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‘Fighting Words’ — Pondering Pacquiao-Ryan Garcia (A Polarizing Proposal)

Photo by Tom Hogan-HoganPhotos/ Golden Boy Promotions
27
Jan

The fight seemed like it came out of left field. 

It was unexpected — a rising lightweight moving up two weight classes to take on one of the sport’s biggest superstars, a future Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career. 

It polarized boxing fans and observers. Some were excited at the idea of the fight. Others felt that it was a reckless mismatch and a shameless money grab, made all the worse by the fact it would be on pay-per-view amid a struggling economy.

And then Manny Pacquiao defeated Oscar De La Hoya.



Twelve years and one month later, social media — nascent back then, noxious now — is abuzz at the prospect of lightweight contender Ryan Garcia taking on one of the sport’s biggest superstars, a future Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career.

Pacquiao.

Once again, some fans and observers are excited. 

Once again, some dislike the idea of a welterweight against a lightweight. Especially because in this case the lightweight is not yet fully formed, not yet wholly proven. But also because there are other fights they would prefer Garcia take, fights that are more consequential, better for the divisional storyline, even if they’re not better for his bottom line.

And their dislike turns into disgust when they read that this might not even be a fight, but could end up being an exhibition, taking this money grab in their eyes from shameless to meaningless.

All of this is premature, a feeding frenzy before we know exactly what’s being served.

As is often the case, we’ve seemingly used up all of the oxygen in the room discussing a fight that isn’t even official and, given the way that the boxing business sometimes goes, may never be.

Here’s what we’ve learned collectively over these past few days.

What we know mostly came from tweets from several writers, beginning with Mike Coppinger of The Athletic: “There are talks regarding a potential bout between Ryan Garcia and Manny Pacquiao,” he tweeted on Sunday, citing anonymous sources. “Preliminary discussions at this stage.”

That same day, Garcia took to Instagram and threw fuel on the fire, posting a mocked-up fight poster featuring him and Pacquiao.

“A dream turned reality,” Garcia wrote. “It’s an honor to share the ring with Manny Pacquiao. I will always respect what you did in and out [of] the ring. Here’s to the best man winning.”

Boxing writer Steve Kim followed up on Monday: “I’m told that in regards to Pacquiao-Ryan Garcia, nothing is finalized,” he wrote. “The plan is for this bout to be an exhibition.”

And here was Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, also on Monday: “The discussed Garcia-Pacquiao fight COULD be an exhibition on a rich guy’s property in Los Angeles, but hearing there are many balls in the air and far from finalized. This could be a real fight still. Money is a big factor, as always.”

Two named sources thankfully chimed in:

“The rules of engagement have not been decided yet!” tweeted Sean Gibbons, president of Manny Pacquiao’s promotional company. He followed up with other comments: “No one said this is an exhibition. … Lots of chatter on the internet. Until you hear an official announcement, it’s all gossip.”

Ryan Garcia’s father spoke to Sky Sports in an article that ran on Wednesday morning:

“Everybody has agreed, all there is left are the details,” Henry Garcia said, a hilarious quote when you realize that it probably means that they haven’t yet agreed on some of the most important terms. “But both parties have already agreed; promoters have agreed, sanctioning bodies have agreed, so we’re very close to sealing the deal.”

He added that the idea of an exhibition bout came from Pacquiao’s camp. “We don’t know exact details yet but we’re looking at a good 10-rounder but it’s going to be a real fight, that I do know,” he said.

The responses are understandable, considering the fighters involved and the fight itself.

Ryan Garcia is a love-him-or-hate-him fighter who needs attention the same way that Tinkerbell needed applause. He has cultivated a tremendous social media following and knows how to move the needle. He’d recently thrown a tantrum over losing his “verified checkmark” on Twitter. (Boxing writer Kelsey McCarson noted that there was a much more rational explanation than the conspiracy theories Garcia was espousing. Garcia eventually deactivated his Twitter account.)

You can be forgiven if you think this is less a story and more a stunt. Fighters, managers, trainers, promoters, and anyone and everyone else who has an agenda will say things to try to cause a certain reaction, especially to influence ongoing negotiations. However, Garcia had spoken with seeming earnestness about the idea of facing Pacquiao in an interview earlier this month with Jake Donovan of BoxingScene.com.

“After I beat Tank Davis, my dream fight is to get to Manny Pacquiao before [he] gets to go from the sport,” Garcia said. “He’s someone I look up to and is one of the last remaining legends still in the sport. It would be an honor to get him in the ring, maybe we can do it at 140 or even at 147 if I have to move up [that far] to get in the ring with him. After that, I can fight the winner of Devin Haney and Teofimo [Lopez] for the undisputed lightweight championship.”

