Boxing fans are, by nature, hipsters. In spite of — but mostly, because of — prizefighting’s ever-waning status in the hierarchy of global athletic concerns, fight fans have developed a dissentient, nonconformist mentality about our sport and toward competition in general. The desire to romanticize the nuances of two adults attempting to separate one another from their consciousness is deeply ingrained in the DNA of everyone ever forced to discuss a sport that has an incurable neurological disease named specifically for it. People use the term “niche sport” as a pejorative but we love niches. We live in the niche.
Ask any boxing enthusiast what draws them to the sport and you’ll get a long-winded homily on the indomitable nature of man’s quest to conquer his own fears or the testament to mental perseverance in face of physical adversity and so on. But c’mon, that’s all bullshit. We want violence, preferably with a capital V. At the end of the day we just want to see a guy (or girl, hashtag me too) punched into orbit the same way a dorky Williamsburg hipster in a MGMT t-shirt just wants to go home and listen to “Use Your Illusion I.”
Enter Mikey Garcia.
On Jan. 28, 2017 Garcia faced off against tough Montenegrin Dejan Zlaticanin (23-1, 16 KO) as the co-feature to the Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Zlaticanin was largely untested on an elite level but held respectable wins over once highly touted prospect Ivan Redkach and Rick Sterko himself, Ricky Burns.
Garcia (37-0, 30 KO) was coming off a get-his-shit-back-together TKO of Elio Rojas after a two and a half year layoff due to a contractual dispute with his former promoter, Top Rank.
From the opening bell, Garcia showed that he hadn’t lost a step in his time away from the ring. He established distance with his jab while keeping Zlaticanin off balance and frustrated. For his part, Zlaticanin never really got going. According to Compubox, “Dynamite” landed only 16 punches in the eight minutes and forty seconds of action. In contrast, Garcia landed 50 punches in the fight but ultimately it was only two that mattered.
With 45 seconds remaining in the 3rd round, the southpaw Zlaticanin leaned in and threw a lead left which was slipped with relative ease by Garcia. As Zlaticanin attempted to duck the short counter jab coming back his way, Garcia landed a right uppercut underneath and between his gloves. A short, cuffing left hook glanced off Zlaticanin’s temple but the damage was already done. As the dazed Zlaticnanin stumbled towards the ropes, Garcia took a step back to survey his wounded prey from a wide angle.
The ensuing half second passed with the anticipatory dread of the opening scene from Jaws. Anyone watching knew what the outcome was to be but how we were going to get there was why we tune in. Would Garcia go to the body to wring the last drops of life from Zlaticinan’s being? Would he tie him up in the off chance his opponent was playing possum? Would he get too close and smother his own shots in an eruption of barbaric elation?
To both his, and our, benefit, Garcia — a fighter through and through — took a deep breath, threw a right hook from the depths of hell and dropped Zlaticanin to the canvas like basket of wet laundry hitting the pavement. Out cold before he hit the ground, the laws of physics decided to try out some new material and allowed Zlaticinan’s head to bounce off the canvas not once, not twice, but three CTE-inducing times. He would continue to lie motionless on the ring apron for minutes after the fight was waved off by referee Tony Weeks.
Admittedly, this was and remains, an incredibly scary moment. No one wants to see another human being injured or killed in front of their eyes, and if you do I hope you’re reading this from the inside of a windowless cell. We simply can’t have it both ways, though. You can’t pay to watch Barry Bonds hit balls from a tee and then complain when one smashes through the windshield of your Dodge Dart parked three blocks away.
Boxing is, by its very definition, a violent sport. Rarely, though, do you get to see that violence wholesale in this fashion. A defenseless fighter with nothing but fractions of a second separating him from the fists of an exceptionally dangerous man trained since infancy to inflict the maximum amount of punishment legally allowed by a society willing to turn a blind eye to have its bloodlust satisfied. In other words…. it was fucking awesome.
Thankfully, Zlaticanin rose to his feet and continued his career in December with a first round KO of lightly regarded Hevinson Herrera.
For Mikey Garcia, the sky is the limit. For Dejan Zlaticanin, the limit is Mikey Garcia. And you know what? That’s fine. The gradations of talent in boxing, however undetectable to the untrained eye, are what gives us the random flourishes of gorgeous violence that keeps us coming back.
There are thousands of knockouts every year and each one tells a story, not only about the fighters involved but about us as well. About what particular brand of violence –or the expectation of it– keeps us coming back to spend our nights and money just to be in relatively close proximity to it.
In a three second span in early January, Mikey Garcia put together a sequence of events and punches that so brilliantly encapsulates our attraction to boxing’s siren song that we had no other choice other than to pick it for our 2017 Knockout of the Year.
(LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 28: Referee Tony Weeks directs Mikey Garcia (R) to a neutral corner after he knocked out Dejan Zlaticanin in the third round of their WBC lightweight title fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena; Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)