Let's talk about deception and power. In the second round of Saturday's fight with Ryan Garcia, Luke Campbell landed a couple of solid straight lefts to the body. Later in the round as Luke cocked his left, Garcia immediately brought his hands down to anticipate the body blow. Instead, Luke followed through with a sharp, rear left hook to Garcia's head. The shot caught Garcia by surprise and sent him to the canvas.
In an almost mirror image scenario later in the fight, Ryan Garcia moved in to throw a left hook in the seventh round. Earlier in the match, at the end of the fifth, he had cracked Campbell with a powerful left hook to the head to finish off a combination. At this moment in the seventh, Garcia fixed his eyes directly at Campbell's head. Campbell instinctively lifted his arms to protect himself from the shot upstairs, but Garcia delivered the punch instead to Luke's liver. Campbell absorbed the shot and then took a step back. He dropped to the canvas on one and then two knees. He was in agonizing pain; he couldn't beat the count.
|Garcia (left) landing a hook on Campbell|
Photo courtesy of Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos
So, was Garcia-Campbell just about punching power – that Garcia had more, and that was that? Not quite. Campbell's knockdown of Garcia was the first time that Ryan had been dropped in his professional career. Now Campbell isn't the world's biggest puncher, but he is a solid hitter. However, Garcia recovered from the blow fairly well and by the end of the next round he was solidly in control of the action. In a positive sign for the development of his career, Garcia didn't panic upon hitting the canvas. He didn't junk his game plan or make repeated mistakes while under duress. And notably, he didn't get hit by that same Campbell deceptive left hook throughout the rest of the fight. Yes, he got caught early in the fight, but he made sure he didn't fall for the same trap twice; he made adjustments. Campbell did get through with a number of solid connects in the fifth and seventh rounds, but he wasn't able to land anything with the same type of menace in which he did in the second.
As for Campbell, it would have been nice to see him fight with more urgency after scoring the knockdown. Of course Garcia possessed a lot of power and one needed to be wary of that factor; however, Campbell may have let Garcia off the hook to a degree. Campbell at the very least should have pressed Garcia to begin the third, but he was content to lay back and pick his shots cautiously.
Similar to previous defeats against Linares and Lomachenko, Campbell certainly didn't embarrass himself in the ring. He competed. But he didn't execute a winning game plan against Garcia. With the exception of the knockdown round in the second, it was tough to pick another round in the fight where it was obvious that he dominated the action. He possesses numerous skills in the ring, but consistently asserting himself against higher-level competition isn't one of them. Campbell can be a little too passive. He's competent and well-schooled, but he has lacked that extra bit of menace needed to thwart the best in the division.
As for Garcia, he now has a number of potential mouth-watering fights available to him at 135 lbs. between other young guns such as Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney. And although his stoppage of Campbell was impressive, there are areas that he will need to improve to beat the best fighters in the division (which also include Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko). But let's take a moment to delve into what should and shouldn't be fixed as he continues his development.
One aspect that critics of Garcia harp on is his flat-footedness. Garcia stands upright with a wide stance. It's a stance that many pure punchers use (Tommy Hearns is a textbook example). Because Garcia possesses a significant amount of range and his power can explode from distance, he's not one that needs to maneuver his body to create angles to land his best punches (although he did just this in his knockout of Campbell). To me his lack of mobility isn't necessarily a flaw, just an aspect of his style. I think making Garcia a far more mobile fighter is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water. He is a menace BECAUSE he can land big shots from range. That's an attribute that separates him from many top lightweights. Changing his offensive setup and his preferred method of attack would be completely wrong in my opinion.
|Garcia after his knockout victory|
Photo courtesy of Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos
But he has serious defensive issues that must be addressed. The most vital one to me is how he throws his right hand. Often you will see his body move forward before his right hand does. Although he possesses fantastic hand speed, in those brief moments where his hand is behind his body, he can be countered with a quick left hand; his whole right side is unprotected. Campbell noticed that flaw and tried to exploit it, but wasn't able to land the home run counter in that tight space and timeframe. But it's certainly possible for skilled southpaws such as Davis and Lomachenko to connect when seeing that opening.
Furthermore, Garcia throws everything with such force that he will always leave himself open for quick counters. Now his balance is always good and he's not often out of position, but his shots are long and quick counterpunchers will have opportunities against him. Again, it's not that Garcia needs to change himself as a fighter, but perhaps it will help him to vary the pace and force of his shots a bit to make it harder to be timed. Nobody wants to see Garcia afraid to throw his power shots, but not everything needs to be unfurled with knockout intentions. In fact, by changing the force of his punches, he might even find more success.
But let's be fair here as well. Almost all 22-year-olds have areas where they can improve – even Davis and Haney. Good-looking, knockout artists don't grow on trees in the sport and Garcia, win or lose, is going to create memorable nights of boxing. There's certainly no guarantee that he will emerge as the best of the young fighters in his peer group, but there's also no reason why he has to be. He goes for it; he wants knockouts; he wants to entertain. He can be a big part of growing U.S. boxing. If he doesn't win all of his fights, that's OK; almost all fighters take losses. At this early age he has a desire to fight the best and stop opponents in style. Let's hope he continues in this vein. Many fighters at his age look the part, that proving themselves against top fighters takes precedence over other factors. But sometimes when money and distractions get in the way, that tune can change abruptly.
For now, let's hope that Garcia continues to learn from trainer Eddy Reynoso and stablemate Saul Alvarez. He has the right pieces in place and the potential opponents on the horizon to make a real name for himself in the sport. The progress he needs to make to get to the elite level is real, but even if he remains "just" a telegenic and flawed knockout artist, that's perfectly acceptable as well. The sport needs those who can deliver entertainment. Those fighters keep the industry humming.