We’ll come back to those lightweight fights later. They’re pertinent to this story, a significant part of the polarized reaction.

That polarity, enough contrast as to create controversy, is normal for boxing. It’s rare that we all react the same way to a fight announcement, a result, an interview, or a thoughtful column authored by a bald boxing writer. We like different things. We want different things.

The distance between the opposing ends of the spectrum — and the intensity of those opposing opinions — is heightened particularly when certain fighters are involved.

Take those ingredients and make the fight a Super Bowl of boxing, like Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao was; or an unavoidable circus sideshow, like Mayweather-Conor McGregor was and the rumored Pacquiao-McGregor would’ve been; or make it an exhibition match — and you’ve placed all of those combustible elements into the same pot, closed the lid and turned up the heat.

In most of these cases, your mind was likely made up well before the bell rang. Your taste may vary depending on who’s involved. And that’s fine. As I’ve said before, know exactly what one of these shows is when you’re buying it, and you’ll probably end up enjoying it. If you know you won’t enjoy it, then don’t buy it.

Photo by Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy

Not everyone buys that logic. And it’s often because they don’t like what people are trying to sell them — and the figurative costs of it.

Here are just a few of the comments that came out in 2008 from boxing writers and fans who didn’t like the idea of De La Hoya-Pacquiao in the slightest:

“De La Hoya-Pacquiao is kind of a joke. I’m sure Pacquiao is up for the challenge (and the payday).”

“I’d rather watch an episode of 24/7 than watch these two fight each other.”

“I can’t believe some of the things I’ve heard this week about how the fight is going to be a classic and one for the history books. Give me a break! This is a money-making endeavor, and that’s it.”

“I’m a hater of Pacquiao/De La Hoya, but of course I’ll buy it, because I love boxing. One thing has nothing to do with the other. I hate it because I think Pacquiao wins easily, and I’d rather see one of the great matchups to be made at lightweight.”

“De La Hoya is willing to sacrifice his dignity to fight a guy who currently resides three classes lower than he does. … If there’s such a thing as self-respect, De La Hoya has clearly lost it in the chase for every dollar he can grab. … A bout with Pacquiao would be little more than a circus. Instead of an undercard, they can wheel out a bearded lady, the winged boy and the three-legged man to entertain the crowd and save some dough.”

Many of these critiques were understandable at the time. There were many who believed the fight was a mismatch — in favor of De La Hoya — and that he was wasting his time, and in particularly ours, taking on someone so small rather than face someone like Antonio Margarito, who’d just bested Miguel Cotto. Others felt that we were being sold a big event, rather than a great fight.

There are, of course, big differences between De La Hoya-Pacquiao and Pacquiao-Garcia.

Although De La Hoya was only two fights removed from his megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., we’d learn in the Pacquiao match just how little he had left to offer in the ring. He retired four months later at the age of 36. Pacquiao is 42 now and hasn’t fought in a year and a half. What we saw back then was a 40-year-old who was still good enough to defeat an upper-tier welterweight in Keith Thurman.

When Pacquiao fought De La Hoya, he was days away from his 30th birthday and already well-established in the pound-for-pound pantheon. He’d won world titles in five weight classes, defeated great opponents, and had added new facets to an already explosive offensive arsenal. 

In contrast, Garcia is just 22 and still coming along. He’s clearly gifted with hand speed and power and is growing under the tutelage of trainer Eddy Reynoso and the mentorship of Canelo Alvarez. But his biggest win to date was his last one, a seventh-round TKO of Luke Campbell. It was a good win, but it pales in comparison. (Of course, most everyone’s everything will pale in comparison to Pacquiao).

Yet the Cambell win opened the doors to fights with some of the other top names at and around 135, whom Garcia had been talking about well before he’d beaten anyone of note. He and Gervonta Davis have long been jawing at each other on social media and in interviews. The Campbell victory had also put Garcia in a mandatory position to challenge Devin Haney. 

To some fans, making Pacquiao-Garcia would come at the expense of those other matches coming together. 

“I’m just disappointed we will have to wait for the competitive fights that could have been made,” one boxing fan told me in response to the Pacquiao-Garcia rumors. “Pacquiao has earned an easy night’s work, but I would prefer his parting exhibitions don’t impact a good division moving forward.”

