By Tyson Bruce
This weekend on Showtime Championship Boxing we will witness two American fighters with vastly different public profiles take the next step in their perspective careers. Danny Garcia is one of boxing’s most respected fighters because of his willingness to take on all challengers and his growing resume of high profile victories. Heavyweight Deontay Wilder, on the other hand, is regarded as a curiosity—is he a media created fraud or the next great American heavyweight? Garcia will be taking on fringe contender Mauricio Herrera in what experts have labeled as a showcase fight. Wilder will be taking a massive step up in class when he fights the talented but frustrating Malik Scott. In the boxing hotbed of Puerto Rico we will find out if both men are capable of handling a vastly different deck of cards.
Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime
Danny Garcia is a fighter that has thrived on being the underdog. As an amateur he was one of the best in the country, yet was regarded by many as a perennial second best. He was the Olympic alternate not the Olympian. As a professional he was regarded as a solid prospect but not someone who was marked for future greatness. With every new challenge and conquest he has managed to raise the bar of expectation.
In the two biggest fights of his career against Amir Khan and Lucas Matthysse he was a noted underdog. They said Khan was too fast and experienced and Matthysse too tough and explosive. However, boxing is very often more than the sum of its parts. Garcia proved that mental fortitude and an overall package of skills trump more eye-catching factors like blazing speed or a mile-long knockout record. Along with his father, the highly outspoken Angel Garcia, they have consistently thrived on making an ass of the odds makers. In all of his major fights he went from the b-side of another fighters story to the only thing anyone was talking about at the end of the night.
The rewards for Garcia’s sacrifice have been bountiful: the lineal championship of one of the best weight divisions in boxing, appearances on the pound for pound lists, and universal respect. This weekend he will enter the ring under very different circumstances than at any previous time in his career. This will be his show to carry and his fight too lose. The question that now begs to be answered is whether Garcia will be as good a champion as he was a challenger. As a reward for his nonstop schedule of tough fights, Garcia has been given a showcase fight in the heart of Puerto Rico—a place that represents his cultural heritage as well as a rich fighting tradition.
However, so-called “showcase” fights can often be the most dangerous. After all, wasn’t Garcia supposed to be a tune-up fight for Khan? His opponent Mauricio Herrera knows a thing or two about pulling off an upset, as he remains the only fighter to defeat the terrifying Ruslan Provodnikov. Herrera is one of the most underrated fighters in all of boxing. He has one of the best beards in the division, as Alvarado, Mayfield nor Provodnikov could put him down or even seriously hurt him. He also boasts a solid skill set with above average hand speed. His tragic flaw and likely source of defeat against Garcia is utter absence of punching power and willingness to slug when he should box.
Golden Boy is probably losing money by staging the event in Puerto Rico and not in a big east coast location like Atlantic City or New York, but is doing so because of their belief in Garcia’s long term potential. They are attempting to tap into the lucrative Puerto Rican market and make Garcia, despite being American born, the island’s next big cross over star. Typically, this has been a difficult task to accomplish but its still a great opportunity for Garcia to engage with a new cross section of fans.
The Deontay Wilder mystery is one the most interesting and divisive case studies in all of boxing. Wilder already has a vocal and growing base of supporters on social media that believe he is the second coming of Mike Tyson and savior of heavyweight boxing. Another vocal chorus of people believe he is an overprotected hype job on the verge of being exposed. So, it’s somewhat ironic that his first major “step-up” fight will come against Malik Scott—a man who once held a very similar distinction.
Malik Scott is one of the most frustrating and bizarre stories in all of boxing. As a prospect on the rise in the early 2000’s he showed immense potential and was featured in Ring Magazine as a prospect to watch. Lennox Lewis used him as a sparring partner and was flattering in his appraisal of Scott’s talent and potential. The future was right at his fingertips. Sounds exactly like Deontay Wilder, right? The problem is that Scott never moved on from being a prospect too anything else. It wasn’t that he was exposed by more seasoned competition (he was undefeated until very recently) or external problems with something like law enforcement, instead, he lingered in no-man’s land in a permanent state of arrested development. He continued to build his record against a bevy of no hopers, small town toughs, and bar stool drunks but people slowly lost interest and he gradually fell into the category of “where are they now’s.”
Recently, at age 33, he has reemerged in some reasonably high profile bouts against Czar Glazkov (settling for a draw that should have been a victory) and blowing a points lead against Derrick Chisora when he miss-timed a ten count. The fights showed us two things: Malik Scott can still box but that he continues to fall short of his potential.
The word potential is probably the most common adjective associated with Deontay Wilder. His Adonis like stature, mammoth right hand, and athletic ability has fans salivating at his potential to be next great American heavyweight. His potential it must be said it based purely on speculation that he could be something special because his accomplishments thus far have proven nothing.
His most celebrated achievement is the bronze medal that he won at the Olympics despite only have about 30 amateur bouts. His actual route to the bronze medal, however, is one of the most under reported stories in boxing. Wilder benefitted from receiving a “bye” in the first round (meaning he didn’t have to win to advance), then won a 10-4 score against a fighter from Algeria, then a 10-10 count-back victory against a Moroccan boxer, and was outclassed in the medal round 7-1 by Italy’s Clemente Russo. In other words, this wasn’t exactly an Evander Holyfield or Floyd Mayweather bronze-medal like achievement.
As a professional he has been learning on the job in an attempt to substitute for a limited amateur background. While his competition has been desultory, he has at least looked very sensational putting them away. He’s knocked out all thirty of the human sacrifices put in front of him and many by the brutal one-punch variety. However, he’s beating them so easily that it’s starting to look like mockery. Insert Malik Scott. Scott was likely selected as the opponent because he has world-class skills and ability but has questionable desire and very modest punching power. If Wilder can put Scott away or at least beat him convincingly it will transform him from a physical curiosity into a legitimate heavyweight contender. And, it’s about time we found out which one.
Come Sunday morning we will know whether Danny Garcia has captured the imagination of the Puerto Rican boxing community and if Deontay Wilder is the next Michael Grant or possibly the next heavyweight champion. They say becoming champion is hard but staying one is even harder. For Danny Garcia it’s a new phase in his career and it begins with Herrera. For Deontay Wilder it’s the next step in his quest to become the next great American heavyweight, a claim that is more often than not proven to be fool’s gold.