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Spence and Garcia Concur that to be the Best, You Have to Beat the Best

Bernard Fernandez

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Spence & Garcia

There is a familiar saying, the originator of which no one seems to know, that holds that good and big always beats good and small. And it’s true in most forms of athletic competition, especially in team sports, where, all other things being equal, superior height (basketball) and heft (football) tend to reward obvious size advantages.

Given that admittedly imperfect rule of thumb, it stands to reason that the odds favor IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs), a natural 147-pounder who stands 5-foot-9½ with a 72-inch reach compared to Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), who is 5-6 with a 68-inch reach. Spence, who at 29 is also two years younger than Garcia, is the -363 choice in some sports books, meaning bettors would have to risk $363 to win $100. Garcia is +251, which would reward his backers with a $251 payoff on a $100 wager.

The gap in those numbers can and very likely will shrink when the two undefeated and rightfully celebrated fighters square off Saturday night in the Fox Sports Pay Per View main event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Although Spence, from the Dallas suburb of Desoto, is nominally the hometown guy, many spectators among a live turnout approaching and possibly even surpassing 40,000 are Mexican or Mexican-American and are apt to follow their hearts by putting their cash on Garcia, a life-long Cowboys fan (as is Spence) even though he grew up in Oxnard, Calif., and now resides in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Then again, maybe Garcia’s fans won’t be swayed so much by ethnic pride as by cold, calculating reason. There is another saying, also unattributed, that holds that big and good doesn’t necessarily beat great and small. Even if he comes up, well, a bit short in his ambitious bid to unseat Spence, the likelihood is that Garcia, still the WBC lightweight titlist as well as the former WBO featherweight and super featherweight and IBF super lightweight champ, already has done enough to guarantee his eventual enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Spence, who would seem to be headed toward his own IBHOF induction, is not yet a lock to have his ticket punched to Canastota, N.Y. He probably is a few key victories shy of matching Garcia’s credentials as a ring immortal, which could explain his rationale for taking a fight some would say is as much a risk on his part as it is for Garcia. If Spence defeats Garcia, and even if he knocks him out, will he hear from skeptics claiming that all he did was to beat up an undeniably gifted but much smaller man?

Almost everyone agrees that Garcia, to his credit, is daring to be great by jumping up two weight classes to mix it up with arguably the top welterweight in the world. Spence’s participation, on the other hand, might owe more to the fact that his oft-stated objective — to fully unify the title at 147 — has been blocked at every turn, at least to date, which had the effect of steering him toward Garcia. As consolation prizes go, this one is about as good as anyone could have hoped for.

“I doubt (a fight with) Keith Thurman (the WBA “super” champion) would’ve happened at the Cowboys stadium, or me and Terence Crawford (the WBO champ) would’ve happened at the Cowboys stadium,” Spence reasoned. “I’m just grateful to be fighting at home, on Fox Pay Per View and against a great opponent like Mikey Garcia. It was an easy fight to make, too. He basically called me out. It’s a real good fight. I’m happy with it.”

He’s also happy because he believes, as does his trainer, Derrick James, that he will win for reasons that go beyond physical dimensions. On fight night the power-punching southpaw is absolutely certain he will not resemble Jess Willard, battered senseless by the much smaller but much better Jack Dempsey, or John Ruiz, made to look foolish by the much smaller but clearly more talented Roy Jones Jr. Spence and James have as much confidence in Spence’s impressive array of skills as Garcia has in his own well-stocked arsenal.

“I believe this fight, from my perspective, not only establishes Errol as a superstar, it enhances his status as a superstar, which I believe he already is,” James said. “If you go by social media, more people talk about Errol than just about any other fighter in the world. They speculate about him fighting this guy, that guy, some other guy. So, yeah, he’s already there. Anthony Joshua is a top seller, Canelo Alvarez is a top seller and Errol Spence Jr. is a top seller. This fight will prove beyond any doubt that he’s one of the top dogs in boxing.”

It is Spence’s contention that while other holders of welterweight titles, as well as big-name former champs, pay lip service to sharing the ring with him, they tend to be conveniently unavailable when it’s time to strike a deal. James claimed it has been that way since Spence journeyed to Sheffield, England, hometown of then-IBF welter champ Kell Brook, and wrested his title on a brutal, 11th-round stoppage on May 27, 2017. Brook, forced to take a knee in both the 10th and 11th rounds, came away with the orbital bone in his left eye shattered.