“There’s plenty of time for exhibitions when active fighters have retired,” another boxing fan said. “Do we want to encourage exhibitions that are just for money, that will block or stall the best [from] actually fighting the best in the pro game? I’d be happy with it [as a real fight]. A young gun challenging a fading Hall of Famer. The two-division jump makes it more interesting, presuming it would be at 147. We [would] actually learn something from a real fight, [but not from] an exhibition.”

These perspectives, like those espoused by the De La Hoya-Pacquiao detractors, are understandable.

The truth, however, is that Ryan Garcia’s next fight probably wouldn’t have ever been against Davis or Haney anyway. And neither of those fights has been sitting on the shelf so long that it’s near its expiration date. 

An interim fight or an exhibition won’t hurt. If Garcia loses to Manny Pacquiao, then he’s lost to a legend who is far more experienced and fights two weight classes up from him.

I’m not as bothered by the idea of an exhibition as others are. Mayweather-McGregor was a real fight, though one in which the result was never in question. I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. That, in turn, changed my mindset going into last November’s exhibition involving Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, which was entertaining for what it was.

But if this winds up being a real fight? That brings even more entertainment value for us as fans, and more potential for Garcia were he to do the unexpected and defeat Pacquiao.

Pacquiao’s victory over De La Hoya launched him into the stratosphere. It took his previous pay-per-view sales — which had been between 350,000-400,000 against the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Juan Manuel Marquez — and rocketed them from respectable to phenomenal.

Garcia’s popularity already pairs well with Davis’ stardom. Davis has drawn sizable crowds in Atlanta and Baltimore, and he made highlight reels with last year’s one-punch KO of Leo Santa Cruz. If Garcia can upset Pacquiao, then a match with Davis would grow from a big fight into a huge event.

Of course, scoring that upset is easier said than done.

Lots of fighters who were far more accomplished than Garcia have failed to beat Pacquiao. It’s reasonable to look at the knockdown Campbell scored in the second round against Garcia — he threw a jab to the body and followed with a left cross to the chin — and imagine what would happen if Pacquiao, also a southpaw, landed with his trademark speed and power.

Pacquiao occasionally changes up his approach, however, when in the ring against opponents who have fast hands and like to counterpunch. It’s also impossible to predict what effect this long layoff, combined with age and wear and tear, will have on Pacquiao. Some fighters get old overnight. There have been 557 overnights since Pacquiao last fought.

These are intriguing storylines.

These are good reasons to want Pacquiao-Garcia to be a “real fight,” a competition rather than an exhibition.

There are questions that we’d want to have answered, questions we hadn’t even thought of asking until this fight came out of left field and left us wondering: 

What happens when a smaller fighter — talented, fast, powerful, confident, but still developing, still rather unproven — takes on an all-time great who is past his prime, who should still be able to teach this young upstart a lesson, but who could still somehow be shocked and sent packing?

These decisions won’t be made on our behalf. It’s always about what is best for business, not what is best for boxing. They will still take us into consideration, given our role in making this a profitable venture.

Whatever form Pacquiao vs. Garcia takes will inevitably come down to risk vs. reward. 

It will come down to the money that can be made in a real fight vs. what can be gained in victory and lost in defeat. 

Or it will come down to believing that an exhibition will still be a big enough event, that it will be watched despite being watered down, that what it lacks in legitimacy won’t keep it from being lucrative.

The 10 Count

1 – Canelo Alvarez’s desire for free agency, gained last year after a lawsuit against Golden Boy and DAZN, isn’t at odds with his recent two-fight deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.

That deal was made official last week. Canelo will face Avni Yildirim on February 27. That fight will in turn set up a presumed unification match in May with Billy Joe Saunders, who previously held a world title at 160 pounds and currently has one at 168.

This deal doesn’t take away the flexibility Canelo was seeking. Rather, it is a reflection of the exact market conditions he wanted.

Canelo can work with promoters on a short-term basis. These two fights will be held over the span of less than four months. He’ll be free to choose his path afterward based on which fighters are available, and what the various promoters and networks are willing to pay for his services.

If Canelo defeats Yildirim and Saunders, we could very well see Canelo partnering with Premier Boxing Champions next in order to set up matches with that company’s stable of fighters in the middleweight, super middleweight and perhaps even the light heavyweight divisions. 

A victory over Saunders would leave Canelo with three of the four major world titles at 168 (he also has The Ring championship). The fourth world title will belong to the winner of this weekend’s show featuring Caleb Plant vs. Caleb Truax.

I don’t believe Canelo would drop back down to 160 unless the situation merited it. Since we’re fantasy booking here, we’d be more likely to see guys like Jermall Charlo move up to 168 or meet at a catchweight.

