Undefeated titleholders Keith Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) and Danny Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) clash in a welterweight unification fight on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This matchup features two of the higher-profile fighters in American boxing as well as one the sport's more confrontational figures in Angel Garcia, Danny's father and trainer. Thurman-Garcia has had a long gestation period. Thurman hasn't been in the ring since June although he was on-hand for Garcia's last win in November against Samuel Vargas. After that fight, Thurman confronted Garcia during the post-fight interview and a verbal conflagration ensued. Thurman-Garcia was officially announced almost immediately after that episode.
To the greater boxing community, this fight will answer several questions. Although many have predicted greatness for Thurman, Garcia will represent his proving ground. Will Thurman rise to the challenge or will he come up short, like other betting favorites have against Garcia? (Thurman is essentially a 2-1 favorite.) And boxing enthusiasts have waited for years to see Garcia take on another elite boxer. Will his success at 140 lbs. translate against the best at welterweight? Also, will the winner of this fight want to challenge the victor of the Kell Brook-Errol Spence matchup scheduled to unfold later in the year? Saturday will provide some needed answers.
Below are the keys to Thurman-Garcia. My fight prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Ring Geography
Perhaps the most important aspect of Saturday's fight is where the action will take place. Thurman will have a decided speed advantage. He can certainly box on the run or quickly potshot and get out of the pocket. Those approaches will help reduce Garcia's ability to counter and may be Thurman's best avenue to picking up points. Garcia has good footwork but he's not the athlete that Thurman is. He struggled with Lamont Peterson's movement and failed to land decisive blows in that contest despite getting the nod on the judges' scorecards.
Neither fighter really is at his best at close range. Although Thurman does have a punishing right uppercut and Garcia can cause damage with his left hook, both of those punches are rather long and they are at their best from mid-range. It's unlikely that Thurman-Garcia will develop into a phone booth war.
In the pocket, both fighters have a multitude of offensive weapons. Danny will feature his full complement of counterpunches, including his right hand (which he throws from a variety of angles and trajectories), left hook and uppercuts. Thurman can score from that distance with his jab and three major power punches: right hand, left hook and right uppercut. The conventional wisdom for this fight states that when the fight is at mid-range, Garcia should be at his best. His counters are creative, accurate and crisp. He also finds ways to punish his opponents for their mistakes. However, Thurman can certainly excel from this distance as well. His considerable power manifests at mid-range. It could be anyone's fight in the pocket.
2. Who wins the exchanges?
Thurman may have the better natural power of the two punchers but he also makes more mistakes in the ring than Garcia does. He can get very wide with his shots, leaving him out of position to defend. Like most counterpunchers, Garcia often will take a few rounds to figure out his opponent. It's certainly possible that Thurman could win the fight's early exchanges before Garcia fully commits to his punches or makes adjustments to Thurman's speed.
Over his last few fights, Thurman has improved at not fighting as straight up and he now consistently attacks behind his jab. These technical and strategic improvements have helped him against his recent opposition. Although never a defensive marvel, Thurman now picks off shots better because of a technical improvement with his glove positioning. Overall, he's become more defensively responsible than he was earlier in his career. Nevertheless, Thurman was certainly hit hard at points by Shawn Porter in his last fight. And if Garcia lacks Porter's urgency in the ring, he does have far superior accuracy and poise than Thurman's last foe. Garcia will have opportunities to connect.
Variety will be very important for both fighters. Thurman will want to use his jab, but not so much that Garcia starts timing him with overhand rights. Employing angles against Garcia will be helpful. As for Garcia, he can't just wait for big counters. At times, he'll need to put punches together to create openings; he'll have to make his own luck instead of counting on potential Thurman mistakes.
Both of these fighters have a variety of tools to best or hurt an opponent during exchanges. Will it be Thurman's speed and power or Garcia's accuracy and variety of counterpunches that will be more effective?
3. What will Danny improvise?
To Danny Garcia's detractors (and they are legion), they can't understand how a fighter who is so "ordinary" on the surface beats quality fighters. (And to be fair, much of the antipathy toward Danny is attributed to a couple of questionable decisions that he won.) Garcia doesn't have superior speed (hand or foot), athleticism or power.
But there are two aspects of Garcia's that are exceptional in the ring: his poise and his improvisational ability. I think it's clear that his poise is well understood by now. He wasn't rattled by the ferocious punching of Lucas Matthysse. Amir Khan's considerable hand speed advantage was eventually neutralized. Garcia never beats himself in the ring. He remains calm, even when under duress.
