Friday, February 19, 2016

The Sins of Danny Garcia

In the world of boxing social media (which represents only a subset of boxing fans as a whole, but an important subset), Danny Garcia is not a popular fellow. Actually, that understates the level of antipathy that he faces on the internet. Garcia is, in fact, one of the most reviled figures in the boxing twitterverse. A two-weight world champion (at welterweight and junior welterweight, but his title at 147 is of the paper variety) with an undefeated 32-0 record, Garcia is subjected to a level of vitriol that doesn't seem to correlate with his performances in the ring or his conduct outside of it.

Throughout his career, Garcia has helped to make several entertaining fights, most notably against Zab Judah, Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse and Robert Guerrero. He has avoided the police blotter and has rarely been guilty of saying anything particularly incendiary, which in the modern world of non-stop media scrutiny deserves a special meritorious citation. Garcia has won as an underdog and as a favorite. He also seems to resonate with the ticket-buying public on a certain level, drawing good crowds for his headlining fights against Lamont Peterson, Paulie Malignaggi and Guerrero.  

Yet, the online hatred for the Philadelphian shows no signs of abating. So what in particular about Garcia angers this subset of boxing fans? Why are they so strident in their opposition to him? Do these gripes from the keyboard warriors have any merit? Can this enmity be overcome or will Garcia always have a large number of detractors who will root against him? (By the way, this dynamic didn't necessarily hurt Floyd Mayweather's status in the sport.) The following article will examine the roots of this vitriol, analyze the particular claims made by his online adversaries and assess the legitimacy of their grievances.

*** 

In Judaism, there is a prayer called al chet (pronounced as "al het"), which loosely translates to "on account of this sin." It's also referred to as "The Long Confession" and is recited on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The prayer is a list of 44 sins that people commit throughout the year. A portion of the prayer is as follows:

  "For the sin that we have sinned before You under duress and willingly;
   And for the sin that we have sinned before You through hardness of heart.
   For the sin that we have sinned before You without knowledge;
   And for the sin that we have sinned before You with the utterance of our lips.
   For the sin that we have sinned before You in public or in private;
   And for the sin that we have sinned before You through immorality. 
   For the sin that we have sinned before You through harsh speech;
   And for the sin that we have sinned before You with knowledge and deceit.
   For the sin that we have sinned before You through inner thoughts;
   And for the sin that we have sinned before You through wronging a neighbor.
   For the sin that we have sinned before You through insincere confession;
   And for the sin that we have sinned against You in a session of vice." 

With no intention of denigrating or marginalizing a particular religious prayer (it's some powerful stuff), I thought that the al chet structure was a unique way of examining the bases of antipathy for Danny Garcia. Below, I have listed 14 critiques of Garcia (I could have included quite a few more of them). After each "sin" listed, I'll examine the legitimacy of the claim. 

For the sin of winning a decision he didn't earn.

No, Danny Garcia didn't beat Mauricio Herrera. It was a close fight. He probably won five rounds but he didn't quite get there. However, in the annals of boxing, getting an undeserved victory or a draw wouldn't even register as a blip on the radar it's so common. Did Muhammad Ali really beat Ken Norton twice? Did Oscar de la Hoya deserve a decision over Felix Sturm? Did Felix Trinidad really defeat Oscar? How about Julio Cesar Chavez's draw with Pernell Whitaker? Or Holyfield's draw with Lennox Lewis? These are all legendary fighters and hall of famers, yet, receiving an undeserved decision didn't lead to permanent condemnation of their merits as a fighter. So yes, Danny Garcia got one he didn't deserve. It's not really a big deal historically and shouldn't be held against him. 

Legitimacy: 1/10

For the sin of not granting rematches.

