When Boxing Was a Competitive Sport

By Robert Ecksel on March 18, 2019
When Boxing Was a Competitive Sport
Mikey Garcia never quit. He took his beating like a man. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Mayweather-ization of the sport may soon be irreversible, and we can accept the crumbs allotted to us or not, depending on our hunger…

Saturday night at the AT&T Center in Arlington, Texas, in a fight televised live on FOX Sports Pay-Per-View, Errol Spence Jr. (25-0, 21 KOs), the IBF welterweight champion from nearby DeSoto, Texas, manhandled Mikey Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs), the four-division champion from Ventura, California, who was hoping to defy the odds and topple the reigning and defending champion.

The final scores after 12 lopsided rounds were 120-117 and 120-118 twice, confirming that what looks one-sided on paper will likely look one-sided in the ring.

Garcia has heart, but Spence was brilliant. He’ll remain a giant in the sport for many years. The disparity in size between the fighters was a factor, but Spence would have outclassed Garcia even if he had been the smaller man. Boxing is based on skill, even though strength plays a part, and Spence proved himself the better man in every way. But his fight against Garcia, which was overhyped to maximize pay-per-view buys, wasn’t the least bit competitive, and the aimless chatter failed to pick up the slack. Advocating for the consumer may be a losing proposition which ranks right down there with rooting for carrion or the death of dignity, but if a pay-per-view card fails to deliver any competitive fights, we all suffer in the long run, even if we choose to suffer in silence.

Spence vs. Garcia wasn’t the only noncompetitive fight of the night. All five of the televised bouts were one-sided. Chris Arreola’s third round stoppage of previously undefeated Jean Pierre Augustin was a bit of a surprise, since Arreola peaked a decade earlier and had won only three of eight fights over the last six years. But the results of the other fights were foregone conclusions, little more than glorified showcases, without a competitive match among them. 

Maybe casual fans don’t care. Maybe quick knockouts are all they want to see. But some of the excitement in watching any sporting event comes from not knowing in advance who the winner will be. Without that uncertainty, something crucial is lost, and to not toss viewers at least a bone or two is a miscalculation that can be construed or mistaken for disdain.

Mikey Garcia was confident going into the fight, much like Max Schmeling was confident prior to his first fight with Joe Louis on June 19, 1936. Also like Schmeling, who told reporters “I see something” to explain his self-assurance, Garcia also claimed to “see something” that no one else had seen and which convinced him he could win. But whatever it was Garcia claimed to have seen, he failed to see when it might have mattered, as Spence used his size, reach, power, defensive prowess, and lofty ring IQ to turn Mikey into a “punching bag,” in the words of Lennox Lewis, over 12 punishing rounds.

To his credit, Garcia never quit. He hung in there, went the distance, and took his beating like a man. But it was a Pyrrhic victory at best, despite his fist-pumping at the end of each round, a humiliating defeat at worst, which earned him a pretty penny for enduring the worst pasting of his life.

Garcia failed to launch a sustained offense, which only grew even less sustained as the fight progressed. According to CompuBox, which never claimed to be omnipotent, Spence landed 345 of 1082 total punches thrown (31.9%) to Garcia’s 74 of 406 (18.5%). Of those 345 punches Spence landed, 237 of 464 were power punches (a whopping 51.1%), with 81 of those shots hitting the body. Garcia connected with just 54 of 216 power punches, none of which had any effect on Spence, and which were consequential only insofar as raw numbers are concerned.

Every fight has the potential to be meaningful, if and when the fighters are evenly matched, and expecting meaningful fights on a pay-per-view card doesn’t seem the least bit gluttonous. But if money is the only thing that matters, which appears to be the case, and competition is no more than an afterthought, if that, the Mayweather-ization of the sport may soon be irreversible, and we can accept the crumbs allotted to us or not, depending on our hunger, since little else may be coming our way.

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  1. David 02:58pm, 03/25/2019

    Like politics, boxing is so full of Bull Shit.

  2. don from prov 04:38am, 03/21/2019

    Per Bodner/book:  Never underestimate Mr. Ecksel, yes?  Good catch.

    “Maybe the fans’ identification with the fighters includes being able to take only just so much punishment.”  And good line.  Some of the fights/fighters being pushed do feel like punishment.  I guess I will get used to not having as many fights that I anticipate—and fewer that I can watch due to “platform mania.”  There will probably always be moments I anticipate in the sport.
    You are a smart man, Mr. McCain.

  3. Lucas McCain 10:25am, 03/20/2019

    As one who has been caught in life, looking at more than one called third strike, I appreciate that!

  4. Robert Ecksel 07:09pm, 03/19/2019

    Nothing gets by Lucas McCain.

  5. Lucas McCain 09:27am, 03/19/2019

    Don from Prov—I’m trying out the sunny side this morning.  I’ve adjusted to seeing fewer fights as well, however.  Maybe the fans’ identification with the fighters includes being able to take only just so much punishment.  (P.S.  I think the column’s title is a reference to Allen Bodner’s book, but I can’t be sure.  Good for a smile, though.)

  6. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 08:11am, 03/19/2019

    I would ask younger fans to simply go to YouTube and watch fights like Saad Muhammad vs. Yaqui Lopez,  Chacon vs Boza Edwards II, Saad Muhammad vs Marvin Johnson I & II, Foreman vs. Lyle, Norton vs. Holmes, etc., etc., All these bouts were shown LIVE on free network television and with the exception of Norton vs. Holmes, none were hyped up that much. Like America, boxing is going out with a whimper. Shame.

  7. don from prov 07:57am, 03/19/2019

    Good article, Mr. Ecksel.  The last paragraph is gloom gloom gloom, but also, IMO, a fact (or one of the facts) about what is happening to boxing.  Everything supposedly passes us by—or us it—if we hang around long enough, and I am finally losing the sharp edge of love I had for boxing.
    Mr. McCain: To what you said—If on the Friday Night Fights Hurricane Carter blew right though Emile Griffith; well, I didn’t have to pay $70—$90 to watch it.  AND I knew that I could see either fighter again in a month or two—no two fights a year shite.  The divisions were deeper so top fighters were often matched with very tough and experienced opponents,  AND every fight didn’t have to be “The Fight of the Century,” so no matter what, and up through the HBO years and on, I could see a lot of good match-ups for no or very little money. The key to what you say is “SURPRISES to keep fans HOPING.”  Well,

    Hope is the thing with feathers
    But my life it stood a loaded gun blah blah blah

    Tired of hoping on surprises.  Look forward to fewer and fewer fights.
    But glad to know those with sunnier attitudes like yours are around us still.

  8. fan 06:11am, 03/19/2019

    to attract some sort of fans, we should have a fake fight event with blood, trash talk, fake and size advantage.

  9. Lucas McCain 05:38am, 03/19/2019

    An entire night of one-sided beat downs is deeply depressing.  But were there competitive fights on the undercard when Joe Louis had his bum of the month club?  (I couldn’t say—my Ring collection doesn’t go back that far.)  But there are still Joshua-Klitschko, Fury-Wilder surprises to keep fans hoping, and whatever you thought of the decisions, the GGG-Canelo bouts were evenly fought.  The sweet science hasn’t gone all sour yet!

  10. Bob 05:29pm, 03/18/2019

    Particularly galling about this fight was the fact that it was considered a great matchup despite the fact that Garcia was moving up two weight classes. If that’s the best the sport can offer, boxing is on death row.

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