The fight between Jr. Welterweight contender Ryan Garcia and contender Oscar Duarte on December 2nd should have represented a fresh start and the beginning of a new chapter in Garcia's career as he looked to bounce back from the first loss of his career earlier this year to Gervonta Davis. Instead, much of the attention prior to the bout, which took place at the Toyota Center in Houston, TX, did not center on the fight itself or what Duarte brought to the table as an opponent and possible threat to Garcia, but rather on what at best can be described as a contentious relationship between Garcia and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya and by extension his promotional company Golden Boy Promotions.
It is true that this fight took place under a condition in which this observer cannot recall seeing before, or at least not in this form. In that the bout took place while the fighter Garcia, and the promoter De La Hoya, are engaged in a legal battle against each other in an effort by Garcia to break his existing contract with his promoter. The idea of a promoter and fighter being at odds however, is not a new concept. The idea that a fight promoted by a promoter currently battling the star attraction in said fight while litigation is ongoing is a bit different.
At minimum, as this observer pointed out in previewing this fight, it had to create distractions for Garcia as well as a situation for De La Hoya, where the pressing question during fight week was not concerning the fight inside the Boxing ring, but concerned his feelings toward his fighter. The contention between the two going into fight week spilled over as both Garcia and De La Hoya traded verbal barbs during the pre-fight press conference and weigh-in.
Seeing the situation play out for the world to see, one would be logical to question why the fighter would agree to participate in a fight promoted by someone that he is trying to distance himself from and why the promoter would want to promote a fight with that fighter, while litigation is ongoing. Truly, something that could only happen in Boxing, or at least that's how it seems. One would also be justified in questioning why something like that would be done before a resolution has taken place between the parties as more than likely anything either fighter or promoter said prior to the bout actually taking place, would likely be used against each other or at least be attempted to in any upcoming legal proceedings.
While what I have described here dear reader, probably sounds more appropriate for a reality TV show, there was still the matter of actual battle inside the ring. The fight between Garcia and Durate took place before a capacity crowd. If nothing else, it demonstrated, despite Garcia's knockout loss to Davis and the very ugly saga between himself and De La Hoya, Garcia is still a rising star in the sport.
As for the fight itself, under new trainer Derrick James, Garcia showed new elements of his skillset that has not been seen before. A more technical approach with an emphasis on using both his jab and lateral movement against the constant pressure of Duarte, who only knew one direction, forward. Perhaps in response to what happened to him when he was knocked out by Gervonta Davis, when forced to fight on the inside with Duarte where the possibility of being caught with a body shot, like the one that did him in against Davis, was increased, Garcia appeared to turn sideways, some may say partially turn his back. While such an approach borders on the line of legal and illegal, it was for better or worse an effective strategy. It did not, however, endear Garcia to the crowd in attendance, who frequently voiced their criticism via booing throughout the bout. Furthermore, it also created a scenario where Referee James Green frequently interjected himself throughout the fight to issue warnings, which were mostly pointed in the direction of Duarte for hitting Garcia in the back.
Although I felt Garcia was doing enough to win most of the rounds as the fight progressed, the aggressiveness of Duarte was such that I felt it could sway opinion in his favor simply because of the perception that he was the fighter forcing the action. The question I was also pondering in my mind was whether the high pace in which the fight was fought would take a toll on Garcia later in the fight due not only to Duarte’s pressure and solid punches when he was able to connect, but more specifically the constant movement that he was having to do throughout.
As the fight continued, I also felt that Duarte’s pressure was effective, but what was also noticeable was the lack of head movement as he came forward in that he was having to go through significant offense from Garcia before he could get on the inside, which he was unable to avoid. This flaw in Duarte’s defense would ultimately lead to his downfall in the eighth round when Garcia was able to catch him with a short left hook to the head, which wobbled his legs and subsequently led to a knockdown from a short flurry of blows. Although Duarte seemed to get up at the count of nine, he was in fact counted out by Referee James Green, giving Garcia an impressive and hard fought knockout win.
Ultimately, this fight did what it was designed to do if you were a member of both Garcia’s camp or his current promoter Golden Boy Promotions. Get Garcia back in the win column. The fact that Garcia was able to do so impressively is an added bonus. Inevitably, there will continue to be questions and criticism of Garcia. Questions such as is he truly recovered from the knockout at the hands of Davis, more so mentally than physically? Is Garcia listening to too many folks in terms of advising him on his career and is that influence at the root of his ongoing problems with Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions? And finally, will he be able to stay on track both inside the ring as well as out of it to stay a viable contender with the hope of eventually fighting for a world championship?
These are all interesting questions that this observer cannot answer. Much as has been the case for numerous young fighters throughout the history of the sport however, there is no shortage of people who are more than willing to tell a fighter what they want to hear and will also offer no shortage of ideas that may not truly have the fighter’s best interest at heart. For the fighter, especially one who has been open as Garcia has regarding struggles with his mental health, it can be difficult to tell the difference between those willing to tell them what they want to hear and those telling them what they need to hear. Even if the latter is not always easy to hear.
“And That's The Boxing Truth."
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