Here's one that has some teeth. Garcia could've offered rematches to Ashley Theophane, Lucas Matthysse, Mauricio Herrera and Lamont Peterson. All were close fights. To my eyes, Garcia won three out of four of them but one could plausibly make the argument that the reverse was true. It's sporting for disputed winners to offer rematches. It certainly doesn't happen all of the time but boxing is better off when a fighter takes care of unfinished business. Garcia had opportunities to grant rematches and refused to do so. Naturally, these decisions could turn off fans. 

Legitimacy: 10/10

For the sin of being lucky.

Garcia's detractors will tell you how he's had a charmed life in boxing. Protected by his advisor, Al Haymon, Garcia has had the opportunity to make very good money often in bouts that weren't particularly competitive on paper or in the ring. He gets headlining gigs on networks while other talented boxers struggle to obtain his level of visibility; this scenario fosters ire. 

And Garcia's good fortune goes beyond his representation. He's had the benefit of generous scorecards from judges. Some aggrieved boxing fans will claim that a freak punch (or elbow) closed Lucas Matthysse's eye in their fight, which was the turning point in the match. In addition, they observed Garcia getting manhandled by Amir Khan until a wide left hook – that Danny threw with his eyes closed – changed the outcome of that fight. 

Forgotten in this narrative is how often Garcia creates his own luck. He was only protected by Haymon after he had knocked out Khan. Remember, Garcia was a huge underdog against Khan and was expected to lose. Garcia forced his way into Haymon's inner circle by winning. And certainly facing a supposed killer like Matthysse was not a sign of a protected boxer, at least not at that point. Garcia, again the underdog in that match, threw the punches that turned the fight. In addition, with clever footwork he knocked down an off-balance Matthysse in the 11th round, which essentially clinched the fight on the scorecards.

Furthermore, Garcia has steely composure in the ring. He remains in the pocket waiting for opportunities to counter and doesn't mind getting hit if he can land something big. Yes, his eyes were shut with that shot against Khan. But he dug in against an opponent hitting him with everything and delivered. He had practiced that left hook so often in the gym that he could land it with his eyes closed – and he did. 

Legitimacy: 5/10

For the sin of being aligned with Al Haymon.

It's no secret how much ill will Haymon has generated in certain corners of boxing. Many media members openly root against him and even reasonable boxing enthusiasts look at his dealings in the sport with some degree of suspicion. Haymon doesn't communicate with the pubic and his lack of transparency harms his fighters. 

Garcia has been steered by Haymon in recent years to a number of showcase fights. Haymon has also allowed Garcia to fight at catchweights and hold onto title belts even when Danny had no intention of remaining at 140 lbs. As a welterweight, Garcia was able to win a title belt without facing a top contender. 

All of these things are true. They happened. Have they also happened to other fighters? Yes. Adrien Broner immediately fought for a title belt at 140 after dropping down to that division. He beat a guy named Khabib Allakhverdiev, a decent fighter but no one's idea of a killer in the division. Did Floyd Mayweather hold his junior middleweight belts hostage despite rarely making defenses in the division? Yes, he did. Did Keith Thurman fight anyone of note at 147 before getting a title belt? Have there been all sorts of useless catchweight fights in boxing recently? Of course. So yes, Danny Garcia has benefited from his relationship with Al Haymon. But that doesn't necessarily distinguish him from other fighters. 

In addition, the hoarding of title belts and fighting at catchweights have become fairly widespread throughout the sport. Cotto certainly fights at catchweights a lot. He isn't hated. Canelo seems to have tons of fans. And yes, these phenomena are remarked upon on social media but the fanbases for these particular fighters haven't seemed to thin out.

Legitimacy: 4/10

For the sin of fighting Rod Salka.

Yes, this happened. Danny Garcia fought above the junior welterweight limit against a mediocre lightweight in a non-title bout. The fight wasn't competitive whatsoever. You know what, this occurs frequently in boxing. Roman Gonzalez faced a 38-29-3 guy last year at junior bantamweight in a non-title fight. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. was a junior lightweight champion and yet he fought at 136 pounds against Robert Collins Lindo, who was 1-15! Roy Jones was the IBF middleweight titlist and fought another Danny Garcia at 166 lbs. That Garcia was 25-12. As a super middleweight champion, he also took a bout at 171 pounds against Merqui Sosa in a non-title fight. James Toney was a middleweight champion and faced the 24-13-1 Ricky Stackhouse at 168.

