Danny Garcia was once a superstar-in-the-making. He was a talented, tough fighter from Philadelphia with the brash, ostentatious father. He shot up the junior welterweight rankings by making fun fights and beating guys like Amir Khan, Erik Morales, and Zab Judah. But then his advisor, Al Haymon, creator of the “Premier Boxing Champions” series, started making some odd selections for Garcia’s dance partners. He hasn’t stopped. His image tarnished by benefiting from bad judging and accusations of “cherry picking,” Garcia should have been steered clear of anyone resembling a slick boxer. Instead, he’s officially been lined up to take on very slick boxer Paulie Malignaggi on Aug. 1. Now one of the most disliked fighters in boxing, Garcia’s career has been brutalized by the guy he entrusted to take him to the top of the sport.
Garcia’s career-defining moment should have been his fight with mega-puncher Lucas Matthysse. Matthysse had been dump-trucking pretty much everything in front of him, and though Garcia (above left) was the undefeated, undisputed junior welterweight champion, the prevailing thought was that if the two met in the ring, Garcia would take a nice tiger snooze. Instead, when they fought to decide 140-pound supremacy, Garcia out-boxed and dropped Matthysse for the first time in his career. He won the fight by unanimous decision, and cemented his status as the king of the division. From there, everything went downhill fairly quickly.
For his next fight, Haymon lined up Mauricio Herrera, a tough but light-hitting fighter for Garcia to take on in Puerto Rico. While Garcia escaped with a hotly disputed majority decision win, it became painfully clear that Garcia has difficulties dealing with “movers,” guys with good lateral movement and a high punch output. The damage inflicted by the disputed win was exacerbated ten-fold when Haymon then matched Garcia with Rod Salka, a guy who was barely ranked in the top 100 at lightweight. Garcia destroyed Salka, but he became the paradigm of The Haymon Strategy — low risk, high reward, avert anything dangerous at all costs.
Next up was a primetime fight with Lamont Peterson on NBC. It was a good bout on paper, albeit one that fans would’ve liked to have seen the year before. Once again, Garcia seemed extraordinarily confused with a guy who could use all of the ring instead of standing and trading bombs. And once again, though many observers thought he’d lost the fight, he escaped with a razor-thin majority decision win. Garcia made it clear (if it wasn’t already by the 143-pound catchweight) that he would soon be venturing up to the welterweight division.
There were options for Garcia. Haymon has an entire stable of guys from 140-147 lbs. ranging from boxers, to brawlers, to boxer-punchers. The idea could have been to place Garcia in the ring with a guy who’d stand and fight, a guy who could give Garcia some trouble but also be vulnerable to one of his fantastic left hooks. But no. Instead, he gets Malignaggi, a feather-fisted, extremely agile, hop-around-out-of-danger Malignaggi.
Worse, it’s not even the quality version of Malignaggi (above right). That guy waved goodbye awhile ago, and he’s been basically semi-retired since Shawn Porter hammered the hell out of him last April. Garcia is (once again) being placed in a no-win situation. If he comes out and utterly destroys the guy, well, he was supposed to. He hasn’t fought in well over a year and he was drilled his last time out. But if he STRUGGLES? If Malignaggi can put on a throwback performance and Garcia simply can’t find him? The unholy Internet storm will be something to behold. He’ll be a joke, more so than he already is to some people. Haymon’s decisions have been baffling with this guy, and maybe it’s even more baffling that Garcia continues to put his unwavering trust in him.
Maybe Garcia will blow right through Malignaggi and then be able to showcase himself against a guy like Keith Thurman, or perhaps he’ll rematch with Amir Khan. Perhaps that’s the endgame. But the odds are that eventually, Garcia’s luck with the judges will run out. And it gets exponentially harder to market a guy with some fortuitous decision victories and a legion of fans who despise him when he’s no longer undefeated.
Haymon’s PBC network shows have been nothing if not ambitious. It’s too early to tell if the whole thing is sustainable. You could say the same for Garcia’s career trajectory. Haymon has made Garcia a lot of money, and he’s kept his undefeated record. But he’s only 27, and without some viable fights, and a little more credibility, the money will disappear.
If he takes a couple of losses, Haymon might do the same thing.