Sunday, July 30, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Broner-Garcia

If one were to ask Adrien Broner how he planned to beat Mikey Garcia, what would he say? What strategies or tactics would he use to win the fight minute-by-minute, round-by-round? Would Broner give a coherent answer, or would he fall back into boilerplate, talking about his "superior skills?"

I ask these questions because in watching Broner-Garcia on Saturday (in which Garcia won by a wide, unanimous decision), I didn't have the foggiest idea of how Broner intended to win. He'd feint, reluctantly throw a jab and find a moment or two to flurry. Garcia consistently out-punched and out-landed him. And as Garcia continued to put rounds in the bank, Broner lacked the requisite knowledge or desire to change the trajectory of the fight. What was Broner's plan?

Even though Broner's corner, led by head trainer Mike Stafford, was chaotic between rounds, at least Stafford had an idea of how Broner could potentially get back into the match. He exhorted Broner to take the fight on the inside and physically impose himself on Garcia. Yet, once in the ring, Broner chose to ignore Stafford's pleadings and instead continued with his same brand of listlessness. Broner ate lots of shots. Most often, his only retaliation after getting hit was to nod his head in disapproval. 

Listen, I don't think that Stafford is any kind of brilliant tactician but on fight night he was trying his best. Broner, either due to arrogance or fear, didn't want to follow Stafford's plan. Instead, he kept the fight at range and continued to get pasted throughout most of the match. 

It's easy to say that Broner needs a new trainer but at this point the fighter's litany of problems extends far beyond who coaches him. In short, Broner isn't a student of the sport and he has never tried to become one. Broner was able to get to the world-level on account of his punch technique, reflexes and intimidation – both physical and psychological (not to mention having the right managerial and network friends). But those attributes aren't enough to beat the best. He seemingly enters the ring with no plan. 

Often, top counterpunchers take a few rounds to see what works and then they exploit those openings; Mayweather and Hopkins were experts at that. But Broner is not among that group. He ambles from round to round with little coherence. If he lands a big left hook to punctuate an exchange, he doesn't seem particularly interested in exploiting that success, or following it up with any urgency. Broner doesn't systematically look for opponents' weaknesses; he just throws punches and combinations from time to time, hoping that they cause damage. 

And The Problem has more problems: In Broner's three losses (there could've been more), he was outworked and couldn't match his opponents’ effort and desire – core intangibles that the best fighters possess. It would be incorrect to say that Marcos Maidana or Shawn Porter possessed more "skills" than Broner did on a punch-by-punch basis. However, boxing isn't won via textbook, shadowboxing or sparring. An opponent is defeated in the ring. At the world-level, against elite opponents, skills are only part of the mix in determining who rises to the top, an aspect of prizefighting that Broner has failed to comprehend. 

As a play on his initials, Broner has used the phrase "About Billions" as kind of an overarching theme or mantra for his boxing career. It's certainly fine to want big money. There's no shame in that. But Broner will fall far short of his remunerative goals. Ultimately, technical craft and flamboyance aren't enough by themselves to get to the big money in boxing. He needed to beat people. Top fighters. Elite ones. Throughout his career, he's come up short in those opportunities. More was needed from him and he didn't have the intangible factors (ring IQ, desire, teachability) to get to that next plateau.    

Looking at the other side of Broner-Garcia, Mikey Garcia did everything an elite fighter is expected to do. He had a strategic plan in how to defeat Broner. From carefully studying his opponent, he knew that Broner gives opponents the body. Thus, Mikey hammered Broner downstairs with sharp left hooks and right hands. In addition, Garcia expertly exploited Broner's high guard by shooting his right hand around the gloves to the side of the head. 

By employing flawless footwork, Garcia cut off the ring and forced Broner to the ropes throughout the fight. There, Garcia, patient and poised, fired power shots to the body and head but maintained his distance perfectly, which limited countershots. Garcia didn't attack recklessly but his pressure throughout the night was constant. In those moments where Broner was able to land a good punch, Garcia immediately responded with three or four of his own. 

Furthermore, Garcia, and his brother/trainer, Robert, understood that Broner isn't the type of fighter who likes to trade. Broner likes to cover up when under fire and usually responds only when an opponent is finished throwing punches, or has left significant openings. Garcia was successful at being first with his punches but like the rest of his game plan, his offense was controlled and ruthlessly efficient. He threw over 700 punches in the fight and yet did a magnificent job (using angles, not backing straight up, having the appropriate distance, etc.) of limiting Broner's counters.

Robert Garcia had a resounding success with Maidana against Broner but Mikey is a much different type of fighter. Maidana's biggest strength was his unpredictability. Shots would come from all angles, whether thrown correctly or not. Maidana would take three punches to land his own. Maidana was a mauling power puncher. Mikey Garcia isn't that style of fighter. However, Robert incorporated the lessons that he learned from Broner-Maidana to give Mikey his best chance of winning. Robert understood Broner's weaknesses on a fundamental level and imbued his brother with the knowledge and tactics to exploit them. Both Garcias were at the top of their respective games on Saturday. 

In one corner of Saturday's bout, there was a perfect synergy between fighter and trainer. They had a coherent plan to accompany Mikey's considerable technical skills. The other corner featured disconnect and disharmony. Broner and Stafford were working at cross-purposes. Perhaps Broner and Stafford had an agreed-upon master plan leading into the fight. Maybe it just didn't work; that happens. However, even if giving Broner and Stafford the benefit of the doubt, once Plan A failed, Broner didn't believe in Plan B. He either didn't believe in his corner's instructions or lacked the confidence to implement them. Neither answer speaks highly of him. 

So for now, Broner remains a "name." He's someone who can help build other fighters of note or fill a TV slot against a lesser opponent. However, it's clear that he has too many deficiencies to be a consistent threat to the top fighters in the sport. Could he knock a guy out and win a title against an elite? Sure, that's possible. But he'd be a considerable underdog against any of the best at 140 or 147. In short, he doesn't know what he doesn't know. He doesn't have the strategic understanding of the sport. That in it of itself isn't the biggest crime in the world. There are many successful fighters, wonderful talents, who aren't rocket scientists. However, those fighters rely on their coaches and teams to give them the strategic and tactical tools to win. Broner doesn't do that. If Broner refuses to study his opponents and he won't listen to those who do, what can he really accomplish at the top levels of boxing? 

As for Garcia, he put forth perhaps his best performance in the ring against one of his better opponents. It's unclear if his power is top-notch at 140 (Broner does have a hell of a chin) but he has the tools, technique and intelligence to compete with the top of the division. To me, his best natural weight is at 135 and he has talked about moving back down for the right fight. Unfortunately, his best potential opponents (Lomachenko, Linares and Crawford) don't often work with Showtime but who knows, stranger things have happened. Perhaps a title unification at 135 against Robert Easter, Jr. could be in the near future. That would be an excellent TV fight while Garcia waits for bigger fish. 

Garcia has cemented himself as one of the top boxers in the sport. After his 30-month hiatus, he has re-emerged with determination and steely resolve. Before his self-imposed exile, he often talked about his fleeting love for the sport. In his comeback, he has displayed little of that ambivalence regarding his vocation. Right now, he's firing on all cylinders, and it's a joy to watch.

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

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up, enjoyed that cheers.

    ReplyDelete