All of these comparisons aren't apples-to-apples. Fighters get in the ring less frequently than they used to do. In past generations, boxers were more inclined to stay active as they waited for bigger opportunities. In addition, many of these in-between fights were off TV and were lower-profile affairs than a headlining date on U.S. premium cable. But, wait a minute. I think we're on to something.

Is the real issue that Garcia fought Salka or is it that Showtime aired it as a main event? If Garcia faced Salka off TV would anyone really care? I doubt that he'd face the same level of vitriol. In this instance, I think that the anger directed towards Garcia should also be spread around to some other people/entities.

It's not as if Danny Garcia knew who Rod Salka was. It wasn't like he marched into Al Haymon's office and exclaimed, "I must fight Rod Salka!" The irony here is that fans pillory Garcia for not controlling his career but yet they assign him responsibility for Salka. Well, which one is it? If Garcia doesn't call the shots regarding his opponents, then why should he be blamed for Salka?

The timing of the Salka fight was bad. Very bad. (I'll touch on this issue later on in the article.) It's true that there were better opponents available. (However, let's not forget that Haymon was in the process of setting up the PBC and Garcia-Peterson was among the first signature fights announced. It's certainly possible that Haymon was saving that matchup for the new PBC platform, which delayed Garcia's ability to take on that foe.) In it of itself, fighting a mediocrity in a non-title belt above a given weight class is fairly common in the sport.

Legitimacy: 3/10

For the sin of ducking Viktor Postol.

After his fight with Selcuk Aydin, Postol was elevated to Danny Garcia's mandatory challenger by the WBC. Very few thought that the fight would get made since Garcia was aligned with Haymon and Postol had a U.S. promotional contract with Top Rank. But then, a series of bizarre incidents occurred. Instead of relinquishing the belt, Team Garcia offered Postol step-aside money and a spot on the Garcia-Peterson undercard. Interestingly, Garcia fought Peterson at 143 lbs., well above the junior welterweight limit. In fact, Garcia would never fight at 140 lbs. again. 

Postol presents myriad matchup problems for junior welterweights. He's tall, features a good work rate, has disarming power and displays a very good jab. As good as Danny had looked at various points at 140, a fight against Postol, the ultimate high-risk, low-reward bout, would have been difficult for him. 

The match never materialized. After Garcia defeated Peterson, he gave up his junior welterweight belts. Postol would go on to win the title by knocking out Matthysse. Ultimately, fight fans were deprived of a solid matchup and Garcia and/or his team wanted nothing to do with it.  

Legitimacy: 7/10

For the sin of Angel Garcia.

Garcia's father, Angel, might be an exceptional trainer but he certainly hasn't won Danny any additional fan support with his inflammatory rhetoric. Angel has insulted a slew of different minority groups and has suggested that Danny would be better off fighting lesser talents instead of taking on the best in the ring. Unlike Danny, Angel loves the spotlight and while he creates headlines and generates publicity for Danny's career, so many of his statements have been cringe-worthy. He's a real antagonist and pushes potential fans away from his son.

Legitimacy: 8/10

For the sin of not being in control of his career.

Danny doesn't call his own shots. He'll often utter the familiar refrain, "I'll talk to Al."  Garcia seems to be at the mercy of whomever Haymon decides to put in front of him. But let's be honest for a second: How many fighters really get to pick their opponents? 10? 12? Is that number too high? Do you think that pound-for-pound talent Tim Bradley said to Bob Arum that he must fight Jessie Vargas? Did Manny Pacquiao demand Chris Algieri? How many guys affiliated with Haymon actually choose their opponents? Keith Thurman said that Luis Collazo was the only fighter presented to him for his July fight. Amir Khan couldn't get the fights that he wanted. And these are two of Haymon's higher-profile boxers.

