Sunday, March 17, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Spence-Garcia

From the moment the fight between Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia was announced, I didn't like it. Although Mikey has been one of the best fighters in the sport, holding recent titles at lightweight and junior welterweight, I didn't envision a scenario where he could beat Spence, an elite, big welterweight, with serious punching power, and a fighter who's in his physical prime.

However, I'm not Nostradamus. Garcia insisted he saw something in Spence that he could exploit. He's a great fighter, with a brother who's a marvelous trainer. Boxing has seen shocking upsets before with fighters moving up in weight to accomplish the sublime. So while I didn't love the matchup, I also wasn't dismissing the possibility that the Garcia clan had spotted an opportunity to win, a potential Kryptonite for Spence. 

Humility is important. I certainly don't have all the answers in analyzing fights, far from it. So I kept looking at this fight more and more. Was there a way for Mikey to do a hit-and-run job on Spence, get off and get out? Or pot-shot with quick counters and move? Did Mikey have the desire or the willingness to stink the fight out, similar to how Mayweather or Andre Dirrell have tried to win certain bouts? So if I'm really honest, the fight did hold a bit of intrigue for me. Although I didn't think that these approaches would be enough to beat Spence, perhaps there were scenarios where Garcia could compete. No, I wasn't going to change my feeling on who would win the fight, but I certainly wasn't against witnessing magic in the ring, something truly special or transcendent. 

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey/Fox Sports

But by third round of Saturday's fight, whatever strategy the Garcias planned to incorporate had been rendered ineffective. Spence had been peppering Garcia with jabs and left hands. Already Garcia was shelling up, refusing to let his hands go with regularity. Spence's volume, power, angles and punch variety were causing Mikey to focus on defense. He had felt Spence's power and needed to limit damage. 

Much of the fight was the same. Spence was busy throwing and landing punches, while Garcia wasn't. Gradually Spence incorporated more of his arsenal into his attack: jabs to the body, right hooks, looping left hands around the gloves, an uppercut here and there. Mikey was mostly concerned with staying upright. Occasionally he would score with a nice lead or counter right hand, but he lacked the endeavor to follow it up or put punches together. When he was able to make Spence miss or get out of position, he didn't pounce on those opportunities. Instead, he remained on the defensive. 

Spence had a number of huge rounds in the fight, especially the ninth and the eleventh. Robert Garcia had suggested stopping the fight in the corner, but continued to let his brother get licked in the ring. In the end, the scores were a formality; Garcia didn't win one round on the judges' scorecards. 

Overall the fight left me disappointed. I didn't observe Garcia selling out to go for the win. There wasn't a coherent Plan B or a willingness to try anything different. He didn't attempt to take the fight on the inside. He didn't try to use the ring and pick off Spence from the outside. I'm not saying that any of these approaches would have led to victory, but where was his desire to improvise or adapt? He was beaten, yes, both physically and technically, but he was also bested mentally in the ring. He was out of ideas mid-way through the fight. 


For some reason that I haven't quite figured out, Spence has been mischaracterized by many boxing observers. He's not a true knockout artist. He breaks fighters down. He's patient, moving to his own rhythm and timing. With an educated jab and a toolbox full of punches, he doesn't gun for one-shot KOs; he tries to beat opponents into submission. 

In addition, several of Spence's ring attributes are underrated. Although he's not a speed demon, his footwork is stellar. He consistently moved out of the way of danger when facing a rare Garcia foray. He's also an expert at judging distance. When he's out of the pocket, he's out; he's not one to get picked off by a stray shot. And he uses his physical advantages expertly, illustrating a high Ring IQ. For example, he understood that his reach would be an enormous advantage over Garcia. Throughout the fight he pumped his jab successfully, and with the knowledge that Garcia couldn't hurt him at range. He also didn't get cute. He stayed with what was working.

Despite the defeat Garcia remains one of the top talents in boxing, but he bit off more than he could chew against Spence. When Mikey first angled for this fight, his brother and family tried to talk him out of it (this has been confirmed to me by multiple people within the industry). Mikey deserves praise for facing such a tough opponent, but there's no reason to throw bouquets at his performance in the ring either. 

There are still some great fights out there for Garcia, including Lomachenko if Mikey can get back to 135 pounds or the winner of the 140-lb. World Boxing Super Series. How about Pacquiao? Garcia could certainly win those fights, but there's no guarantee that Saturday's beating won't linger in subsequent performances. Ultimately, Spence was a bridge too far. Garcia quickly realized it in the ring and was resigned to that outcome. 

Nicknamed "The Truth," Spence has a moniker that is hard to contest. He's well-schooled, poised, intelligent and versatile. Although he may not have the top-shelf athleticism of other talents in boxing, his combination of power, volume, fundamentals, punch variety and a high Ring IQ make him one of the best fighters in the sport. I'm not even convinced that he unloaded his entire arsenal against Garcia; I think that there's even more to come. 

Spence's rivals haven't been in a rush to face him. The PBC has a plethora of top welterweights available to fight him, but none have chosen to do so, not even for unification bouts or career-high purses. I hope that Spence's handlers realize that his opponents are smart fighters too. They have eyes and television sets. And they probably know what's coming. A huge deposit in their bank account will be needed. 

Finally, let's not completely absolve Spence from his inability to land marquee welterweight fights. To this point in his career he's been a team player, a loyal soldier, certainly noble attributes. But right now is his time in the sport. He has a lot of leverage, and it's time that he started to use it. If he needs to ruffle some feathers to get the big fights, so be it. The situation may require it. Remember, windows can close at any time.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

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