SOMETIMES in boxing the preferred way to lose is when you know you are powerless over the situation, either knocked out cold or so debilitated by a body shot you are unable to breathe, let alone entertain the idea of standing up and raising your hands. Similarly, sometimes the preferred way to win is to not leave any questions or doubt and then, best of all, see your bitter rival willing to make peace with you at the fight’s conclusion.
In the case of Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia tonight (April 22) in Las Vegas, both those scenarios played out, leaving all, albeit in different ways, satisfied by what transpired. For Garcia, the body shot that downed him in round seven, a Davis left hand thrown towards his liver, was a question to which he possessed no answer, nor time to either revise or think of one. It caught him as the two fighters traded and the delayed reaction, always a tell-tale sign of a punch’s staying power, signalled to all paying attention that the writing was very much on the wall.
As for Davis, not only did he receive satisfaction from knowing he had stopped Garcia in this manner, but he will have also enjoyed hearing the respect Garcia immediately showed him in the aftermath. For in stark contrast to their antics before the fight, when both had nothing but bad things to say to one another, this sudden outpouring of respect from Garcia was indicative of a man who had been beaten beyond any dispute. It was not the behaviour of a man, for instance, who had just been edged on a contentious decision after 12 back-and-forth rounds. Nor was it the behaviour of a man who had been controversially stopped, either by the referee or the corner, in a fight he still believed he had the opportunity to win.
Instead, what we saw in Garcia in the aftermath of his loss to Davis was an image of a man who had felt his opponent’s power, both in round seven and even before that, and understood, either too early or too late, that they were rivals in name only. It took seven rounds, there or thereabouts, to prove it, but Garcia surely now understands the difference between them. It is why, perhaps, he saw the sense in staying on one knee once the liver shot landed in round seven – if, that is, his choice was even a choice at that stage. It is also why after the fight, when halted and humbled by a man he had earlier assumed he would defeat, Garcia mentioned a rematch but only ever in the context of it being something for the future. Not immediate. Never demanding. He said, simply, “Hopefully one day, after I rack up a couple of wins, we can do a rematch.”
On reflection, there was something both refreshing and endearing about the way in which Garcia accepted his licks, and his loss, and his inferiority to Davis tonight in Sin City. He didn’t rant and rave, he didn’t blame anything or anyone else, and he didn’t try to readjust the narrative or protect his own once-spotless reputation. On the contrary, his demotion from unbeaten star to beaten contender was as seamless as the left hand Davis had used to set him on that trajectory.
Maybe, in hindsight, this was because Garcia had been granted more time than any of us knew to prepare for what was coming. He had, after all, sampled Davis’ power early in the fight, when dropped by a left hand to the head in round two, and was markedly more reticent as a result. He had of course seen others go the same way in the presence of Davis and knew, given his rival’s strength, power and aggression, it was often only a matter of time before he closed the show on opponents unable to match his intensity.
Whether that played on Garcia’s mind as he got to his feet in round two, and then found them again in the subsequent rounds, is anyone’s guess. But, certainly, he struggled to assert himself in the fight, he struggled to use his physical attributes (height and reach advantages), and he ultimately wasn’t able to make any reciprocal dents in Davis throughout the six and half rounds they shared.
This inability allowed Davis to read Garcia’s patterns – both when punching and when moving – and predict his next action, with him always cocked and ready to fire when an opening then presented itself. Setting traps, this approach was arguably never clearer than in the second round, when Davis read a repeated action of Garcia’s and duly exploded with a sharp southpaw left cross to send him to the canvas.
“I was being stupid,” Garcia said afterwards. “I just started firing shots. I could have just kept playing the same game I was playing: jab, back up, jab, back up, wait for him to throw, back up. But I felt like I caught him with a hard shot (in round two) when I pressed him with the overhand hook, which did hurt him. Again, that’s my inexperience. I ran into one. It didn’t hurt as much as (the knockdown suffered against) Luke Campbell, but, again, a knockdown’s a knockdown. It counts. I got right back up and we went back to the same game: him moving and me pressuring. But it’s all good. I’ll learn from it.”
Unable to make the required adjustments or learn his lessons in the short time he spent in the ring with Davis tonight, Garcia would eventually pay for his mistakes more decisively in round seven. That was the round in which Davis got perilously close to him and felt no fear of trading with his opponent in the pocket. Balled up like a woodlouse, Davis rolled inside and, with Garcia again throwing punches willy-nilly, connected with the surest and most painful shot of the night: a left to Garcia’s liver.
That, like most body shots that bring a fight to its end, proved a point of discussion and debate for all but the fighter most affected by it. Some fans and fellow fighters publicly criticised Garcia for seeing out the referee’s count on one knee, never once showing a sign he wanted to get up and continue, whereas others could recognise the pain on Garcia’s face and knew, try as he might, there would be no possibility of him getting up and carrying on.
Whichever side of that debate you find yourself, perhaps the clearest indication of all that Garcia, 23-1 (19), was a beaten man could be found in how quick he was to forgive Davis, 29-0 (27), for all he had said pre-fight and how happy he was to pose for photos with him and, as he handed him his phone, request his number. Rivals just 24 hours ago, such was the power of Davis’ left hand, as well as the ferocity of his performance, Garcia throughout the course of the night transitioned from foe to fan; one who discovered, in round seven, that a fighter’s toughness is relative to both the toughness of their opponent and the perfect placing of a body punch.