Thursday, October 21, 2021

Belated Garcia-Martin Thoughts

A quote that this observer has referenced often over the years in regard to unexpected things occurring is one that came from the Hall of Fame trainer and former fighter Freddie Roach who in the prelude to Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008 said as many felt that his fighter Pacquiao had bitten off more than he could chew by jumping up significantly in weight to face the bigger and theoretically stronger De La Hoya “If there were no upsets in the world, the world would be boring.” As many know, Pacquiao went on to score a dominant victory over De La Hoya in which he forced him to quit on his stool and into retirement. Truly one of the milestones in Pacquiao’s legendary career.

Of course, upsets are not something that is exclusive to the sport of Boxing, but is something that occurs throughout all of sport. Recently, this was proven in Baseball where in the divisional round of the American League playoffs, the Boston Red Sox, a team that got into the divisional stage courtesy of winning the wildcard against the New York Yankees, upset the number one seeded Tampa Bay Rays, a team that had won the American League championship in 2020, and after winning one hundred games in baseball’s regular-season this year, appeared to be a lock to at least return to the World Series this year. Despite being shut out in game one of the best of five series, Boston came back to defeat the Rays in three straight games to eliminate them from the playoffs and advance to the American League championship series where they are currently facing the Houston Astros. Certainly, all logic suggested that the Tampa Bay Rays were likely to steamroll past the Red Sox much in the same way they had against virtually every team they had faced during the regular season in becoming one of the rare teams to win over a hundred games during a season. Sometimes logic and sports do not mix.

The sport of Boxing meanwhile saw a significant upset in September when former undefeated Cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk scored a twelve round unanimous decision over two-time unified Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua. While the reader may question why yours truly has used as examples, it is to show that even the most seasoned of those who cover sports and the most seasoned of sports fan should always expect the unexpected.

Such a scenario occurred on October 16th at the Chuchansi Park minor league baseball stadium in Fresno, CA where former four-division world champion Mikey Garcia faced Sandor Martin in a ten round Welterweight bout. Garcia is obviously one of the more accomplished fighters in the sport currently having won world titles from the 126lb. Featherweight division to the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division. In his only career defeat, Garcia was out boxed in a one-sided decision loss to undefeated IBF Welterweight world champion Errol Spence in March 2019.

Although it is arguable that Garcia has not been the same fighter since moving into the Welterweight division, he still managed to look impressive against former WBO Welterweight world champion Jessie Vargas in his first fight since suffering the loss to Spence in February 2020. Garcia, much like many fighters throughout the entire sport saw his career stall after that victory due largely to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic. After over a year of inactivity, which was approaching nearly two years, Garcia’s bout against Sandor Martin was curious in the eyes of some.

Despite entering the fight with a respectable record of 38-2, with 13 Knockouts and being the current European Jr. Welterweight champion, Martin was not particularly well-known in the United States and was thought by some as merely an opponent for Garcia to work off “Ring Rust.” While we do live in a time where many fans can express their opinion freely and unfortunately can resort to conduct that is not exemplary online in expressing those opinions, I believe that the view that Martin was lightly regarded is simply due to the fact that he had not fought in the United States before this fight and more specifically had not fought anyone of Garcia’s caliber in his career. While everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, Martin had been one of the fighters that has been able to benefit from the era of streaming technology in being showcased on international cards thanks to promoter Eddie Hearn’s broadcast agreement with global digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, so I believe not only based on the benefits that such technology offers, but also Martin’s style that he should have been held in higher regard by those who felt that this was a soft touch for Garcia to resume activity.

Martin is after all a southpaw and a fighter who is a slick boxer in any fighter with those attributes is bound to create some difficulty even for high profile opposition such as Garcia. Nevertheless, I did wonder how he would respond to the atmosphere of not only fighting in the United States for the first time, but also fighting under circumstances where Garcia was the significant fan favorite and fighting in Garcia’s home state of California. 

