Danny Garcia looked understandably anxious as he waited for Jimmy Lennon Jr. to read the scorecards. The blood had been wiped from his face, but he knew he had just endured the toughest fight of his pro career. Challenger Mauricio Herrera, from Riverside, Calif., also looked concerned. The proverbial stranger in a strange land, he probably feared his effort would not be rewarded on the scorecards -- and he was right.
Garcia was given a majority decision that was unpopular almost everywhere except inside the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, where Garcia's fans, more than 10,000 strong, celebrated his fifth successful defense of a junior welterweight title. But it was enthusiasm born of kinship, not by what had transpired in the ring.
Earlier in the evening, heavyweight dreadnought Deontay Wilder celebrated his 31st knockout in 31 pro fights in such a raucous manner that one could be excused for thinking he had just knocked out Wladimir Klitschko. While such a match might materialize eventually, on this night "The Bronze Bomber" zeroed in on far easier prey.
If you just take the results into consideration, Saturday was a highly successful night, but boxing is not just about results. It's about how you win and lose, and that distinction can sometimes have a far greater effect than whose arm is raised at the end.
I'm sure Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions were delighted that A-side fighters Garcia and Wilder came away winners in Saturday night's doubleheader, but as is usually the case, it all depends on what sort of spin you put on it. Regardless, the storylines definitely took a few unintended detours and ended up tweaking the overall picture more than a little.
Garcia's ballyhooed return to his ancestral homeland of Puerto Rico was supposed to be a showcase fight aimed at helping enhance his appeal as a future opponent for Floyd Mayweather Jr. But after barely escaping a demanding struggle with Herrera, a fight with Mayweather any time soon should be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.
It wasn't just that the decision in Garcia's favor was highly questionable. The way light-punching Herrera smacked around a blood-smeared titleholder in the final round was eye-opening. Imagining what Mayweather would do to Garcia is cringe worthy.
Garcia is a good fighter. Against the right adversary, he can be very effective and a pleasure to watch. But he is not an elite fighter and might never reach that plateau. His fiery father/trainer, Angel Garcia, gave him sound advice between rounds, but as Showtime's analyst Paul Malignaggi noted during the broadcast, Garcia's style is not really suited to making adjustments.
Herrera reminds me of retired Mexican campaigners Daniel Zaragoza and Manuel Medina, both of whom fought successfully at the championship level for a long time despite considerable physical disadvantages. They were modest punchers at best, not particularly fast or especially athletic. Worst of all, they were notorious bleeders -- hardly the typical recipe for success.
Even so, Zaragoza and Medina won a lot of fights by making the best use of what they had, which included high boxing IQs and the ability to stay calm under pressure, even with blood pouring down their faces. They threw opponents off stride with unorthodox but savvy movement and pecked away with pesky punches, gradually picking up steam as their foes became more and more frustrated. It didn't always work, but Medina won titles at featherweight and super featherweight, and Zaragoza is enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Herrera is the same type of fighter. He might not achieve as much as Zaragoza and Medina, but he has displayed many of the same qualities. He knows who he is, what he can do and what he can't and fights accordingly. Who knows? Maybe on neutral turf with different judges, Herrera would have taken home the belts. At the absolute least, his performance should earn another marquee fight.
Things went more according to plan earlier in the show when heavyweight Wilder dispatched friend and former sparring partner Malik Scott at the 1:36 mark of the first round. Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 227 beautifully proportioned pounds, Wilder certainly looks the part. It's easy to understand why fans get excited. He looks like a superhero and punches like one too. But questions remain. He hasn't quite sold everybody yet.
Scott was supposed to be Wilder's toughest adversary to date, the fighter who would test him sufficiently enough to give us a better idea of whether he is the new George Foreman or an African-American version of Tye Fields. As it was, Fields could probably have come out of retirement and put up a better fight than Scott, who crashed down and stayed down after absorbing one clean punch.
The blow that did the deed was the left hook that bounced off Scott's temple a moment before a lethal-looking right fell just short of his jaw. The right was one of those laser-guided missiles that have flattened most of Wilder's victims, but replays indicated that it barely grazed Scott's arm.
Scott wasn't around long enough to give us even the slightest indication of Wilder's true potential. Moreover, there was a feeling among some cynical observers that Scott had suffered a Bruce Seldon moment. I know I would if Wilder was coming after me.
It would be wrong and unfair to both fighters to make unsubstantiated accusations, but the fact remains that there were plenty of negative posting on social media from viewers who questioned the authenticity of the knockout. It was probably a case of perception trumping reality, but even the notion doesn't help Wilder's brand.
The Scott farce also failed to properly prepare Wilder for what is supposed to be his next fight. The WBC, in its infinite wisdom, deemed Wilder-Scott an "eliminator," making the winner first in line to challenge whoever emerges victorious in the match between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola for the vacant WBC belt.
Whether or not the knockout artist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama is ready for that sort of competition is something we'd all like to find out. More fights against the sort of opposition Deontay has been bowling over won't help season him, just add more wins to his already inflated record.
Wilder seems to be a decent, hard-working guy, and if he wins the legitimate heavyweight championship, I'm willing to overlook that white suit-blue bowtie combo he wore to the fight. Unfortunately, nothing we saw Saturday night provided a clue one way or another.
I don't know whether to blame Scott, the matchmaker or Showtime, but I came away feeling a little cheated. I need to know more, the sooner the better.
Wilder wasn't the only undefeated heavyweight in action Saturday. On NBC Sports Net in Bethlehem, Penn., approximately 1,600 miles north of Bayamon, Vyacheslav "Czar" Glazkov was busy rearranging Tomas Adamek's facial features with spiteful jabs that seldom missed the mark. Try as he might, the 37-year-old Adamek simply could not keep up with the agile Ukrainian, whose footwork was just as nimble as his jab was straight.
Before the fight, Glazkov's trainer, Don Turner, was asked if going 12 rounds for the first time would be a problem. Turner shrugged it off as unimportant, but he was wrong. Glazkov faded down the stretch, which gave Adamek an opportunity to stage a grandstand finish.
Trailing badly on the scorecards, his right eye swollen shut and his nose even more misshaped than usual, the former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titlist mounted an inspired rally. Adamek brushed aside the jabs that had tormented him throughout the first nine rounds, and attacked with more ferocity than he had all night.
The late charge fell short, and afterward Adamek sounded like it could very well have been his final fight. If so, he can bow out with his head high, as proud of the last nine minutes of his career as anything that went before it. It takes a real fighter to give so much of himself in a lost cause.
Due to some peculiar IBF ruling, Glazkov obtained the "vacant" number-two contender slot by beating Adamek. This is supposed to put him one step closer to obtaining a crack at Wladimir Klitschko, proving he first beats number-one contender Kubrat Pulev. Got that?
As far as the majority of American fans are concerned, the European heavyweight scene falls into the who-cares category. Glazkov has fought better fighters than Wilder, but he doesn't have the American's potential upside.
Danny Garcia? It could have been just a bad night against a good fighter. It happens to the best of them. Danny has a lot of career ahead of him, but if I were he, I would stay away from clever boxers.
If they had their druthers, promoters and the television networks would prefer each boxing match to produce a result that advances their preconceived storyline and conveniently dovetails with future plans. Nonetheless, boxing is unrehearsed entertainment-or at least we hope it is-and as Irish writer Derek Landy points out, "Plans are invitation to disappointment."