But Garcia's gift of improvisation is rarely discussed. He can throw all sorts of right hands: crosses, looping shots from distance, overhand rights and hooks (he's a rare conventional fighter who throws a right hook). Even though Zab Judah took away Garcia's left hand, Danny still found a way to land his right from seemingly every angle and trajectory. When Lucas Matthysse wound up getting out of position, Garcia maneuvered himself to score a knockdown. Everyone remembers the sweeping left hook that Garcia landed against Khan.
Garcia takes what is given by his opponent and finds a way to capitalize. If a foe puts up ear muffs, Garcia goes to the body. If Garcia only has one hand to work with, he'll use that arm to win. His gifts of surprise and improvisation help level the playing field against bigger punchers and athletically superior opponents.
4. Round-to-Round Consistency
Since the end of 2011, Garcia has had seven fights go the distance. All of them have been competitive. He's had fights where he's won the opening rounds (Judah, Peterson) and others where he's come on in the second half (Matthysse, Morales I), but he has yet to put 12 consistent rounds together. At times, Garcia has been a front-runner but he's also been a slow starter. What is apparent though is that he can lose focus in fights and he's yet to prove that he has top conditioning over 12 rounds.
Thurman has his own issues with consistency but his are of a different variety than Garcia's. Thurman often gets trapped between styles. He can box, bomb, load up on knockout punches, run, or trade in the pocket. However, not all of these stylistic shifts flow seamlessly. At points he'll be indecisive about how to attack, and in what manner. The result is that he'll have rounds where he'll fail to impose himself decisively. He'll box for a touch, move around the ring, potshot, throw a big shot or two, but it all won't add up to a winning round against a more committed opponent.
Both Garcia and Thurman have exhibited issues with consistency. Garcia doesn't seem to have enough physically to impose himself over 12 rounds. Instead, he'll pick his spots at points or take rounds off. Occasionally he will sleepwalk during fights once he's up big. Thurman just doesn't always know what he wants to do. The lack of a cohesive plan can harm him. Whoever minimizes these consistency issues stands to fare better on Saturday.
5. Recuperative Powers
Like almost all fighters, Thurman and Garcia have been hurt in the ring. Thurman almost went down from a body shot against Luis Collazo. Jesus Soto Karass clocked him with an uppercut and even Diego Chaves' ferocious body attack in their first four rounds forced Thurman to try to win on the outside. Garcia was staggered against Zab Judah, absorbed huge shots from Lucas Matthysse and was roughed up by Lamont Peterson during the second half of their fight. Although neither Thurman nor Garcia was knocked down in any of these fights, it's clear that they can be vulnerable.
To this point in their careers, it seems as if Thurman doesn't take shots as well as Garcia does but he also appears to rally better after being hurt. He forced Collazo to quit just a round after he was hurt. He wound up stopping both Chaves and Soto Karass. Once Garcia's been seriously hurt, he hasn't responded as well. Judah was the fresher fighter in the championship rounds and almost everyone can agree that Peterson was the boxer who caused far more damage in their fight, even if he didn't win enough rounds to get the victory.
For this particular matchup, it should be fascinating to see how each fighter responds to getting hurt. In my estimation, Thurman will be the biggest hitter that Garcia has faced north of 140 lbs. As for Thurman, I don't think that he has ever faced the type of sharp puncher that Garcia is. Perhaps Thurman gets hurt easier but if Garcia is in real trouble maybe he doesn't come back? Who really knows? However, I definitely want to find out which one can take the other boxer's shots better and who can recover more quickly.
It's going to be close. I think that Thurman will pull out to an early lead. He'll take the initial rounds by boxing on the outside. His jab and athleticism will win the fight's first third. Eventually, the distance will be closed by a combination of factors: Thurman will start to get too brave and/or Garcia will figure out Thurman's rhythm and timing. As the fight progresses, Garcia will have success with left hooks to the body and straight or overhand counter rights. Although Thurman will have moments in the pocket, I think that he'll realize that he's much safer working at a distance.
The fight will essentially come down to a series of swing rounds where Thurman boxes and moves while Garcia is the aggressor, although not necessarily an effective one. I don't expect the fight to be fantastic to watch aesthetically but it should be tense and competitive throughout the 12 rounds. Ultimately, I think that Thurman does just enough boxing to squeak by with a decision, although many will believe that Garcia's periods of clean punching should've earned him the victory.
Keith Thurman defeats Danny Garcia by split decision.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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