Monday, March 6, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Thurman-Garcia

"He had technique but I had superior technique. And I was able to read his technique. Ultimately, it comes down to who lands the most punches and who is the most was a nice night of boxing in my opinion."
– Keith Thurman 

Danny Garcia has notched a number of impressive wins in his career. He defanged the wild beast that was Lucas Matthysse. He trapped a jackrabbit in Amir Khan. In both of those signature victories, Garcia waited patiently in the pocket to exploit an opportunity. For Matthysse, it was a counter right hand that helped to close his eye. Against Khan, a sweeping left hook ultimately changed the fight.  

Until Saturday, Garcia's style had suited him well throughout his time in the professional ranks. With a mixture of poise, opportunism and execution, he had defeated a number of talented fighters to become a multi-divisional titlist. Yes, he had a couple of close calls and perhaps a win or two that was fortunate, but Danny's talent and approach in the ring had propelled him into becoming one of the top American fighters of his era.  

However, as Saturday demonstrated, Keith Thurman presented a series of challenges for Garcia that required him to ditch his preferred, deliberate style in favor of something more daring. But ultimately, Danny just couldn't leave behind the girl he brought to the dance. 

Early in the match, Thurman was the sharper fighter. Landing a variety of big punches, he bested Danny with power and accuracy. As he continued to pile up points, he decided to turn the fight into a boxing match. Instead of trading bombs in the pocket, he circled the ring and connecting with quick flurries.  

Garcia needed to land a devastating punch or a series of powerful shots to change the trajectory of the fight. He did throw his patented counters in the pocket, but most often his biggest shots failed to connect. As rounds continued to go Thurman's way, Garcia stuck with his usual ring style, unable to adjust or adapt. In the fight's final third, he did pick up the pace somewhat but he wasn't able to hurt Thurman or fully seize the initiative. Ultimately, there wasn't a real Plan B.  

When the final scores were announced, one judge was kind enough to give Garcia the nod but to be frank, only the most magnanimous of ring observers could find seven rounds for Danny. I thought that he won three. Maybe he took five. But he certainly didn't do enough to win. Saturday's action required a different Danny Garcia, one who fights with more urgency, one who takes more risks in the ring. That fighter never materialized.  


When trying to identify an elite or next-level fighter, one attribute I find significant is a boxer's ability to change his style to win a fight. In short, can a boxer who's down on the cards, use another approach to get a victory? 

On occasion, even the best boxers find themselves behind in a fight. And part of the reason why the elites deserve their hosannas is the adjustments they make against difficult opponents. Consider some of the truly elite fighters from the modern era. They often exhibited this characteristic of changing their style to win. Pernell Whitaker went for the knockout of Diosbelys Hurtado. Sugar Ray Leonard had to become the slugger against Tommy Hearns. Floyd Mayweather engaged in a shootout against Marcos Maidana. None of these fighters preferred to win in that style but they had to transform their approach in hopes of salvaging a victory.  

However, it's not just enough to want to do something different; these fighters were successful enough to win with the alternate style. So there are two parts to this equation: the recognition that a preferred style isn't working, and the ability to win with a different approach.  

The cold reality of Garcia's performance on Saturday is that Danny was unable to realize that he was well behind in the fight, and/or he was unwilling to change his approach to get a victory. Thurman was landing more frequently and with better scoring blows. As he boxed more in the second half of the fight, he was winning the battle of ring generalship. He dictated when most of the action would commence.  

What Garcia needed to do was to sell out for the win. He had to up the tempo and apply consistent pressure. One punch should've become three- and four-punch combinations but only seldom did Garcia let his hands go freely. Even when Garcia would connect with a counter right or a left hook, there was nothing coming behind it.  

