Tuesday, March 28, 2023  |


Can Thurman-Garcia help boxing return to the glory of Leonard’s era?

Photos by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME
Fighters Network

Sugar Ray Leonard stood on the weigh in stage at the LIU Paramount Theater on Friday afternoon, near 1:30 PM and looked out into the space. There were fans present, media, videographers outnumbering writers, family waiting for their peeps to step on the scale and make weight, so they could all rush off and chow heartily.

Leonard was silent, as he waited for the time to come when this generation’s welterweight young guns would be on the stage, in their skivvies, and performing the final needed ritual before game time.

Did his mind wander to a time when such an event would have, no, DID, rendered a room electric, as when he and Roberto Duran stepped on the scale before their first tango…or when he and Thomas Hearns waited to pass weight muster, so they could prove that they were the king of the ring in the post-Ali era?

Maybe, maybe not…Leonard has worked hard in the last few decades on his emotional fitness, having kicked a partying habit to the curb, so he smartly stays grounded in present day reality, and focuses on present day blessings. Such as his presence in the booth helping call the fights on CBS tomorrow night. But my mind did wander; I chatted with Leonard before the weigh in kicked off, and shared with him a note.

Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

My family took a cruise to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands during the winter break, and I hit the ship library to pick up some reading material for poolside. They had several copies of Bill O’Reilly’s books, and tons of fiction. Not much in the sports department, but there was Leonard’s autobiography, which I’d not read. I told SRL that I did pick it up, and did read it, and did appreciate the candor he put into the chapters. He put himself out there, took risks, admitted his fallibility. He thanked me then got called to the stage.

This is a big one, this Keith Thurman versus Danny Garcia fight. No, the aura hanging over it isn’t of the golden variety, from ages past which may not again come. Never say never, that next Ali or Leonard or Tyson might be snapping a heavy bag in a Brooklyn gym or a boys club in the Ukraine. But this is an age of enlightenment, to a degree. Society has become more civilized, more correct in some ways. One of them is this…medical knowledge is such that head trauma is much better understood than it was when Leonard was doing soda commercials and had one of the best known faces in all of the world of celebrity. So boxing maybe and probably won’t revisit the heights it knew when he ruled.

But staying grounded in the present, not wasting time and energy on nostalgic yearning, it’s a sage recipe for if not contentment then at least minimizing discontent. So we focus on the here and now, and this prize fight main event tomorrow which will be available for the masses to consume and savor. Prime time, on CBS. CBS, where Leonard built up his pro resume on Saturdays and Sundays. No paywalls, no PPV surcharge. If Garcia and Thurman bring it, and some alchemical magic is conjured at Barclays Center, as 15,000 plus fight fans roar, this will bring the sport a boost. A needed boost. Because we are still in a place of transition. The post-Floyd Mayweather Jr. era hasn’t solidified itself into a coherent mass of identity. Platform provider HBO is in transition, maybe because of merger uncertainty, maybe because something else I’m not privvy too. Showtime is making a fast and hard run at being the top dog platform provider, but that whole space, with chord cutting and youngers bolting TV watching period, is in flux.

Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Back to the present, the known. Garcia is a good boxer, nobody I know calls him great. What is great is his record. Of late, he’s not sought out the sternest tests. This test, this Thurman, it will be a stern test. Thurman is a good boxer. I haven’t heard many call him great. And by the way, BOTH men could when all is said and done go down as greats, this will be the year when some distance themselves from the pack.

PBC, which is backing this card, an event promoted by Lou DiBella, decided to come out of the gate with a slow build. History will decide if that move proved to be sagacious. But that entity kicked off in March 2015, and we’re going on two years of events. This year, this will I think be the year the deal either pans out, or peters out. This fight, I don’t think people have correctly grasped the immensity of this in terms of importance to the PBC presence. I may be wrong, there are but a handful of folks who truly know which buttons get pushed and why in the PBC inner sanctum.

My take: I root for the sport as a whole to do well. If Thurman and Garcia give us a rave up, if Danny drops that no look hook and drops Keith, and Thurman summons a reserve he hasn’t had to tap, and roars back, and exerts himself as the stronger athlete, and proves his pre-fight theory that Danny hasn’t tasted the mitts of a true blue 147, and the Barclays Center continues its run as a buzz-y building, where the main events just turn out a bit better, then we could snag eyeballs. Channel flippers will stick around, and remember, or learn, that there is no drama quite like that of a well matched prizefight, when will and skill and strength and pride form into a beautiful bond.