves broke them apart, Garcia subtlety retreated. This allowed Salido the opportunity to come forward with wide shots, which is exactly what Garcia wanted in order to land his surgical counterpunches. Once Garcia touched the ropes, he tied up Salido, walked him back to the middle and repeated the process. This sequence demonstrated Garcia's acute understanding of how he was going to win the fight. He knew that his strength was his counterpunching. In addition, he understood that Salido's best chance of scoring was along the ropes, when the distance was effectively closed.
Garcia didn't engage with Salido in a mano-a-mano shootout. No, instead he was a sharpshooter, striking his target with a dazzling assortment of single shots and combinations. Scoring knockdowns with three different punches – left hook, right uppercut and straight right hand – Garcia showcased elite skills, and for the first time, I felt that he could become a legitimate star in the sport.
Here are a couple of other examples of Garcia's advanced ring skills: Later in the fight, when Salido was finally starting to put some punches together, Garcia fired off a triple jab and then turned Salido with a left hook. That sequence simultaneously thwarted Salido's aggression and scored impressively. Even at Salido's best, Garcia still controlled the ring. (Garcia also notched a knockdown with a hook off the jab, a winning combination that has become virtually extinct in modern boxing.) Furthermore, Garcia didn't get overly excited by his four knockdowns. He stayed patient. He knew that the knockdowns were from shots that Salido didn't see, not from accumulated punishment. Garcia didn't rush in to exchanges or punch himself out looking for a killshot. Again, these are veteran plays.
So with Garcia being such a savvy fighter, perhaps it should have come as no surprise when he and Robert Garcia, his trainer and brother, decided to end the fight after the eighth round when Garcia's nose was broken by a head butt. Could Garcia have continued fighting? Certainly. But Team Garcia knew what they had in front of them: a large lead against a desperate and dangerous veteran fighter. They probably weren't going to get Salido out of there – hard hitters like Gamboa, Lopez and Marquez couldn't – so they made a calculated decision to call it a day. The crowd at Madison Square Garden didn't like it. I wasn't thrilled by it, but I certainly understood it.
And although Salido was having his best moments of the fight before it was stopped, he was legitimately behind by anywhere from 8 to 10 points. It's hard to engender a groundswell of righteous anger on your behalf when you're effectively down by such a large margin. Surely, he understands this.
What I liked most about Garcia's performance was his quick start. In some of his past fights, Garcia wound up on the wrong end of the patient vs. deliberate axis. He could be plodding, waiting endlessly for opportunities to unleash his arsenal and open up. But on Saturday, he quickly established control over Salido and didn't let him into the fight. He used quick lateral movement to take away Salido's throwing angles, without taking himself out of punching range. He also featured a variety of punches from the outset of the fight, making Salido more tentative.
There are still things for the 25-year-old to work on. Although I love how Garcia really turns over his left hook, he could improve its accuracy. Salido is not a hard target to hit, but Garcia missed high on a number of occasions with the left hook, especially when it was the finishing punch of a combination.
Garcia could also step on the gas a little more. Yes, he was wise not to engage Salido in a war; however, Garcia could have put his punches together even a little more than he did. He mostly threw two and three-punch combinations. There were moments, especially earlier in the fight, where more shots were there for him; he was a little too eager to retreat. That may sound nitpicky, but Garcia actually was much better at this on Saturday than he had been in his previous fight against Jonathon Barros. Garcia could still become a more fluid offensive fighter, one who initiates just a little more often. This would present opponents with additional complications. Ultimately, the future is bright for Mikey. If he can pick his aggression up a tad more, watch out, boxing.
For Salido, he was consistently beaten by a better man. Did he walk in too much with wide shots? Yes. Does he always do that? Yes. Salido's greatest attribute is his relentless pressure. However, it's very tough to apply pressure when on the canvas. As the fight progressed, Salido started to wing shots from stranger and stranger angles – and a few of them scored, but ultimately they weren't enough to hurt Garcia.
Even after being on the canvas four times, Salido picked himself up and continued to fight hard like the pro that he is. Ultimately, the match came down to class and skill. Garcia was sharper, smarter and more versatile. And that was the fight.
During the first round of Gennady Golovkin-Gabriel Rosado, it was already apparent that Rosado was wary of Golvokin's power. Rosado, a pressure fighter who wins by his infighting skills, circled constantly along the ropes, trying his best to avoid Golovkin's heavy hands. In these early rounds, Rosado was not trying to win, but to survive. In Golovkin, he faced a powerful foe that featured a treacherous combination of power, aggression, accuracy and intelligence.
