Overview of the entire tournament can be found here.
If there had to be an early favourite for the proposed 140lbs tournament then Danny Garcia is likely to be that man.
At 24 years old with a record of 25-0 the RING, WBC and WBA 140lbs champ is in his prime. His development has been steady and heavily featured on TV with key wins over the likes of Ashley Theophane, Mike Arnaoutis, Nate Campbell and Kendall Holt leading to his defining wins; two victories over the legendary Erik Morales and a brutal destruction of Amir Khan. A certain amount of criticism can be levelled at most of those wins; Theophane and Arnaoutis have never really lived up to the hype, Campbell was old and undersized, Holt past his best, Morales badly faded (especially in the second bout) and Khan coming off a loss but it is still an impressive ledger for a young man to have.
The intriguing thing is watching Garcia it’s often hard to work out what makes him so good…
At first glance Garcia is a solid boxer but appears to be little more. He was experienced as an amateur, winning a national Golden Gloves competition, but never factored into the world scene (although he was an Olympic alternate) he has fairly quick (although not exceptionally so) hands and solid footwork, especially on the offence where he is excellent at preventing an opponent from getting away. His punches are strong, if not carrying sheer one-punch power the majority of the time but he has a tendency to drop them too frequently and when he remembers to bring them back up he often loses his momentum. His head movement is good and his reflexes are excellent but he stands a bit too upright for my liking and when he is hit tends to open himself up to fire back which leaves him vulnerable.
All in all, a good boxer, but seemingly not one to get excited about.
And then he throws his counter-left hook…
Some boxers are blessed with a single punch which is better then anything else they can do. Micky Ward, brave and exciting as he was, happened to be a very limited boxer but despite that possessed arguably the best left hook (to the head or body) of his generation. Garcia is similar to that… not as limited a boxer but one who’s counter-left hook is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
The punch is a product of near perfect technique, timing and Garcia using the attributes he has. He draws an opponent in to him and repositions his feet slightly. He waits till the moment they throw a straight right. He slips his head off centreline and slightly to the side, taking the punch (if it lands) to the shoulder, neck and/or chest before throwing the hook while the opponent is still throwing their punch. The opponent is normally slightly off balance and the act of throwing the right hand means their chin is generally open and in the air. It is a brilliant example of countering by throwing punches with an opponent as opposed to picking shots between their attacks. In its set-up and technique is shares many similarities with the shot Marquez used to knockout Pacquiao in their most recent bout in that it is a case of taking a risk; relying on head movement rather than parrying or distance to avoid a shot so that the counter has the best chance of landing.
Above you can see the punch from the Khan bout. Throughout the contest Khan had been stepping into the pocket and throwing a 1-2 combination of some description, in this case a sloppy hook followed by an uppercut. Garcia can see Khan’s right shoulder move even as Khan threw his own left hook and as such telegraphed the blow that was coming. You can see Garcia start to roll his shoulder in preparation even before Khan’s first shot is taken on the shoulder, he moves his head slightly meaning the uppercut glances off his chest and misses and his own hook is already in motion going over Khan’s flailing arm and shoulder to land on his neck/chin. Near perfect.
In each of his three most high profile bouts (the Khan win and the two with Morales), Garcia has landed the punch cleanly once and changed the bout. In the first Morales bout the early rounds were close with Morales perhaps even being ahead and certainly being confident. Then Garcia lands the hook, drops Morales and wins comfortably. In the Khan bout Khan had been handily winning the early rounds behind his speed and the 1-2 combinations outlined above but Garcia had kept threatening with his hook. Then it landed and Khan, too brave for his own good, tried to fight his way out of trouble and was stopped shortly after. In the Morales rematch a fat Morales who looked a shadow of what he had been even in the first bout was clearly losing, but it was that hook which ended things.
Garcia also has the advantage of being more than a sum of his parts. The closest example I can think of is WBO 135lbs champ Ricky Burns; on paper nothing special but when put together a truly excellent boxer. Garcia may not have any outstanding attributes but when the whole package is combined he becomes exceptional (even without his hook). His punches may be a little wide and looping for my liking but there are no obvious flaws and he boxes sensibly. For an example of the opposite look at his future opponent Zab Judah, a man who despite finding success has never quite seemed to be as good as he should be or the wasted talent that is Joan Guzman.
Garcia’s hook is a known quality now and you have to expect that his opponents will train extensively to avoid it. The question is how. A boxer cannot simply not throw right hands and hope to win and few can avoid being drawn into exchanging in the pocket. Garcia can land the punch after initiating an exchange or when the opponent steps onto the front foot. In truth he’s aided by his motor-mouthed father, an inciting, less-then-classy presence… but one who often aggrivates opponent to the extent that they want to beat up Garcia, drawing them into the sort of exchanges Garcia thrives on.
His first test in the tournament will be against the previously mentioned Judah (who I’ll preview shortly). Judah has always been a dangerous opponent but one who has never quite had the success he perhaps should and prone to bouts of mental weakness. It’s always a danger to bet either for or against Judah on that principle. It should be an interesting and intriguing bout.