Perhaps one reason why Garcia didn't go after Thurman more aggressively later in the fight was Keith's impressive power punching display in the first round. In an attempt to trade fire-with-fire in the opening frame, Garcia got the worst of the action. Keith scored with a potpourri of power shots: right crosses, left uppercuts, looping right hands and left hooks. After the rough opening foray, Garcia fought more conservatively. And even as he slightly increased his punch output in the fight's final third, he never let his hands go like he did in the first round.  

Garcia isn't a natural pressure fighter. He's more often a pocket fighter, a counterpuncher, someone who wins by being more intelligent and poised. Yet, the final half of Saturday's fight didn't call for poise and intelligence, but instead action and urgency. Garcia needed to take Thurman out of his comfort zone, rough him up and take risks. But throughout the fight, Danny still had his cruise control set to 55 mph. In the championship rounds, he upped it to 65, but by that point, he should've been careening around the ring with reckless abandon. 

Ultimately, Garcia was too controlled and that caution contributed to his loss. When it was obvious to almost everyone in Barclays Center that something radical needed to change, Garcia never went to the next gear. He either didn't have it or didn't want to push it, not the response of an elite fighter.  


Kids, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a fighter named Keith Thurman whose punches were so wide you could literally drive a Mack truck between them. When Keith was a boy... 

Ok, let me end story hour early tonight but that part about Keith being wide, well that was 100% true. He would throw shots from across the arena. When they landed, they were often spellbinding; when they missed, he was a sitting duck.  

It's worth recounting these earlier times because the Thurman of yore probably would’ve gotten knocked out on Saturday night. Garcia threw his best counterpunch haymakers – the sweeping left hooks and the chopping right hands – but Thurman evaded them all night. When Garcia went big, he was unsuccessful. Many of his shots sailed by Thurman while others just whisked past his chin or nose. Garcia just couldn't land his home run.

Much has been made about Thurman's gradual shift from a knockout artist to a boxer-puncher. And that transition has certainly been impressive. When he initially appeared on premium TV, Thurman was a crude slugger – a damn entertaining one – but crude nevertheless.  

Flash forward five or so years and Thurman would be scarcely recognizable. Boxing just as much as slugging, getting in and out of the pocket, blocking and parrying shots, moving lightly on his feet, Thurman has emerged as a polished combatant. He still lands big shots but he's ready to defend counters. In tough fights against Diego Chaves, Luis Collazo and Shawn Porter, he's learned that he can be vulnerable in the ring. He now respects what his opponents can do and understands the importance of a game plan.  

Dan Birmingham's tireless work in the gym has helped elevate Thurman to the next level. Thurman seems fully prepared for what his opponents’ best weapons are. When hit cleanly, he knows how to tie up, use his feet or fire back. On Saturday, he seemed to know where and when Danny would throw his counters even before Garcia did.  

It's clear that Thurman has considerable intelligence and is an apt pupil in the gym but it's Birmingham's attention to detail that has helped prepare Thurman for this stage of his career. Thurman fought confidently on Saturday but he executed in a way that reduced Garcia's effectiveness. After the first few rounds, Thurman fought his fight, not Garcia's. From Thurman's perspective, Garcia offered nothing unforeseen.  

With his work with Winky Wright and now Thurman, Birmingham has clearly established himself as one of the elite trainers in boxing. On the surface, there are few commonalities between Wright and Thurman. Wright was a flat-footed southpaw with little athleticism or power but had an almost impenetrable defense. Thurman is an athletic, hard-hitting banger who took a lot longer to grasp basic defensive fundamentals. However, the through line with both fighters is their intelligence in the ring. Like Wright, Thurman doesn't beat himself and he has an acute understanding of what he needs to do to win. In addition, both Wright and Thurman have been almost devotional in their praise of Birmingham. 

A humble guy, Birmingham most likely would deflect my compliments and steer them to his fighters. And that modesty is refreshing in a sport where many coaches think that they are the stars. But let's make sure Birmingham receives his due: he has shaped two unconventional fighters into elite talents. That they so scarcely resemble each other in the ring further speaks to his greatness.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

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