Perhaps this criticism of Danny is a tacit acknowledgement of his success. Meaning, Danny has had several quality wins. He clearly is skilled and is easily among the top 25-or-so guys in boxing. Why doesn't he exert more influence on his career? Why doesn't he use whatever leverage he has to seize this opportunity?

In fairness to Garcia, it isn't like he's been completely passive. He wanted to fight in Puerto Rico and got a bout there. He insisted on facing Lamont Peterson above the junior welterweight limit and did. However, he hasn't graduated to the point where he is really dictating the terms of his career. Maybe he can do more of that in the future. But ultimately, being at the mercy of one's handlers is often the standard operating procedure for a boxer.

Legitimacy: 4/10

For the sin of being inarticulate.

Let's face it: Danny isn't a talker. He doesn't express himself particularly clearly. He rarely communicates anything that could be considered insightful. Not blessed with elements of self-promotion, Garcia fails to connect with fans or the media when he speaks. He's a boring interview and when he's providing boxing commentary, he relies on shopworn clich├ęs.

However, being inarticulate as a boxer isn't a disqualifying event or necessarily a reason for hatred. Lots of fighters let their fists do their talking, popular ones too. Joe Frazier wasn't a talker. Holyfield couldn't express himself well. Miguel Cotto's interviews have always been painful affairs. Yet all developed significant followings. Yes, the gift of gab is something that could translate into building a stronger fanbase but it's not a prerequisite to becoming a star, or even just a success.

Legitimacy: 2/10

For the sin of squandering his goodwill.

After defeating Matthysse, the world was Danny's oyster. With an excellent showing on a huge international platform (the fight was on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard), Garcia was in a position to see his status in the sport skyrocket. Six months later, Garcia finally re-entered the ring against Mauricio Herrera, a tough and cagey fighter but not a guy who was considered to be a real threat. Nevertheless, Garcia struggled in that fight and was flummoxed by Herrera's awkward movements and in-and-out style.

Garcia escaped with an unpopular majority decision and instead of righting a potential wrong, he waited five more months to take on Salka. Again, fighting Salka in it of itself isn't a grave sin. But context matters. Instead of offering Herrera a rematch or taking on another challenging foe (Peterson was on the undercard for the Salka fight), he faced a much lesser talent.

These actions created real resentment among many hardcore boxing fans. What fighter has the biggest opportunity of his career and then decides to squander it? (Actually, this happens more often than we care to admit. Andre Ward and Mikey Garcia are two contemporaries of Garcia who have taken similarly perplexing steps in their respective careers.) After ascending to the top spot of the junior welterweight division, Garcia didn't seek out additional challenges. He was content to fight lower-profile guys. This damaged his reputation in the sport. Boxing enthusiasts want to see the best take on the best and Garcia failed to follow this path.

Legitimacy: 9/10

For the sin of beating Lucas Matthysse.

Prior to facing Garcia, Matthysse was emerging as one of the true bogeymen of the sport. He became an internet darling on boxing social media. His utter destruction of Lamont Peterson was impressive. He also notched notable stoppages of Humberto Soto and Mike Dallas Jr. on U.S. premium cable. He was one of the most powerful punchers in boxing and was poised to break out as a big star. In his post-fight interview after Peterson, he called out Garcia, who was in the arena. Many within boxing thought that Garcia would relinquish his belt instead of taking on Matthysse.

But Garcia agreed to the fight and went on to win a competitive decision. It was a classic Garcia win. He exploited openings, made important adjustments as the fight progressed and landed great counters. 