“Any trainer wants to have a complete fighter, someone who has a lot of strengths and no obvious weaknesses,” James said. “From the time I started training Errol, I asked him what the weakest part of his game was. Because we were going to build that part up. That’s what we did with his defense, and it’s why I think Errol is such a complete fighter. He has great defense now to go with great offense and great counterpunching. He’s the whole package.”

Garcia begs to differ, which is why he successfully lobbied his father, Eduardo, and brother-trainer, Robert, a former IBF junior lightweight titleholder, to go after Spence when the more prudent course might have been to take one or two less-daunting, welcome-to-the-neighborhood bouts at welterweight.

“He’s the best right now in the division,” Mikey Garcia said of his impatience to get it on with Spence. “I want to make a statement. I want to make a mark, and you know I have to do that against the best.

“I believe I’m a better fighter overall. When it comes to footwork, I think I have the better footwork. When it comes to speed, I think I have better speed. When it comes to defense, I have better defense. With timing, I have better timing. The only thing he has going for him that’s apparent is the size, height, weight and reach. I’ve always said I’m better than him. Not by a lot, but just enough to beat him.”

What about the perceived advantage for Spence in power, especially against a smaller guy who might not be able to bring his own formidable punch with him up two weight classes?

“A lot of people underestimate my power when they face me,” Garcia said. “They don’t see my physical size as a threat. But you know they feel the power once we’re in the ring and I definitely change their minds.”

BIG NAMES, BIG CROWDS IN `BIG D’

It is not generally known, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once was a boxing promoter. In 1984, five years before he purchased the NFL’s most globally recognizable brand, he staged a fight card in Little Rock, Ark., that drew 2,500 spectators.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that early blueprints for Jones’ Xanadu of a football palace, now known as AT&T Stadium, included a layout for boxing that placed the ring on the blue star at the 50-yard line.

Jones, 76, still likes to involve himself with fights and fighters, only on a far more grandiose scale. AT&T Stadium, widely known as “Jerry’s World,” will be the site of its fourth major card Saturday night when IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. and four-division ruler Mikey Garcia throw down in a matchup of undefeated champions that is expected to draw 45,000 or more spectators.

The first time AT&T Stadium, then known as Cowboys Stadium, welcomed a fight crowd was on March 13, 2010, when Manny Pacquiao retained his WBO welterweight title on a wide unanimous decision over Joshua Clotttey, a bout that had a paid attendance of 36,371 and overall turnout of 41,843. Pacquiao was the draw again when he outpointed Antonio Margarito, also on a unanimous decision, to win the vacant WBC super welterweight title. That fight drew another strong crowd of 41,734.

Now Spence-Garcia is out to surpass the stadium attendance record of 51,240 for a boxing match, set on Sept. 17, 2016, when hugely popular Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez lifted Liam Smith’s WBO super welterweight belt on a ninth-round knockout.

DAN JENKINS WAS DEAD SOLID PERFECT IN PRINT

It has been my unpleasant duty over the years to bid farewell to any number of noted boxing figures, including writers, who lost the scuffle with Father Time to which we all eventually fall victim.

Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins was not a fight guy; he primarily wrote about college football and golf for Sports Illustrated, among other publications. But greatness should be acknowledged, and the Texas-bred Jenkins, who was 89 when he passed away on Thursday, was the author of 23 books, as well as the father of Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, whose journalistic chops obviously were passed along by her dad.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Jonathan Esquivel Remains Unbeaten and Raquel Miller Wins NABF Title

David A. Avila

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HAWAIIAN GARDENS, Calif.-Undefeated Jonathan Esquivel attracted a large and lively crowd and they weren’t disappointed in his knockout win over Tavoris Teague on Saturday.

Esquivel (10-0, 9 KOs) showed the large contingent of fans that sold out the Hawaiian Gardens Casino that the tricky Teague (6-27-4) could not compete for four full rounds in their super middleweight clash.

The fight ended at 2:11 of the fourth when Teague was overwhelmed by Esquivel but remained standing up as referee Zachary Young ended the fight.

