Making truth claims about a sport as unpredictable and fluid as boxing can be journalistic suicide but I’m about to do it, consequences be damned. Before I do however, I want to stress that I’m in no way attempting to talk over your head or use technical jargon meant to intimidate or belittle you. This is just one of those situations where we’re wading into the deep end of the intellectual pool and if you attempt to grab on to me we’re both going to drown. So without further ado, here is the statement I’m prepared to make to you, in public no less: Mikey Garcia is good at boxing.
Take as much time as you need to look up all those words and process their meaning.
We toss around intangible buzzwords like “gifted” or “athletic” or the all encompassing “game” to either mask or accentuate a fighter’s inability to draw within the lines of accepted boxing technique. Roy Jones, Jr. and Naseem Hamed were “artistic” while Arturo Gatti and Orlando Salido were “gritty,” all to the detriment of their later careers. Rarely though, do we assign gushing adjectives to guys who simply excel at the rudimentary foundations of boxing technique that have existed for hundreds of years — as if those basic tenets of structured fighting have survived in spite of and not because of their efficacy. In a sport with consequences as disastrous as boxing, thinking inside the box can oftentimes keep you out of one.
The success of Garcia’s career thus far is a testament to the adherence of boxing’s most cardinal fundamentals. The belief that dedication and repetition will ultimately achieve the desired result. On Saturday night in San Antonio, Garcia (38-0, 30 KO) found the perfect collaborator against whom to put these fundamentals on display in Kazakh, Sergey Lipinets.
Coming into the fight, Lipinets (13-1, 10 KO) was a bit of a wild card. Sure, he held some shitty title and had a big, pregnant zero in his loss column, but he earned both against largely nameless and untested competition. If this was supposed to make him a pushover, someone forgot to tell him. Lipinets brought solid fundamentals of his own to the ring against Garcia. A former kickboxer, Lipinets possesses a stabbing jab, crisp head movement, and ring intelligence not generally associated with someone of that background. His herky jerky footwork is a dead giveaway but it actually seems to accentuate his style, not detract from it.
Side note: How do all these wackadoo, Eastern European kickboxers that transition to boxing not momentarily forget where they are and kick a dude in the neck? I suppose discipline and situational awareness is the answer but as a person who lacks both of those traits, it’s impressive beyond words. I have to exercise near monk-like focus to simply not say the word “cock” in front of my grandmother. But I digress.
If aliens came down from planet MonkeyGuts and demanded to know what a feeling out round was, you would show them round 1 of this fight. Both fighters circled cautiously as they sized each other up and threw the occasional pawing jab — not much in the way of excitement, but it gave referee Laurence Cole little to do and that should be the goal of any fight that takes place in Texas.
Cole, the result of a horrible gene-splicing accident between a mob boss and a ventriloquist dummy, is quite simply the worst referee in the business. I won’t list his myriad egregious offenses against common sense here, but if you told me the lack of clinches in this fight were the result of pre-fight agreement between both fighters to keep Cole from fucking things up, I would absolutely believe you. For whatever reason, he was a non-factor on Saturday night, to the benefit of all involved.
In round 3 Lipinets drew Mikey in with a series of feints then dropped a short left hook that literally moved him up off the canvas and six inches to his left. So rarely do you get to a see a guy teleport in a boxing match but here we are. More importantly, though, it let Garcia know that he was in a fight and it might be time to start picking up the pace.
In round 4 he did just that. As Lipinets started becoming more brazen with his uppercut, Mikey started finding a home for his right hand. Garcia’s one-two is like an Alexander Ovechkin one-timer from the top of the left circle. Everyone in the arena, including the opposing team, knows it’s coming yet they’re powerless to stop it. Covering him means exposing defensive weaknesses elsewhere on the ice and opening up passing lanes. The threat of what he can do is almost as dangerous as what he actually does. Such is the right hand Garcia follows up his jab with.
As the fight entered its midway point, Garcia was in control but had yet to make a real statement. This was due in part to Lipinets’ durability and underrated skill set, but also to Mikey’s commitment to the fundamentals. Trust the process and the opening will come. In round 7, it finally did.
As Lipinets fought his way inside, he attempted to throw a short left uppercut. As if out of a boxing 101 training video on counterpunching, you can actually watch Garcia take a tiny step back, drop his left shoulder about an inch and fire off a left hook while taking a quick step to his opponent’s right just in case a counter was coming back. It didn’t, but that’s no reason to veer from the playbook. Instead, Lipinets folded like a collapsing lawn chair at Chris Christie’s private beach. His butt hit the ground followed shortly by his head, not unlike slamming a heavy door in a small child’s face. Ah, the frailty of youth.
To his credit, Lipinets righted the ship in round 8, albeit cautiously. Garcia was banking rounds, but nothing was being given to him. The ex-kickboxer had only been 12 rounds once before, but a well-conditioned man is always dangerous. As the final round started, both men were looking to make a statement. Garcia was going for the knockout while Lipinets relished the opportunity to rob him of it.
As a person with a haunted house for a brain and no impulse control, I can tell you firsthand that getting punched in the face isn’t nearly as fun as Mikey Garcia makes it look. Remember back in the 80’s when you would punch Hulk Hogan in the face (well not you personally but other professional wrestlers and hey, maybe even some of your mom’s friends) and it would only make him stronger? Garcia has a bit of that in him. In fact, feeling pain seems to be the only thing that can deter him from his monastic dedication to boxing’s bedrock principles.
As he and Lipinets traded left hooks and straight rights we saw the potential for what the previous 11 rounds could’ve been were these two less disciplined craftsmen. For fans of pure violence, that may sound like an insult but I’ll take controlled fireworks over the kind that burn your balls off any day of the week. This is boxing after all. And make no mistake, these two are boxers.
When the scorecards were read in Garcia’s favor (116-110, 117-111, 117-111; TQBR scored it 114-113- ed.) it was almost academic. He did the things you’re supposed to do to win a professional boxing match and a Latino fighter isn’t getting robbed in Texas. But though this fight looked easy to score it felt closer. And that’s to Sergey Lipinets’ credit. He’s a strong, capable fighter who will be a problem for anyone in the division not named Mikey Garcia.
Being good will get you in the door. Being great will keep you there. For Mikey Garcia, the door is wide open.
(Mikey Garcia (L) lands a jab on Sergey Lipinets; Photo via)