PBC Card in Philadelphia had its Ups and Downs
By Eric Lunger
I happened to attend the Danny Garcia vs. Samuel Vargas PBC event Saturday night in Philadelphia. The experience was a pleasure all around, except, unfortunately, for the main event. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I’ll offer a few observations about watching live boxing in Philadelphia. First off, the Liacouras Center is a wonderful venue; parking, access, concessions, the arena staff – everything was top-notch. And the arena feels small and big at the same time: when seated close to the ring, the blazing lights make you feel like the ring dominates the whole building; but if you wander up to the upper decks, you can sit by yourself in the massive bank of seats looking down on the spectacle. I did so for Garcia’s ring walk, and watching his massive entourage snake its way to the ring between the crowd-control barriers was like watching an ill-intentioned dragon slither out of a burrow.
The crowd was an interesting mix of folks from almost all walks of life. I was surprised and pleased by the congenial and carnival-like atmosphere. Everyone was courteous, in a cheerful mood, and there was a sense of camaraderie in the building, like, “Hey, we’re all here for fight night!” Not the usual Philly sports crowd – I’ve been to a Flyers game where they booed the Zamboni driver. There were well-dressed folks; there were folks in jeans and sweatshirts. There were couples out for date night. It was also very much a home-town night, in so far as the promoters had a done a nice job matching local prospects against good, but not world class opponents. Omar Douglas, from Wilmington, DE, and Jarrett Hurd, from Maryland, were loudly supported by their traveling fans.
There are some interesting things about watching boxing live, as opposed to on TV. First thing I noticed was how tense the crowd was during the bouts. A boxing crowd goes from tense quiet to an explosion of sound in split-second. A good shot or big punch is immediately punctuated by a crowd reaction. But most of the time, the crowd is tensely observing the action, with occasional members yelling instructions to the fighters, which I doubt they hear. A corollary of the relative quiet is that the punches are audible. A “thudding” punch is not just a cliché – its real. Second thing I noticed was that I didn’t miss having TV commentators interpret the fight for me. I had to really focus on what was going on in the ring and I had to rely on my own interpretation of who won that round, or why so-and-so stopped using his jab, or where a certain fighter’s strength lay. It made for a much more immersive and active experience.
Watching boxing live also underscores how dangerous boxing really is, and why defensive boxing is such an art. The punches are fast, accurate, and hard. Javier Fortuna in the first round of the first televised undercard made one error, and Omar Douglas caught him with a brutal hook inside: Fortuna went down like he had been shot in the head. From then on, Fortuna fought from the outside, boxed, jabbed, moved, and never again got in range of that short hook. That bout developed, after the first round knock down, into a classic battle between a come-forward puncher (Douglas) and a dancing, southpaw boxer (Fortuna). Fortuna edged out Douglas on the cards and the crowd was not happy with the decision, though I think it was correct.
The second undercard was entertaining and compelling as well, but for other reasons. Jarrett Hurd is a talented and fundamentally trained boxer with a complete skill set. He is also a big super welterweight – keep you eye on him in the future. His opponent, a very tough and very professional Jo Jo Dan, took a lot of punishment, landed a number of his own shots, but didn’t have the power at this weight to do damage. Hurd was patient, methodical, and precise, landing increasing damaging blows through Dan’s defense. The referee called off the bout at the right time, as Dan took more damage without returning fire.
I wish I could say something positive about the main event, as I think the Garcia camp has taken enough abuse in the media, but Samuel Vargas (nothing against him personally) was a gross mismatch. The fact that he lasted seven rounds testifies to his toughness, if nothing else. Garcia blasted him at will. The partisan Garcia fans loved it, but it was lesser end to a better undercard. It was a shame because the Liacouras Center is a great venue to watch boxing, and the undercard deserved a better main event.