Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Was Mauricio Herrera So Successful?

Make no mistake; Mauricio Herrera was brought in to lose against junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia. Garcia, fighting for the first time in Puerto Rico, the birthplace of his parents, wanted to shine against a credible opponent and further build his fan base in boxing. Herrera, known for his fights with Ruslan Provodnikov (a close win), Mike Alvarado and Karim Mayfield (both competitive losses), came into the match with a record of 20-3 and only seven KOs (he had never been knocked out in his losses). Herrera was durable and could handle himself in the ring but he had little power. There was no sense that he was some type of elite fighter.  

But all didn't go according to plan for Garcia. From the opening bell, Herrera was able to control much of the action with his jab and movement. He also successfully disrupted the timing of Garcia's counters. As the fight war on, Herrera didn't fade. He won a lot of rounds with his jab (often double and triple jabs), ring generalship and defense, not to mention a few sneaky right hands and left hooks. Despite losing a majority decision (the official scores were 116-112, 116-112 and 114-114), Herrera was seen as the victor by most media members and fans. (On fight night I scored the bout for Garcia, but after reviewing the fight, I believe that Herrera did enough to take a close decision.)

This article will look at how Herrera was successful in neutralizing Garcia's strengths. In addition, I'll talk about the specific factors in the fight that led to success for Herrera. 

Ring geography:

Herrera and trainer Willie Silva had a tremendous understanding of Garcia's strengths and weaknesses. They had observed that Garcia was best at countering from mid-range in the pocket. Think about the counter left hook that sent down Amir Khan as he was slow to bring his hands back. Or the left hook the tore apart Lucas Matthysse's eye. Or the right hands that hurt Zab Judah. Garcia is most comfortable when he has some distance.

For this fight, Herrera vowed to do his work in close quarters. Using head and upper body movement, Herrera made it difficult for Garcia to land with lead shots to the head. By jabbing his way in and staying low and close to Garcia, Herrera was able to make Garcia miss with a lot of his wide counters or take the sting off most of his shots. On the inside, Herrera didn't just jab-and-grab (although he did do some of that); he often worked with a free hand, hitting Garcia with short right hands or left hooks. The end result made Garcia uncomfortable in the ring and the close geography of the fight disadvantaged the champion.

Taking away his best punches:

Garcia's two best punches are his sweeping counter left hook to the head and his straight right hand to the head, which he can throw as a lead, in combination or as a counter. And while Garcia landed some right hands in the fight, most notably in the 1st and 11th rounds, that weapon was inconsistent throughout the match. But at least Garcia had some intermittent success with the right hand; his calling-card counter left hook hit mostly air, gloves, arms and shoulders throughout the fight. 

Garcia's counter hook is a sweeping shot and a very wide punch. It's thrown to a spot where he thinks a fighter will be. This type of punch is often referred to as a "clean-up" left hook. The punch is thrown with maximum intensity and is deadly against fighters who don't bring their hands back fast enough, stand upright or pull straight back after an exchange. However, Garcia had little success with it on Saturday because of Herrera's tactics.

The Straight Right Hand

Examining how Herrera took away Garcia's right, the first thing to notice in the fight is how little Herrera stood tall right in front of Garcia. He was constantly moving his shoulders and head. This made it difficult for Garcia to land lead shots, specifically his lead right hand. 

Here's another reason why Garcia had such difficulty in landing his right. If you extend your left arm out and rest the left side of your cheek on the inside of your left shoulder (do it now, I'll wait), you will see how little of the left side of your face is exposed. That's the position that Herrera was in when he threw his jab, which was his preferred punch on Saturday. Thus, Garcia had a very small target to hit.

Furthermore, Herrera consistently changed Garcia's eye level with his jab, throwing the punch to Garcia's stomach, chest and head. Herrera's lack of predictable patterns disrupted Garcia's timing. As Herrera jabbed downstairs, he got very low with his body. To hit Herrera when he was in that position, Garcia needed to have swung down with his straight right hand, an unusual motion for a fighter who isn't particularly tall and thus doesn't have a lot of experience throwing that punch. Garcia wasn't accurate enough doing this and he lacked the proper leverage to cause damage with the shot. In short, Herrera's upper body movement reduced the frequency of Garcia's lead right hands. His tightly tucked chin left very little of his face exposed and the variety of his jabs thwarted Garcia's ability to time and get leverage on his right hands. 

The counter left hook to the head

Silva and Herrera found a safe haven from Garcia's big left hook. After initiating his offense, Herrera stayed low and shifted his head to his right. This allowed Herrera to duck under Garcia's counter left hook, or he was close enough that the punch hit his shoulders or arms without landing at maximum impact. Although Garcia was able to connect to the body with some shorter counter left hooks and uppercuts, they didn't land with the same thudding authority as his sweeping left hooks do. Garcia needed space for his best punch to hit its target and Herrera didn't provide him with it. 

Make Garcia Make The Adjustment:

A refreshing aspect of Silva's corner work during the fight was that he didn't feel the need to unnecessarily complicate a game plan that was working. How often have we seen trainers and fighters go away from a punch or an approach that was successful in order to "show another look?" (Terence Crawford's abandonment of his left hook to the body against Ricky Burns is a recent example of this.) Herrera and Silva stuck with what was working; they saw no good reason to deviate from their initial plan.

There was one massive adjustment that Garcia needed to make to turn the fight definitively in his favor, and he didn't make it. Herrera was a sitting duck for counter left uppercuts. Bending down low and to his right, he was essentially inviting Garcia to counter with that punch. Although Garcia did throw the left uppercut periodically during the fight, it wasn't a significant point of emphasis from Angel Garcia or from the fighter himself. 

Garcia certainly has the left uppercut – he  showed it at points – but it's not among his best punches. The left uppercut for most boxers is a punch used during inside fighting (Canelo Alvarez and Juan Manuel Marquez are notable exceptions among active fighters). As pointed out earlier, Garcia likes to fight best in the pocket. So it's possible that Garcia has not perfected that punch as well as he has done so with other shots in his arsenal, or that he likes/relies on other punches to win fights. 

During the fight, I kept waiting for Angel Garcia to yell at his son and say "Hit him with left uppercuts every time he jabs" or "the hook isn't working so go to the uppercut." That never happened. Thus, Herrera was able to stick to his game plan and fight on his terms. Had Garcia found sustained success with the left uppercut, which would have provided additional opportunities to open up with his power shots, Herrera and Silva would have then needed to make adjustments to remain competitive.

Garcia-Herrera was a close fight, with almost all observers scoring the bout from 116-112 Herrera to 115-113 Garcia. Herrera didn't dominate but he did enough to win far more rounds than most would have predicted coming into the fight. He made the champion look downright ordinary at times. With a tremendous game plan and an ability to execute it, Herrera was able to exceed expectations. Although he didn't get the win, his excellent performance on Saturday will see a rise in his boxing fortunes. 

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