By the time Rosado started to land decent shots, specifically his left uppercut and straight right hand, his face was a mess and he had absorbed real punishment. Rosado's a tough Philadelphia kid, perhaps too tough, and his corner saved him from himself during the seventh round; it was a merciful stoppage. Rosado never went down and he fought as best he could. He was demolished in the fight, but he left the ring on Saturday with his dignity.
Golovkin, the decorated amateur from Kazakhstan, has developed a cult following in boxing circles, and it's easy to see why. He's a gifted offensive fighter who literally runs to his opponent during lulls in the action. He's a pressure fighter but with an Olympian's arsenal. His jab might be his best punch. He throws pretty and punishing combinations. He also seems to get stronger as fights progress.
Perhaps Golovkin's great separator is his chin. Although he can block and parry shots, Golovkin has an ability to take his opponents' best, which makes the prospect of defeating him all the more challenging. Grzegorz Proksa landed some punishing straight left bombs in Golovkin's previous fight. Rosado connected with a couple of menacing left uppercuts; yet, in both cases, Golovkin kept smiling and coming forward.
Like Mikey Garcia, Golovkin can also be patient. He didn't recklessly push for the knockout. Although he applied pressure, he wasn't trying to end things at the first sign of trouble for Rosado. He knew how tough his opponent was. There were a number of points when Golovkin took a small step back and recalibrated instead of continuing to trade shots.
It will take a lot to beat Golovkin, and perhaps this is why so many top middleweights have passed up the opportunity to fight him (for example, Quillin, Sturm, Macklin and Geale). Perhaps Martinez's spectacular counter left hands could crack Golovkin's chin. Maybe Geale's jab could fluster Golovkin enough to win seven rounds. It's possible, but these scenarios remain hypotheticals. Who will be the first top middleweight to get in the ring with GGG?
Rosado will most likely drop back down to 154. He's not tied to any particular promoter, so he would make an attractive opponent for some of the bigger fish in the division, e.g. Alvarez, Trout and Lara. He's a tough kid and has developed some real ring craft over the years. He won't win fights from the outside but he has a very strong sense of who he is in the ring. After he recuperates from Saturday's fight, he'll be back in a meaningful fight sooner rather than later.
The most entertaining fight on Saturday was the junior lightweight showdown between Roman "Rocky" Martinez and Juan Carlos Burgos. Burgos had the superior technique while Martinez featured consistent pressure and some punishing right hands. To my eyes, Burgos eked out a win by 115-113. Most watching at home (including the HBO crew) thought that Burgos won by a wider decision. A number of people that I talked to at Madison Square Garden thought that Martinez was the victor.
Scores were 116-112 (Martinez), 114-114 and 117-111 (Burgos). The crowd didn't agree with the decision, but when do boxing fans ever like draws –the nature of the sport demands a definitive conclusion. Ultimately, I was fine with the outcome. I believe that the fight featured up to eight swing rounds that could have legitimately gone to either boxer.
To my eyes, Burgos won the early rounds with cleaner punching, but he increasingly engaged in Martinez's fight. ("Won" may be too strong of a word. "Edged" may be more appropriate.) Instead of using his legs more and picking his spots, he decided to slug it out along the ropes. Again, Burgos did well there, landing punishing left hooks and right hands. However, Martinez was the one coming forward and moving his hands more. It was easiest to score moments for Burgos when he was in the center of the ring, connecting with sharp shots that featured his superior hand speed. When along the ropes, the notion of who was the more effective fighter was certainly a legitimate question.
There were two great rounds in the fight. In the 6th, Martinez withstood numerous power shots from Burgos in the center of the ring, but in the last half of the round, he drove Burgos back with crushing straight right hands. He then continued to tee off on Burgos against the ropes. In the 10th, Burgos landed a series of lead left hooks to the body, many of which were thrown from the southpaw stance. (Interestingly, Burgos switched to southpaw throughout the fight, but mostly to land the left hook, which is unusual in that the left hook is not the lead hand in the southpaw stance. This confused Martinez at various points in the fight and led to a number of successful moments for Burgos.) These two rounds epitomized the fight as a whole – a beautiful ebb and flow.
Team Burgos should look back at Saturday with some regret. There were too many rounds (seven and eight, for example, really stood out to me) where Burgos got trapped along the ropes and didn't move his hands enough. Burgos had a real skill advantage, but he was taken out of his game plan at points by Martinez. Ultimately, Burgos allowed Martinez to make it a close fight. I would welcome a rematch. The two styles blend together wonderfully.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
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