Esquivel, who lives in nearby Santa Ana, California, brought more than 200 fans and they saw him struggle a bit with Teague, but after two flat rounds, the southpaw began finding the range and unleashed a barrage of punches that Teague could not avoid. The end came suddenly but the Orange County fighter remains with an unblemished record.

NABF Female Title

Female middleweight contenders headed the main event and former Olympic alternate Raquel “Pretty Beast” Miller (9-0, 4 KOs) showed her professional game is intact with a knockout win over veteran Erin Toughill (7-5-1) to win the vacant NABF middleweight title.

Miller didn’t waste time and knocked Toughill down in the first exchange with a short right cross that dropped the veteran fighter who had nearly toppled middleweight contender Maricela Cornejo in her last ring appearance.

Speed was her greatest asset and Miller used it to full advantage as she jabbed her way through Toughill’s guard and landed quick three-punch combinations. For the first three rounds Miller was in full control.

Around the fourth round Miller seemed in cruise mode when Toughill rammed several rights against her foe and followed up with more right crosses. All seemed to land flush and Miller was moved backwards with the blows. Though Toughill did not land more punches than Miller, the solid blows were enough to win her first round.

In the fifth round Toughill seemed confident that she had discovered the remedy for Miller’s speedy punches and kept ramming rights through the guard. Again Toughill seemed to be able to land the more effective blows, but though they landed they didn’t seem to hurt Miller, but rather perplexed her.

Miller seemed more intent to reverse the momentum and launched a quick solid three-punch combination on Toughill who seemed surprised by the blows. After absorbing a Miller right Toughill retaliated with a left hook and another left hook. The change of pace seemed to keep Miller off balance but toward the end of the sixth round a screaming left jab connected followed by a solid one-two combination. Miller had quickly regained the momentum.

The seventh round saw both fighters race toward each other with Miller connecting with a lead right that snapped Toughill’s head back. Miller followed up quickly with a snapping jab, jab and left hook that caught Toughill perfectly and dropped her immediately to the floor. She beat the count but when referee Zachary Young asked her to put her hands up:

“She gave me a strange look and I had to end it,” said Young of Toughill’s response.

When asked what punch caused the knockout Miller was unsure.

“I don’t remember what punch I used, I’m just excited to win the title,” said Miller who won by knockout at 1:01 of the seventh round.

Miller wins the NABF middleweight title and becomes an automatic contender for the WBC version of the middleweight world title. Claressa Shields is the undisputed middleweight world champion and holds the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO world titles.

“I’m all about smooth boxing but I can bang if I have to,” said Miller.

Yes she can.

Other Bout

Super middleweights Kenny Quach (0-1-1) and Johnny Cisneros (0-0-1) ended in a draw after four closely fought rounds. Cisneros fights out of Riverside and was making his pro debut. Quach fights out of Santa Ana, Calif.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: Wilder Knocks Out Breazeale

Arne K. Lang

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Wilder Knocks Out Breazeale

Deontay Wilder vs. Dominic Breazeale figures to be entertaining for as long as it lasts said one pundit and he could not have been more prescient. Entertaining it was although if you were distracted you likely missed it. It was all over in 137 seconds

Wilder, making the ninth defense of his WBC world heavyweight title, stunned Breazeale with a big right hand early in the contest but then walked into a wild right hand by Breazeale and was himself momentarily stunned. He had enough presence of mind, however, to keep his cannon of a right hand unholstered and a few moments later he unleashed it again, leaving poor Breazeale flat on his back. Breazeale made it to his feet, seemingly as referee Harvey Dock reached the count of “10,” but he was in dire straits and the bout was waived it off.

This was the same Dominic Breazeale who lasted into the seventh round with Anthony Joshua not quite two years ago. As for Wilder, he remains undefeated with his 40th knockout in 42 pro starts and a match between him and Joshua or a rematch with Tyson Fury looms bigger than ever.

Co-Feature

WBC world featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. successfully defended his title and completed the hat trick for the Russell Brothers with a fifth round stoppage of Spain’s Kiko Martinez. Russell (30-1, 18 KOs) was just too fast for the Spaniard and was on his way to a comfortable win on points when the fight was waived off at the suggestion of the ring physician because of a bad cut over Martinez’s left eye. A former IBF 122-pound champion, Martinez (37-9-2) is now 1-4 in world title fights.