Remember, Garcia was an interloper in the top rungs of the sport. He was a guy who sometimes seemed like an afterthought in the Haymon/Golden Boy stable at the time. He wasn't expected to beat Khan. Many thought that he had lost to Theophane. He was supposed to be just a beltholder until someone better arrived. Garcia's upset win over Matthysse angered a lot of people that September night. When a popular warrior is beaten, the victor doesn't always get the spoils. And that's fine. Everyone has favorites in the sport. However, many internet warriors never got over themselves and were reluctant to give Danny the credit that he deserved. The better man won that night. It's not Garcia's fault that he was the more versatile talent and had the better corner.

Legitimacy: 2/10

For the sin of dressing badly:

Danny Garcia doesn't dress the part of a world champion boxer. He's tacky. He looks awful when he's out-and-about. He lacks any sense of style. He comes off as low-class. In this context, he's easy to ridicule. 

Now, most boxers don't come from privileged backgrounds. Many enter boxing because of financial pressures and limited economic opportunity. But Danny has money now and there's certainly a middle ground that can be found here. It wouldn't hurt him to take a little more pride in his appearance. Although one might dismiss this charge as foolish or petty, so much of our society is based on appearances and impressions. There's a reason why people wear suits to interviews. The term "dress for success" didn't come out of thin air. There have been myriad psychological studies that address how appearances affect the way that someone is received. So while this shouldn't be the main bone of contention for Garcia's detractors, there probably is something to this.

Legitimacy: 4/10

For the sin of not being great in any aspect of boxing.

People watch Danny Garcia in the ring and wonder how he wins. He's not particular fast. His athleticism is middling. He wouldn't be classified as a huge puncher. He's not tall or rangy. On the inside, he doesn't necessarily excel. He's a crisp counterpuncher but it's not as if people are afraid to fight him. He doesn't intimidate opponents. So how does he do it?

Danny has a variety of skills, many of which are subtle. He throws four or five different types of right hands: straight, looping, slinging, overhand and hook. This variety was especially displayed against Judah and Guerrero. Overall, he has a spectacular punch variety, featuring jabs, hooks, uppercuts and straight shots. He's very comfortable going to the body or head with numerous types of punches. None of these shots would be classified as a deadly weapon but they are all accurate. He also has a very solid chin. He took the best from Khan, Judah, Matthysse and Peterson and kept his focus and poise. Yes, he's been stunned by punches before but he reacts pretty well to getting hit.  

But Danny's intangibles are what really separate him from other fighters. His timing can be impeccable. Although not blessed with great foot speed, he has very solid footwork. He remains poised in the ring and rarely makes mistakes. He doesn't beat himself. In addition, he takes instruction very well in the corner and does a great job of implementing his father's game plans.

The summation of these attributes adds up to a winning fighter. A boxer who does practically everything right puts himself in a great position to excel in the sport. With that said, I won't claim that Danny will retire undefeated. He's susceptible to faster, more-athletic and bigger fighters. His defense isn't impenetrable. He can be predictable at times on offense. However, to beat Danny definitively, it will take an excellent fighter having a very good night.

Legitimacy: 3/10

For the sin of incomplete performances.

Here's my biggest gripe with Garcia. In his decision victories against top opponents, he's yet to put together a consistent 12 rounds. And there's no clear pattern in his fights. Sometimes he has faded late (Judah, Peterson) and on other occasions he has started slowly (Matthysse, Guerrero). What's consistent is the failure to impose his will over the duration of a fight. Perhaps he underestimates opponents. Maybe he over- or under-trains. Could it be conditioning? Does he coast at times? These are all possible explanations. I don't have a definitive answer but he can certainly underwhelm at points in his fights. Judah was there to be finished but Garcia let him back into the match. Danny seemed unwilling to let his hands go in the early rounds against Guerrero.