Too many boxing fans these days get wrapped up in allegiances to promoters, managers, and networks. We watch boxing matches because we like boxing, or the boxers themselves. Canelo’s free agency will help us see more big fights involving him. Everyone benefits in this scenario. Well, everyone except for DAZN (long-term) and Golden Boy.

2 – Canelo’s deal will have a domino effect on other fighters and other fights.

The presumed fight with Billy Joe Saunders would mean one less available option for Demetrius Andrade, the 160-pound titleholder who said he’d be willing to move up to challenge Saunders. Andrade has been calling for a big fight for some time — and sabotaging himself when it comes to getting those big fights. Instead, we may see Andrade defend against his mandatory challenger, Liam Williams. Or perhaps we’ll get an intriguing clash of styles between Andrade and Gennady Golovkin.


3 – This past week brought two different approaches to taking on mandatory challengers. And both of them made sense.

As we mentioned above, Canelo Alvarez will face his mandatory, Avni Yildirim, in late February. Down in the featherweight division, meanwhile, Josh Warrington announced last week that he would vacate his world title rather than face mandatory challenger Kid Galahad. Instead, Warrington will have a keep-busy fight on February 13 against Mauricio Lara and then will set his sights on Gary Russell Jr. or Xu Can.

Here’s the thing: Warrington’s mandatory challenge would delay the fights he’s been waiting for. He wanted to face Xu next. Xu declined the fight for February, as he wants a live crowd and would be paid more with fans in attendance, promoter Eddie Hearn told boxing writer Ron Lewis. The IBF would most likely enforce its mandated Warrington-Galahad rematch rather than allow Warrington to postpone it in favor of other opponents.

Alvarez’s mandatory — as much of a mismatch as it is — presumably won’t delay anything. He’s long fought just twice a year. The Yildirim fight is an extra date on his calendar, one that would give him at least three fights in 2021. If Canelo fights again in May, as he’s expected to, that will be three fights in a six-month span.

If fighters are going to be busier, then these occasional mandatories and mismatches are more acceptable, depending on what that means both for our budgets and the networks’ budgets. The problem is when the fights that next to no one wants get in the way of the fights seemingly everyone wants.

4 – It’s not surprising that former light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev has tested positive for the second time for synthetic testosterone. Given the timing of the tests, it makes sense.

Dec. 30: Kovalev provides a sample under testing overseen by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, or VADA.

Jan. 7: Kovalev provides another sample.

Jan. 13: The first sample — the one taken on Dec. 30 — comes up positive. It’s soon announced that Kovalev’s Jan. 30 fight against unbeaten prospect Bektemir Melikuziev has been canceled.

The second positive test was first reported earlier this week by boxing writer Dan Rafael

Kovalev has told his promoter that he didn’t intentionally take any banned substances, and they’ve floated the possibility that contaminated supplements are to blame. He will ultimately have his case come before the California State Athletic Commission, which will hear his defense and then render its decision.

I don’t know that this second positive test will make his chances any worse. It certainly doesn’t make things any better.

5 – The long-awaited, highly-anticipated rematch between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez appears to still be on. You might not have known about the concerns that it wouldn’t be.

A couple weeks ago, La Prensa — a newspaper in Gonzalez’s native Nicaragua — interviewed Estrada’s trainer, Alfredo Caballero, about the fight. He said they weren’t happy about the money that Estrada was offered.

“We are starting the camp, but we have not yet signed for the fight,” Caballero said, according to Google Translate. “I don’t know if they told Roman that they would give him a million, but nothing to us. Before Christmas, the promoter called me and I told them not to count on us if there wasn’t a million dollars. Recent days, they called me again saying that there was no million, and I commented that they should not mark me again if they did not have the figure, unless they [provided] another opponent for what they were offering us.”

“El Gallo [Estrada] is an elite boxer like Chocolatito and he deserves more money,” Caballero added. “What they offered is nowhere near.”

I’m not aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, but it’s a positive sign that Matchroom Boxing, which will be promoting the March 13 show, has since announced a location for Estrada-Gonzalez 2 and the televised co-feature fights.

Those co-features are:

– A rematch of last year’s stunning upset that Jessica McCaskill scored over longtime undisputed women’s welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus.

– Hiroto Kyoguchi making the third defense of his junior flyweight world title against Axel Aragon Vega.

6 – All three of those matches are Ring Magazine championship fights. Estrada won the championship when he defeated Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in their 2019 rematch. McCaskill seized the throne from Braekhus. And Kyoguchi toppled Hekkie Budler to win the championship two years ago.