Despite being a significant underdog with all boxes seemingly checked against him, Martin came into this encounter with a calculated, tactical fight plan that he seemingly executed to near perfection. By making full use of the ring and use of his lateral movement, Martin was able to dictate how the fight was being fought even though Garcia was the one who consistently came forward and forced the action throughout. How did Martin do this? One aspect was that he was able to frequently catch Garcia with offense as he came forward whether it be with straight punches with either hand or hooks. What made this a more effective strategy was that Martin was in the process also able to evade Garcia or block a good majority of his offense as he came forward.

There were no thrills to write about in this fight, but what became noticeable as it progressed was that Martin’s strategy was working so well that it pretty much quelled the largely pro-Garcia crowd that had come to Chuchansi Park to support their favorite. Although a boxer who puts an emphasis on technique as opposed to trying to win the crowd over does not always endear a fighter to a crowd, particularly one that is accustomed to seeing action-packed fights, if one looked at this fight objectively, it was hard not to be impressed with Martin’s performance in skillfully out boxing a former four-division world champion in the biggest fight of his career. While Garcia was able to have his moments sporadically throughout the bout, what made the difference beyond Martin’s ability to control the ebb and flow of the fight was Martin was also landing the more effective punches of the two fighters.

Due to the pace in which the fight was fought however, it was nevertheless a close fight and as I have often said through the years, you really never know which was three official judges might be leaning, particularly when a fight favors a fighter that is a fan favorite in his home region going against a fighter who while skillful and had proven his ability throughout the fight, was a relative unknown to those in the United States whom Boxing is of casual interest. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the ten round bout, I felt that Sandor Martin had done enough to earn the decision and had done so convincingly even though he did not appear to hurt Garcia at any point throughout the fight as I scored it 97-93 or seven rounds to three unofficially in his favor. 

Perhaps it is a sign of this observer’s experience in covering Boxing for most of my life as well as having watched the sport on all levels since I was a young child, but it did not surprise me to see one official judge see the fight exactly the way I did. In this case however, two of three official judges saw it exactly the same way as yours truly in turning in identical scorecards of 97-93 in Martin’s favor making him the winner by majority decision. What was a bit surprising however, was that one judge saw the fight even 95-95 resulting in the majority ruling. 

Although I do not have to tell regular readers that I have certainly seen stranger decisions rendered and far more controversial scorecards turned in, many of which I have written extensively about both online and in print, the reason why I was surprised in this circumstance was more so in thinking that perhaps Garcia’s consistent aggression throughout, albeit ineffective aggression may have been enough to sway at least one scorecard in his favor if not sway the majority of the three official judges outright. While I am not by any means suggesting that I expected to see what would amount to a “Hometown Decision”, there are some judges working throughout the sport that seem to give more credit in their criteria to the element of aggression as opposed to ring generalship and defense, as well as clean effective punching. This can also be a detriment to European fighters who travel here to the United States, who like Sandor Martin, have highly technical Boxing-based styles where the emphasis more often than not is on technique as opposed to trying to score knockouts or being known as an “Action Fighter.”

Boxing nevertheless will always be a sport of opportunity and no matter what a fighter’s background might be going into a fight, there is always the chance that they can score a major victory and almost instantly change their standing in the sport. This is exactly the position that Sandor Martin now finds himself in after scoring a major upset in the biggest win of his career over Mikey Garcia. Although he is still the European Jr. Welterweight champion, obviously, the odds of Martin potentially challenging for a world championship in 2022 in either the Jr. Welterweight or Welterweight divisions have naturally increased off of this victory. 

Of course, there is also the possibility of a rematch with Garcia, which given Garcia’s stature in the sport may be likely to happen before Martin can set his sights on challenging for a world championship. Although Mikey Garcia was simply out boxed by a crafty, and slick tactician, this observer does not know if a rematch between the two would turn out to be any different than this fight was. Styles do indeed make fights and if Martin were to approach the rematch with the same type of tactical approach as he did in this fight, it is hard for me to see the fight going differently. It is however, certainly not impossible and all eyes will obviously be on Garcia if/when these two fighters square off for a second time.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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