The year 2021 is one that has a sense of hope both for the sport of Boxing and the world as a whole that is still dealing with the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic. In previous years, it has not been uncommon to see a slight pause in the Boxing schedule through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays only to gradually pick up the schedule in mid or late January. Due largely to the circumstances of COVID-19, the sport of Boxing began its 2021 calendar year on January 2nd in Dallas, TX where the Boxing world and 6,000 spectators observing COVID-19 guidelines focused its attention on the American Airlines Center for an intriguing Lightweight clash of youth versus experience. This observer is referring to the showdown between undefeated Lightweight contender and rising star Ryan Garcia and former two-time world title challenger and former Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell. A showdown that was initially targeted to be amongst an active close to the 2020 Boxing schedule during the month of December, but was unfortunately delayed one month due to Campbell testing positive for the COVID-19 virus.
With Campbell cleared to compete it was simply time for the two fighters to do battle. In previewing this bout, this observer stated that while there was no denying that Ryan Garcia is a fighter who’s star is on the rise, the inevitable question of when he would face a legitimate test followed him into this encounter, similar to virtually all rising prospects turned contenders. Although Garcia had made heads turn in his most recent fights against Romero Duno and Francisco Fonseca, two fighters he was able to knockout in the first round, I did not believe we would see a similar circumstance in this bout. This was due largely to Campbell’s high caliber and his overall edge in experience.
It did not take long for Campbell to use that experience to ask some of the questions of Garcia that some have been waiting to be answered. After an uneventful opening round where neither fighter really stood out from the other, Campbell dropped Garcia hard with a perfectly timed left hook to the head. The sudden knockdown immediately brought an element of suspense to this fight as not only was Garcia knocked down for the first time in his career, but he was also clearly hurt for the first time as well. Sometimes in Boxing and by extension all combat sports, questions that are asked of fighters prior to bouts can be answered quickly.
Despite being knocked down and staggered, Garcia immediately got back to his feet and the fight continued. While a fighter jumping up so quickly can be a psychological tactic to convince an opponent as well as spectators that they really are not hurt, it did show a little of Garcia’s inexperience particularly against top caliber opposition by his getting up so quickly and not taking a few seconds to make sure he had his head clear. For those who questioned Garcia’s legitimacy as a fighter due largely to his significant following he has generated on social media platforms however, Garcia would show he is indeed a fighter. The twenty-two year old Garcia showed calm under pressure and by the end of the second round was exchanging offense with the thirty-three year old Campbell.
Garcia was able to show not only an ability to get up from the kind of punch that may have ended the night for some fighters, not only show a tactical approach upon getting up from the knockdown, but as the fight progressed was also able to turn things around in his favor. In the latter stages of round five Garcia connected with a left hook to the temple of Campbell that effected his equilibrium and had him staggered. Fortunately for the longtime top contender, this occurred shortly before the bell rang to end the fifth round and to his credit, Campbell was able to display his own ability to adapt under pressure.
It would be in round seven however, that the fight would be brought to a sudden conclusion. With the ebb and flow of the combat appearing to shift in his favor, Garcia connected with a brutal left hook to the body that after a momentary delayed reaction sent Campbell down to the canvas on his knees and unable to beat the ten count. The victory for Garcia, the twenty-first of his professional career did indeed prove to be the toughest test for him thus far.
While there may continue to be skeptics and critics in regard to just how good Ryan Garcia is, the fact is he passed the test and one might argue that this type of victory, one where he was legitimately knocked down, hurt, and in trouble for the first time in his career will do more for him in the long-term than had he been able to score a quick knockout without having to face much resistance. By scoring a victory in getting up off the canvas to ultimately knockout an opponent in Luke Campbell, who had never been stopped in his twenty-three previous professional fights, but also doing it after having to adapt to Campbell’s movement and hand speed was certainly impressive. What went on in this fight will serve as a learning experience in Garcia’s ongoing development. It should also not be overlooked that Garcia, who made an elaborate entrance to the ring for the bout by being literally carried to the ring in the style of a king showed his class by embracing Campbell after the fight, telling his opponent that he had never been knocked down before and saying thank you as he learned a lot in the bout.
In a world that can be fickle at times where folks will focus only on negative aspects of just about everything, in a sport where it is not uncommon to see fighters air their frustrations and/or play down instances like what Ryan Garcia experienced in this fight, it is refreshing to see two fighters displaying only respect for each other. As the sport has now entered 2021, one can only hope that others follow the example Ryan Garcia and Luke Campbell showed.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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