Last night Danny Garcia knocked out Paulie Malignaggi in the 9th round. He won just about every round up to that point, and had very little difficulty in doing so, stalking the Brooklyn boxer, making him miss, and holding back his own punches until he was sure they would land. It was a near-perfect performance.
It won't do him any good with boxing fans, however. Despite the fact that Malignaggi grates on the nerves of just about everyone in the boxing world, Garcia won't get any thanks for putting him away. It'll be shocking if he gets any credit at all, though Malignaggi is a decent enough name for the resume of any pugilist.
You're not sure why, but you just can't get behind Danny Garcia. At times, you even hate him. You can't wait to see him lose, and you're pretty sure it'll happen soon.
The first step to fixing this misapprehension is admitting that you have a problem. So let's start off the way all interventions do, with some honesty. Repeat after me: "Hi, my name is [your name here] and I hate Danny Garcia."
Whew. Feels good, right? And now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can start to find the reasons for this disorder, and identify ways to fix it. And make no mistake, the persistent hate for Danny Garcia is absolutely something in need of fixing, because Garcia is a very good boxer. He is the legitimate junior welterweight champion of the world, and his record is among the best in the sport right now.
In fact, that's kind of why you hate him, isn't it?
Let's reminisce. Garcia's most important win came over Lucas Matthysse in 2013 on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard. Before that he'd upset Amir Khan and beaten an aging Erik Morales, but this was the biggest fight of his career. Going into that bout, fans saw two hard-hitting, hard-headed fighters and expected a war. What they got was a twelve-round boxing exhibition. Garcia outmaneuvered, out-jabbed, and out-boxed the favored Matthysse en route to a comfortable unanimous decision, even knocking the Argentinian down for the first time in his career.
It was a close fight--most of Garcia's are--but a clear and impressive win on the young Philly fighter's ledger.
That fight may have been the one that started all of the revulsion swirling around Garcia today. Fans expected violence, and got craft instead. They expected total warfare, and wound up with a tactical skirmish. They expected something special, but special just isn't Danny Garcia's thing. In fact, Garcia's normalness may be the most special thing about him.
At the time of the Matthysse fight, I was in the same boat as you. "Why does he keep winning?" I asked myself. How did the same fighter who struggled with the shells of Zab Judah and Erik Morales dominate Amir Khan and outclass Lucas Matthysse? I didn't like Garcia because I couldn't explain his success, and I expect your reasons are one and the same.
That's because most of us don't pick up on technical skill nearly as easily as we do athletic ability. According to his contemporaries, for example, Mike Tyson didn't box all that well, but he hit like a truck; Floyd Mayweather is slick, sure, but his handspeed is the primary reason that no one can outbox him; and Julio Cesar Chavez got hit a lot, but he had a great chin so it didn't matter.
Of course, none of those statements are quite right. Sure Tyson hit hard, but his footwork and defense were nearly impeccable during his rise to the top. Floyd Mayweather could wake up tomorrow with half the handspeed and still retire undefeated thanks to the depth of his skill. And Julio Cesar Chavez was one of the savviest technicians in the history of boxing, taking very few clean punches throughout his career despite the fact that he was constantly moving toward his opponents.
The attributes are just easier to see than the techniques. Boxing fans don't like flash over substance as a rule, but we definitely prefer flash with substance.
And that's Garcia's problem. He doesn't have lighting fast hands. He's not particularly fleet of foot either. He isn't inhumanly tough, nor does he have great stamina. He hits hard enough, but it's rare that he knocks an opponent out without wearing him down first, and with a KO rate of 58% his punch is hardly the stuff of legend. Garcia lacks the obvious athletic abilities that we associate with great fighters, but he keeps beating solid opposition. And we can't easily explain it, so we attribute his victories to luck, circumstance, and divine intervention, rather than seeing the truth.
Garcia hits as hard as any normal man could given the right training. Keeping himself balanced between both feet, with knees bent, he transfers weight into his punches and leaves himself in position either to defend or to continue punching. He avoids punches like a man skilled in defense, rather than one gifted with it. Sometimes he gets hit, but he is almost always in position to receive the impact, and he will react appropriately by moving his feet or head to evade the next punch that comes his way. Garcia catches and returns jabs. He sets up his right hand. He closes combinations with his left hook, and moves competently around the ring. His stance is neither too wide nor too narrow. He pivots and sidesteps without throwing himself off balance or putting himself in vulnerable positions. He attacks the body early and often.
He does almost everything right almost all of the time, and he does this better than just about everyone else.
This most recent win is the perfect encapsulation of what makes Garcia such a great fighter. Malignaggi is another boxer who has famously done a lot with very little. Neither powerful nor fast, he has gotten by on boxing ability alone, and done remarkably well for himself considering, beating scores of good fighters and losing competitively to the best in the world. As far as relatively ungifted fighters go, Malignaggi is one of the best, but Danny Garcia proved himself unequivocally better in every way.
Garcia represents exactly how far skill can take you even if you lack physical gifts. He does everything that you or any other average person could do, while taking none of the shortcuts that other, more athletic fighters can afford to take. He is, essentially, the most relatable boxer on the planet, and yet we hate him, and call him lucky, and wait for the announcement of his next fight so that we can loudly predict that this man will be the one to finally "expose" the fraud.
That's because we don't like our athletes relatable. We want boxers, or elite competitors in any sport, to be more than human. We expect them to do things that we couldn't do ourselves. We don't want to see perfect technique; we want to see men talented enough to win without it. We want what we've been conditioned to expect, and that's obviously not our fault.
But it's not Danny Garcia's fault either. And in 31 bouts, Garcia hasn't lost once. So it's time to face the facts. Garcia's not going to be exposed, because he's not hiding anything. There is no secret weakness to his game, because his weakness is the entirety of his style. Without exceptional speed, power, endurance, or stamina Garcia has defied the odds and risen to the greatest heights of one of the toughest sports on earth. If we expect athletes to be better than human, then Danny Garcia is our Hercules, the mortal who became a god. It's about time we start to celebrate his apotheosis.