A uniquely contemporary myth exists in boxing: To be one of the greats, so it goes, a fighter must choose one extreme of the likability spectrum – or at least allow it to be chosen for them. To take up permanent residence in the public consciousness – to put asses in seats – a fighter must tug at your heartstrings or burrow under your skin. The idea: Rile ’em up, one way or another. Fans require rooting interests, and they toe the lines that are most clearly drawn: marvel or monster. A-side or heel. Hero or villain.
And then there is Danny Garcia.
The former 140-pound champion is boxing’s ficus plant. He’s sort of nice to look at. Having him around beats buying a lava lamp or hanging a black velvet Elvis portrait or, say, paying attention to Adrien Broner. Garcia requires water and oxygen, so he is undeniably … there. But what, exactly, does he do?
By all rights, the 30-year-old former 140-pound champion should be a star. He is a born, bred and damned-if-I’d-live-anywhere-else Philadelphian. He is of Puerto Rican descent, which carries its own currency in the sport. He fought and won each of his first 33 professional fights, adding the names – if not vanquishing the prime versions – of Erik Morales (twice), Amir Khan, Zab Judah, Lucas Matthysse, Lamont Peterson and Paulie Malignaggi to his hit list.
What Garcia has generally failed to do is move the needle. Instead, he slows pulses. Brings crowds, on a good night, no further than the middle of their seats. He has 20 knockouts in 34 wins (meh), a handful of lukewarm split and majority decisions, and not a single unimpeachable signature victory. He cedes too much of the spotlight to his daffy old man, talks shit like your little brother (poorly) and – I’ll try to put this delicately – shows a jarring affinity for Eyewear by Reuben Tishkoff.
But popularity does not deliver a punch to the face. And Garcia’s abilities, unlike his Q Rating, are undeniable. He makes up for a lack of overwhelming one-punch power with combination punching and a feel for when he has his man hurt. He measures distance effectively, has good feet and can time an overaggressive opponent. Garcia does most things pretty well and leaves no glaring holes exposed to be exploited. He’s perfectly and conclusively … fine.
Meanwhile, the other half of the odd couple headlining Saturday’s card at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is Shawn Porter. An explosives-rigged wrecking ball with a kilowatt smile, Porter categorically demands your attention. Even for aficionados who prefer more than just a dash of method with their madness, Porter at least guarantees the viewer a fight that will not lack for fighting. It can’t be denied that Garcia, our proverbial Felix, gets shit done. But with Porter, as with Oscar, it’s never not fun.
Fans occasionally warm to a fighter after a loss, but boxing’s arbiter of public opinion – Twitter, natch – was unmoved after Garcia’s first defeat (to Keith Thurman). A soft touch in his return fight last February may have been what Garcia needed, but a stoppage of washed Brandon Rios won him no new support.
B.S. walks. Even his critics would be forced to admit that Garcia belongs in any discussion among the top welterweight contenders. But is he more than that? More importantly, will he get the chance to prove it? With Garcia, for now, the appeal begins and ends at his record.
If he falls to Porter tonight, the bloom is off. Garcia remains relevant in a win, at least. But fan interest in a challenge of Errol Spence or Terence Crawford would be uncertain. And assuming Thurman returns healthy soon, he could make it a three-man round robin at 147 that locks Garcia in purgatory as his prime years pass on.
What the moment demands is a performance. If Garcia does, in fact, have more to offer at boxing’s highest level – more than a sensible, satisfactory W and a pair of Gucci goggles – now may be his last chance to show it.