Opening Bell: Daring to be great
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The boxing world was treated to something rare on Saturday night when welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr. squared off with Mikey Garcia: a fight between undefeated, in-their-prime titleholders who both ranked among the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
In the end, it was Spence, the bigger, stronger man, who used his physical advantages not to mention his own underrated boxing skills to run roughshod over Garcia before an excited crowd of 47,525 at majestic AT&T Stadium.
By the time Spence had finished pounding Garcia in a fight that Robert Garcia, Mikey's older brother and trainer, considered stopping in the late rounds because of the punishment his fighter was absorbing, the scorecards were academic. It was a shutout of 120-107, 120-108 and 120-108, with judge Glenn Feldman scoring the 11th round 10-8 for Spence because it was so one-sided even without a knockdown.
But nobody should belittle Garcia for his overwhelming loss. He has won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight and, as a reigning lightweight belt holder was moving up two divisions to fight Spence, a man he vociferously called out because he wanted to win a title in a fifth weight class and because he dared to be great.
Without Garcia's desire to challenge himself against an elite opponent, we wouldn't have had such a big event. It may have turned into a one-sided fight -- no surprise to me, as I had predicted that -- but Garcia deserves credit for willing the fight into existence.
"Sometimes you reach for the stars, you dare to be great," Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer, Garcia's promoter for the fight, said at the postfight news conference. "Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. But what is important is that you tried, because if you don't try, you won't get it. That's not just in boxing, that's in any walk of life."
Indeed, Garcia reached for the stars. He was willing to put his perfect record on the line against the most formidable opponent he could have picked at a time in boxing when few fighters are willing to take on such a risky assignment in order to protect the almighty "0."
Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs), 31, of Moreno Valley, California, had no regrets after the fight, for which both fighters earned official purses of $3 million but with millions more guaranteed plus the prospect of even more money depending on the success of the Fox pay-per-view event.
"In order to leave a lasting impression, to cement your name, you have to go after the biggest challenges and the biggest fights," Garcia said. "If I want to protect the record and just fight contenders, make a quick paycheck and keep racking up wins, that's not going to be something to be remembered. I don't want that. I made it a goal to fight the biggest fights and take the biggest challenges so that people can appreciate who I am as a fighter, and that's why I took on this fight.
"I wanted to establish that legacy. I was trying to be great. That's what a world champion needs to be doing, giving the greatest fights available."
Spence retains belt with one-sided win vs. Garcia
Errol Spence Jr. dominates Mikey Garcia with a lopsided decision to retain his 147-pound belt for the third time.
Spence (25-0, 21 KOs), 29, from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Texas, was thrilled to have had such a big fight at home. Afterward, he showed full respect for Garcia, as he should have.
"Mikey's still good. He's a great fighter," Spence said. "He showed a lot of heart just to take this fight and to stay in the fight, too. So it's nothing but respect for Mikey Garcia."
It may not have worked out for Garcia, but he should be applauded for the effort. Spence, of course, accepted the challenge because he is also a real fighter willing to fight top guys. Yes, he was a big favorite against Garcia, but he had had no luck getting the other top Premier Boxing Champions welterweights -- all politically makeable fights -- to face him, including titleholders Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter and former titleholder Danny Garcia. Those three have all fought each other, but none have in any serious manner asked to fight Spence.
So Garcia stepped up and gave his best, even if it was not good enough.
"I fought hard; I tried to make history; I tried to move up in weight," he said. "I thought I was going to be able to pull it off. Unfortunately, it wasn't my way. I got to give credit to Errol. He had a great game plan. He used that jab, that distance and controlled it very well. I tried to make adjustments, and he had something in return. So he showed great boxing. We fought the best welterweight, the baddest man in the division. We just couldn't pull it off.
"I tried to do everything I could -- just couldn't do it. I tried my best, and we worked hard for this. We really wanted to win it. I just couldn't pull it off. Errol Spence is a terrific champion. I'm glad we were able to put this fight together. It's what boxing needs -- two of the best pound-for-pound fighters fighting each other. That doesn't happen often."
Thankfully, because of Garcia, it at least happened on Saturday.
Conlan defends title with unanimous decision victory
Irishman Michael Conlan stays unbeaten on St. Patrick's Day with a unanimous decision victory over Ruben Garcia Hernandez.
Prospect of the weekend: Michael Conlan
Featherweight Michael Conlan, the popular Irishman and two-time Olympian, headlined on St. Patrick's Day weekend at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday night for the third year in a row, and brought out a crowd of 3,712.
What the pro-Conlan crowd saw in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ main event was Conlan (11-0, 6 KOs), 27, of Northern Ireland, roll to a shutout decision against durable Ruben Garcia Hernandez (24-4-2, 10 KOs), 25, of Mexico, who has never been stopped, including by four-division titleholder Nonito Donaire.
Conlan, who was walked to the ring by WWE star Finn Balor, dominated and outlanded Hernandez 252-79, according to CompuBox, as he continued to hone his skills in the pro ranks while also entertaining his passionate fans.
The next step: On the undercard, Russia's Vladimir Nikitin (3-0, 0 KOs), 28, won a split decision over Juan Tapia (8-3, 3 KOs), 26, of Brownsville, Texas, by scores of 59-55 (twice) while one judge had it 57-57. Nikitin, of course, scored a massively controversial decision over Conlan in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals to secure a bronze medal. Nikitin signed with Top Rank last year with the express purpose of a pro rematch with Conlan, who also wants it. That fight likely won't be next, but it likely will happen later this year.
Collazo goes the distance with Vargas for third straight win
Luis Collazo holds off Samuel Vargas in the Top Rank Boxing co-main event by split decision at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden.
Fights you might have missed
Sunday at New York
Welterweight Luis Collazo (39-7, 20 KOs) W10 Samuel Vargas (30-5-2, 14 KOs), scores: 98-92, 96-94 Collazo, 96-94 Vargas.
Former welterweight titlist Collazo, 37, of Brooklyn, New York, still aiming for another shot, won his third fight in a row against decent opposition as he edged Vargas in a rough brawl, despite a bloody cut over his left eye in the later rounds, on the Conlan-Hernandez card. They battled on the inside round after round with many close ones, which made for the understandable disparity in scorecards. Vargas, 29, a Toronto-based Colombian, dropped to 1-2 in his past three, having also been outpointed by Amir Khan in September.
Saturday at Gifu, Japan
Flyweight Kosei Tanaka (13-0, 7 KOs) W12 Ryoichi Taguchi (27-4-2, 12 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 119-109, 117-111 (twice).
Fighting in his hometown, Tanaka, 23, a three-division titleholder, retained his flyweight belt for the first time against countryman Taguchi, 32, a former unified junior flyweight titlist. Taguchi lost his belts to Hekkie Budler by decision last May and was boxing for the first time since, as he moved up in weight to challenge for another title. Many Japanese hoped Tanaka and Taguchi would have met to unify belts when they both held them at junior flyweight, and it had been scheduled for late 2017. But Tanaka suffered an eye injury, and the fight was canceled. In the flyweight confrontation, they produced an action fight in which many rounds were close, with Tanaka edging them to win wide on the cards in a fight that was closer than those scores appear.