Ray Leonard may want a retraction.
After declaring the matchup of Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman the second coming of his epic 1981 RING Fight of the Year with Thomas Hearns, today’s fighters failed to live up to the hype, producing a puzzling, cautious effort in a primetime slot on CBS.
Thurman, the WBA welterweight champion, won a split decision by scores of 116-112 (John McKaie), 115-113 (Joseph Pasquale) and 113-115 (Kevin Morgan) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to capture Garcia’s WBC title before an announced crowd of 16,533, the highest-attended boxing event in the arena’s short history. There was no rematch clause in the contract and fans may be fine with that as boos provided a steady drumbeat on Saturday.
After starting fast, showcasing his superior hand-speed and footwork, Thurman (28-0, 22 knockouts) let up, adopting a move-and-not-get hit strategy, dancing around the ring for most of the second half of the fight. Thoughtful and chatty outside the ropes, Thurman chose a tactical approach to secure victory when it seemed he could have done more — even if it ultimately brought him another title. While Thurman executed his game plan — hurting Garcia early and relying on his movement the rest of the way — he never dared to be great when it seemed as if greatness might be within reach.
“The judges are judges,” Thurman said in the ring afterward. “I thought I out-boxed him. I thought it was a clear victory, but Danny came to fight. I knew when it was split decision — I knew it had to go to me.” Added his trainer Dan Birmingham, “We knew we had the fight won. Keith was still scoring when he was backing up when he was sticking and moving.”
Philly’s Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) for his part, seemed incapable of cutting the ring off and resorted to throwing one hard shot at a time. Still, Garcia was the aggressor for the later rounds when Thurman backed off and was content to land an occasional glancing shot. “Keith ran half the fight,” Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and trainer, said before the decision was announced. “Boxing is about hitting. It’s not about running. Danny tried to be the aggressor but Keith was moving around too much.”
The pairing of Garcia and Thurman, boxers with compelling styles and personalities was promoted as a tonic for the sport. Putting the bout on a national stage on CBS was supposed to provide a boost. It wast the culmination of two successful careers, a stage to show off the best that PBC and Al Haymon had to offer. When Thurman hurt Garcia with a left midway through the first and followed that up with a right to the temple, displaying his impressive athleticism, it seemed like the fight would live up the expansive buildup. But Leonard, who stopped Hearns in the 14th round of that classic 1981 welterweight unification bout and called Saturday’s fight as part of the announcing crew, must have been shaking his head at the lulls of inactivity, the inability of both fighters to seize control and take risks.
“I came up short tonight,” Garcia said in the ring. “I thought I was the aggressor. I thought I pushed the pace. But it didn’t go my way. I thought I won and I was pushing the fight. But it is what it is. He was trying to counter. I had to wait to find my spots.”
Thurman started fast, quickly backing up Garcia with lead right hands and aggressive movement. After hurting him in the first round, Thurman took a confident approach over the next few rounds, landing the harder shots. Garcia seemed to be targeting Thurman’s body, but he struggled to time Thurman with counters, usually his bread and butter. Thurman kept moving around, out of harm’s way as he landed a pair of hard lefts in the fourth. Even when Thurman wasn’t punching, he was still effective early, utilizing his superior foot speed and Garcia seemed unable to keep up. But then Thurman started moving too much, and the fans grew restless in the sixth, booing the lack of action as Thurman circled and Garcia couldn’t catch him until the end of the round, when Garcia landed a left-right combination, the first flush punches he landed to that point.
Garcia appeared looser in the seventh, again moving toward Thurman as Thurman skirted away. Thurman continued to dance and potshot Garcia in the eighth, landing an overhand right and right to the body that kept Garcia from charging in. Thurman landed a sharp right uppercut in the tenth, but the boos returned in the 11th as the action was scarce, with Thurman dancing around and Garcia unable to land any telling shots. The only interesting thing about the 11th was that Garcia nearly went to the wrong corner after the round was over.
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