The last time that happened was December 2003, according to Jake “Jazz Hands of Stone” Donovan of BoxingScene.com.

It was one of those Don King pay-per-view extravaganzas, and it featured three lineal (and Ring) championship fights as part of a show with six total title fights, plus one interim title fight and one secondary WBA title fight. Those three Ring championship fights were:

– Bernard Hopkins defending the middleweight championship against William Joppy.

– Cory Spinks outboxing Ricardo Mayorga to seize the welterweight championship.

– Rosendo Alvarez retaining his junior flyweight championship with a draw against Jose Victor Burgos.

 

7 – The next Don King pay-per-view extravaganza is still supposed to take place this Friday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

“Shitshow” seems more apt with each passing day and arriving headline. I’ve had to update this entry five times, no exaggeration, since I first drafted it. There were four fights listed when we last touched on this two weeks ago:

– Manuel Charr vs. Trevor Bryan
– Beibut Shumenov vs. Raphael Murphy
– Bermane Stiverne vs. Christopher Lovejoy
– Ronald Johnson vs. TBA.

All four of those have changed since. Here’s what’s happened:

– Lovejoy, a heavyweight curiosity who was unable to get out of his contract with Don King, is no longer appearing on the show against Stiverne. Lovejoy is instead expecting to fight on February 20.

– VADA announced that Don King had asked the agency not to conduct drug testing for the fight between cruiserweights Shumenov and Murphy. And then, just this Monday, Murphy said he’d learned that Shumenov was off the card. This came a day after Murphy arrived in Florida.

– Johnson, a heavyweight with a record of 17-1 (4 KOs), at last had an opponent announced: the 39-17-1 Raphael Zumbano Love. However, BoxRec now lists a different opponent for Johnson: Terrell Jamal Woods, who is 24-47-8.

– A swing bout was announced featuring cruiserweights/heavyweights Johnnie Langston (8-3, 3 KOs) and Robert Simms.

– Charr finally received his travel visa and planned to fly in from Europe and defend his WBA “regular” heavyweight title (awarded in November 2017, not defended since) against WBA “interim” titleholder Trevor Bryan (whose title was awarded in August 2018 and hasn’t been defended since). Charr had expected to arrive in the U.S. on Tuesday, January 26. The night ended with us still having no idea what country Charr was in. The fight is now off (more on that in a moment).

– Don King asked the WBA to strip Charr and order a fight between Bryan and Stiverne for the sanctioning body’s secondary “regular” title.

– On late Tuesday night, we learned that Frezzzzzzzzzzz Oquendo, the 47-year-old former title challenger who was last seen in the ring in July 2014 — no, that’s not a typo — sued earlier this month to try to stop Charr-Bryan from taking place.

– By Wednesday morning, the Charr-Bryan fight had been called off. An attorney for Don King said that Charr didn’t have the right kind of visa in order to be able to fight.

– Oh, and there’s still questions about the venue. Here’s boxing writer Jake Donovan in an article published on Monday morning: “The casino website does not list the event, nor is any employee aware of the establishment hosting such a card as confirmed through three separate phone conversations with BoxingScene.com within the past three weeks.” And Michael Woods of RingTV.com was told the same thing.

8 – Only $19.95! Only in America!

9 – I don’t know whether you’d need to be completely drunk to buy the Don King pay-per-view, whether you’d need to be completely drunk to enjoy the Don King pay-per-view, or both.

It’s a Friday evening during a pandemic — on a winter night that, at least in my part of the country, will have below-freezing temperatures. This may end up being the Sharknado of Boxing Twitter, a communal experience that makes a bad product feel better.

Are you planning on ordering the show? Follow me on Twitter @FightingWords2. Misery loves company.

I’ll at least feel better about hopefully helping Don King’s long-suffering fighters get the money they deserve than I would feel about putting more money in the pockets of Logan and Jake Paul.

10 – Floridians (and snowbirds) do have other options even if Don King’s show falls through.

Canelo Alvarez’s fight with Avni Yildirim will be held at the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes. 

Smaller venues continue to host shows as well. Glen Johnson — the former light heavyweight champ whose final fight, coincidentally, came against Yildirim — is now a promoter. His “Road Warrior Promotions” just staged a card this past Saturday at an amphitheater in Miramar. Other upcoming shows are scheduled at hotels and gyms.

But my favorite venue?

It’s an event scheduled for February 6 at a place in Quincy, Florida, called the Old Trampoline Building.

If ever there was a perfect time for boxing to return to Bounce TV…

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

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