Undercard

In the first of the TV fights, North Las Vegas junior welterweight Juan Heraldez remained unbeaten but barely as he was held to a draw by former IBF 130-pound world title-holder Argenis Mendez. One judge had it 97-73 for Mendez but the others had it even. Heraldez (16-0-1) was one of four Mayweather Promotions fighters on the card. Mendez, from Yonkers, New York, via the Dominican Republic, was held to a draw in a second straight fight, bringing his record to 25-5-3.

A previous draw ensued in an 8-round contest between 30-something heavyweights, Robert Alfonso (18-0-1) and Iago Kiladze (26-4-1). Alfonso, a Cuban defector and ex-Olympian who trains with Wilder in Tuscaloosa, weighed in at 254, giving him a 35-pound weight advantage. He had Kiladze fighting off his back foot for much of the contest, but the LA-based fighter from the Republic of Georgia snuck in enough punches to stem a 3-fight losing streak.

Bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell moved to 14-0 with a six-round technical decision over Tijuana’s Saul Hernandez (13-13-1). A clash of heads in the sixth round left the Mexican disoriented and the bout went to the cards where Antonio won by scores of 59-55 and 60-54 twice. Hernandez didn’t figure to go the distance. In his last three fights, he fattened up his record against opponents who were a combined 0-30.

In a fight slated for eight rounds, junior welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell improved to 9-0 (9) with a fourth round stoppage of Nicaragua’s Marcos Mojica (16-4-2) who had the misfortune of being thrust against a former Olympian in a second straight bout. Mojica was on the canvas twice before the referee intervened. He lasted longer than any of Russell’s previous opponents, none of whom lasted beyond three frames.

Brooklyn-born Richardson Hitchins, who represented Haiti in the 2016 Olympics, improved to 9-0 (5) when Columbia’s Alejandro Munero (4-2-3) was unable to answer the bell for round four. The 21-year-old Hitchins was making his eighth appearance at Barclays.

Dylan Price, a 20-year-old bantamweight from Sicklerville, NJ, improved to 8-0 when the corner of Mexico’s Manuel Manzo (4-7-2) stopped the one-sided beatdown midway through the sixth round.

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The Tartan Tornado and the Monster Advance in the World Boxing Super Series

Arne K. Lang

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World Boxing Super Series

Semifinal matchups in the 118- and 140-pound tournaments of the World Boxing Super Series played out today, May 18, at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. All four participants entered the day undefeated.

In the main go, junior welterweight Josh Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, delighted the home folks by winning a unanimous decision over Ivan “The Beast” Baranchyk. Fighting in the same arena where he won Commonwealth Gold in 2014, Taylor outpointed Baranchyk on scores of 117-109 and 115-111 twice.

Taylor had an anxious moment in the fifth round when Baranchyk landed three unanswered punches that momentarily left Taylor on shaky legs. But in the very next frame, Taylor came up big, knocking Baranchyk to the canvas twice, first with a right hook and then a left to the head followed by a left to the body.

Baranchyk, who pepped for this fight at Freddie Roach’s gym in Hollywood, recuperated nicely. Taylor could have played it safe by going on his bicycle in the final round, but he elected to trade with Baranchyk who finished strong, although clearly behind on the cards.

With the victory, Josh Taylor improved to 15-0 and moves on to a contest with Regis Prograis, a bout that will likely land in Glasgow and, if so, will be the biggest fight ever in Scotland. Baranchyk, who was born in Russia but has been residing in Oklahoma, declined to 19-1

The Monster

In the co-feature, Yokohama’s baby-faced Naoya “The Monster” Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs) showed that he belongs on everyone’s pound-for-pound list with a second round blast-out of Puerto Rico’s previously undefeated Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1). After a fairly even first round, Inoue lowered the boom in the second, decking Rodriguez three times to force an intervention. At stake were the IBF and WBA bantamweight titles. With the win, Inoue earned a date with Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire who was in the building.

Inoue scored his first knockdown with a left hook and that spelled the beginning of the end for Rodriguez. In his previous two bouts, Inoue demolished title-holders Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in the opening round. If he gets past Donaire – and he will be heavily favored – he will be the odds-on choice to be named the 2019 Fighter of the Year.

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