It's a perplexing dilemma that one of the top fighters in the sport rarely dominates. His resume is solid but the performances themselves can leave something to be desired

Legitimacy: 10/10

***

Danny Garcia has been a target of derision and hatred among certain subsets of boxing fans. A number of reasons for this animosity are overstated, unfounded, arbitrary, unfair or ridiculous. It's true; boxing fans can lack perspective. Somehow, Danny seems to be a lightning rod for how fighters are managed and moved in contemporary boxing. Is he the only Haymon fighter who has been angled into better opportunities than the average boxer gets? Is he the only one who has been the beneficiary of a debatable decision? Is he the only one that was enabled by a network that didn't exhibit good quality control? Of course not. Yet, Danny takes a lot of heat while others are spared a similar level of vitriol.

However, there are certain criticisms of Garcia that are perfectly legitimate. He didn't fight rematches of disputed decisions. He felt no point of pride or personal imperative to set the record straight by meeting these tough opponents again. Additional wins over Theophane, Matthysse, Herrera and Peterson would've removed doubts from the skeptical boxing fan. Certainly, Garcia wouldn't have been able to turn all of his detractors into fans but he lost an opportunity to create goodwill. 

Moreover, his father remains a barrier. Angel's incendiary rhetoric had damaged Garcia's standing in the sport. People root against Angel; thus, they feel similarly towards Danny.

Finally, Danny has yet to put it together for 12 rounds in a big fight. On one hand, he has certainly talked about wanting to be great but he hasn't always displayed those characteristics in the ring. Despite winning all of his fights, he hasn't dominated at the top level of the sport. Great fighters take out or discourage beaten opponents; they don't instill confidence in lesser talents.

Garcia is now far removed from when he was the plucky underdog from Philadelphia. He's become a target, an "A-side" that makes very good money. Lots of boxers would love to get in the ring with him. There's a psychological edge that Danny has yet to acquire. He has to learn to batter opponents, to embarrass them in the ring. Fighters are too comfortable against him. Letting guys stick around can lead to very bad consequences.

However, all is not lost. A rabbi once told me a great line, "The future affects the past," and this certainly applies to Danny. By facing and beating the best at 147, Garcia can do a lot to erase the past ill will. Should he encounter a close fight, he could extend the opportunity for a rematch. These are the lessons that he needs to learn if he wants his standing in the sport to improve. The sins that he has committed aren't permanent but they will continue to be held against him until he changes these aspects of his career narrative.

But let's also consider the possibility that Garcia is unlike other fighters in the sport. He may not care about negativity from fans or the media. Garcia makes good money and sells tickets without having to change his modus operandi. To this point in his career, he has seemed impervious to these attacks. He has heard the boos before and they don't appear to affect him. It's certainly possible that he could continue in his present vein, retire as a multi-division champ and engender neither love nor, in some cases, respect from sizable portions of the boxing community. Yet, this scenario doesn't seem to bother him.

Almost every fighter wants the public's love and adulation. Thus, when the fans or the media criticize, it hurts even the toughest of characters. Rare is the fighter who is unaffected by negativity. And here, Danny seems aloof to all the vitriol that is directed towards him. Even if he's aware of the animosity, he hasn't demonstrated any outward signs that it upsets him.  

Danny appears to be very content. He makes his $1M+ per fight. He's not one who rocks the boat or seems particularly anxious about the state of his career or his future prospects. This self-satisfaction is rare among top athletes. At some point, the drive to be great at boxing fueled Danny to become one of the best in the sport, and he continues to perform ably. The factors that motivate him (whatever they may be) remain present and manifest in his preparation and execution, but yet the source of his drive stays completely hidden from the boxing public. On the surface, he seems placid. He reveals little. I can't think of any examples of consternation, worry, regret or doubt. This would be the source of a great interview if there was some way to elicit the information from him. But Danny is not one who likes to share. He doesn't seem to be in this for the media attention and doesn't need much from them. He remains enigmatic. Perhaps his greatest sin is his quiet contempt for the public.

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

2 comments:

  1. great freakin article double a

    ReplyDelete
  2. Meant to read this when you first posted but never made time till now. Loved it. Unique angle with strong supporting points. It's hard to say which is "the" sin, but IMO the squandering-Haymon-not great in any aspect trio account for the bulk of the hate. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete