NEW YORK -- The return of world championship boxing to Brooklyn didn't come off without its share of hitches, but Saturday should give New York fight fans hope for more big events to come in the borough. Here are five things we learned Saturday at the Barclays Center:
1. Danny Garcia has had a year to remember
Entering 2012, Danny Garcia was regarded as a promising contender, but not necessarily a top-drawer talent. And although he was arguably the favorite when he challenged Erik Morales in Houston in March, he was only marginally so, and largely because he was facing a version of Morales with many miles on the odometer. But after overcoming the Mexican veteran in Texas, Garcia then lifted a pair of junior welterweight titles from Amir Khan, recovering from a rocky start to stop Khan in four with an offensive assault that was sparked by a powerful left hand.
That left hand came to the fore again Saturday in New York, in the form of a beautiful short hook that detonated on the jaw of Garcia's opponent with such force that it spun Morales around before hurling him to the canvas.
To a large extent, the verdict is still out on Garcia. Although he spoke only briefly and dismissively of fellow 140-pounder Lucas Matthysse when the Argentine's name was mentioned at the postfight news conference, that is a clash that would surely, at the very least, push the Philadelphian to his limits and quite possibly halt his undefeated run. Even so, Garcia gives the impression of being the kind of fighter who is growing in confidence with each win, and he now carries a quiet but noticeable self-belief when he enters the ring. For Garcia, it has been a very good year.
2. Erik Morales needs to retire. Again. Now
If the initial reaction in the milliseconds after Garcia's conclusive, concussive punch landed in the fourth round was awe at its impact, it was quickly supplanted by concern and sadness at the sight of the prone form of Erik Morales. Morales has been a sensational in-ring warrior for the better part of two decades, but his title-winning effort against Daniel Zaragoza was 15 years ago and his first epic encounter with Marco Antonio Barrera happened back in 2000. The last time he was close to his best was his first contest against Manny Pacquiao, back in 2005. Consecutive defeats to Zahir Raheem, twice to Pacquiao and, finally, to David Diaz in 2007 seemed the end of the line. But after four years away, the lure proved too strong.
It is a testament to Morales' extraordinary ability and courage that he was able to perform so well in a losing effort to Marcos Maidana last year, but that brave performance masked the fact that he was now, at best, just good enough to lose well against the top opposition. On Saturday night, he couldn't even do that anymore.
His body is that of a 36-year-old man who, in ring terms, is so much older. His reflexes and resistance are now gone. It is over. He needs to understand and accept that, and so do those around him.
To Morales' credit, it seems that he does. He announced afterward that this was his last go-round in the United States, but that he would have one more farewell fight in Tijuana. If he makes that bout -- and one can understand his desire to go out on winning terms against beatable opposition -- it is to be hoped that that will finally be it. Morales has given fans immense amounts of entertainment for years. He owes us nothing more. A place in Canastota awaits.
3. Both Peter Quillin and Hassan N'Dam earned plenty of fans
Alas, my French isn't as good as it was when I studied it in high school. So when Hassan N'Dam took a seat next to me during the co-main event, I wasn't adequately able to articulate my admiration for his performance against Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin. I was kinda tempted to just give him a hug. (As it turned out, his English is better than my French.) He and Quillin put on the performance of the night in a terrific fight, full of skill.
N'Dam appeared to be asserting himself early, Quillin seemingly struggling to adapt to his opponent's constant, almost Pacquiao-like, movement and strong boxing skills. But then Quillin bounced his foe on and off the canvas during an explosive fourth round, and the end seemed close. When he dropped N'Dam twice more in the sixth, a stoppage seemed inevitable. But back came the Frenchman, working his way back into the fight to the extent that, to this observer at least, the result was in the balance entering the final round. So Quillin closed the show in real championship style, dropping his foe twice more in the final frame to punctuate and accentuate his victory.
For Quillin, who is a charismatic, well-spoken young man with a great backstory, it was a star-making performance. But N'Dam, too, will have earned plenty of fans who will want to see him again.
4. If you build it, they will come. Hopefully
The Barclays Center is a great new venue in a bustling part of the city, and there's no doubting the enthusiasm of its proprietors and of Golden Boy for bringing big-time boxing back to the borough of Brooklyn. In many ways, the promoters did everything right, stacking the card with, on paper, solid fights featuring a lot of local talent. If there wasn't quite the rush for tickets that had been hoped, that was likely because of the absence of a real, top-flight main event. But the fans who were there were raucous, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and very fair: They even booed local boy Paulie Malignaggi being awarded a close win against Pablo Cesar Cano. New York has always been a great fight town, of course, and with the right fights, there is no reason to believe that the Barclays Center can't establish itself as a major East Coast venue.
5. Boxing needs to urine test or get off the pot
The final few days of the promotion were overshadowed by the controversy over Morales' failed drug tests and the question of whether the main event would happen. It is, of course, possible that the clenbuterol in Morales' system came from the contaminated meat he attributed it to, but it seems at best coincidental that an old fighter who was clearly struggling to make weight should yield samples that contained a substance used to shed pounds.
But the way in which the situation was handled was borderline farcical. Morales failed tests twice, yet was allowed to take a third, which he passed, and faced no real consequences. The New York State Athletic Commission washed its hands of responsibility, and the onus was placed squarely on the shoulders of the guy who tested clean. The only reason the fight went ahead is because Danny Garcia's mom told her son on Saturday morning that she had a gut feeling he would win anyway.
So what was the point of it all? Why have a drug-testing program if testing positive means nothing? If commissions are going to stand on the sideline, will failing a drug test become like missing weight: an inconvenience that can be smoothed over with some extra money changing hands? If the sport is to continue along the path of more comprehensive PED testing, it needs to adopt some strict, standardized enforceable rules, and not leave a fight's fate in the hands of a 24-year-old kid and his mother's instincts.