Perhaps the lights at The Theater in Madison Square Garden should have been killed and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” pumped over the PA system for a moment before it too vanished in the split-second that turns an anxious arena to endless black. Like the conclusion of The Sopranos, the scene that brought an end to the featherweight tilt between Mikey Garcia and Orlando Salido left more than a few viewers feeling dissatisfied. But however one feels about the technical decision Garcia was awarded after an accidental headbutt broke his nose near the end of the eighth round, that he dominated the action up to that point is indisputable.
The popular narrative heading into the fight was that Salido, Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, would have to outwork the measured and patient Garcia, getting inside and exposing him to a less predictable violence. Having promised as much in the build-up to the fight, Salido spent the early part of the first round looking for ways to close the distance. Garcia, Oxnard, California, refused to cooperate, using lateral movement and crisp jabs to keep Salido at bay. Pressing the issue later in the round, Salido walked into a counter left hook that dropped him to the canvas. Lesser punchers than Garcia have had Salido off his feet, and his composure in crisis—coupled with his opponent’s patience—allowed Salido to rise and regroup. His head cleared, Salido made another offensive gamble as the round drew to a close. And again a left hook from Garcia deposited him on the canvas. It was not merely that Salido, 126, was unable to unfurl his offense against this smooth counter-puncher: he was getting shellacked for simply trying.
The third round saw Salido have his first success at getting inside, prompting Garcia, 125 1/2, to unveil another punch in his arsenal. His back to the ropes, Garcia caught Salido leaning over his front foot and dropped him with a right uppercut. It was an exchange indicative of the fight on the whole: Salido looking to pressure, to pose questions the young man might be unprepared for, Garcia having an answer for every query, every wrinkle, every intended surprise; his answers buckling his interrogator, hurrying the battle-worn fighter along the path of inevitable decline.
By the end of the fourth round, one that saw Salido sprawled by a jab, the fight was ostensibly over. Salido would have flashes of success in the remaining four rounds, occasionally bullying Garcia into a corner, landing the odd right hand or lonely body shot; but these successes were either too isolated to endanger Garcia, or repaid with punishment that outweighed their effect. Salido was soundly beaten on this night; his opponent’s accuracy, power, and composure proving too much for him.
The winner had long been unmistakable when, in the closing seconds of the eighth round, Salido’s overshot right hand pulled his cranium into the bridge of Garcia’s nose. That headbutt—though it brought an anticlimactic end to the dust up—should not deprive Garcia of his achievement. His unquestionable superiority reflected in Salido’s swollen face and the lopsided scorecards that read 79-70 and 79-69 twice in Garcia’s favor.
However correct the ruling, the proceedings that prompted referee Benjy Estevez, Jr., to halt the bout left something to be desired. When Garcia, clearly bothered by his jagged proboscis, reached his corner after the eighth round, his trainer, older brother Robert, reacted excitedly to the damage. “Damn! Your nose is broke, bro!” he exclaimed, a hint of satisfaction in his tone. The Garcia corner then seemed to lobby for a stoppage, knowing full well that their man had an insurmountable lead on the scorecards. A prudent move for those entrusted with Garcia’s safety, and completely justifiable. But broken noses in boxing are like good luck charms in bingo halls, and it would have been nice to see Garcia at least test out his breathing while punctuating his near flawless performance.
However unsatisfying its end, Garcia, 31-0 (26), delivered his most complete performance; never for a moment in danger against a fighter who twice overcame Juan Manuel Lopez. The question of whether he can fight from behind has yet to be answered, but it will take a special fighter to dig him into such a hole. All the other boxes are checked in regards to his merit. In his postfight interview Garcia called out junior lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, inviting him back to the featherweight division. Salido was offered a rematch as well. There is decidedly less appeal in that affair.
Now 39-12-2 (27), having spent more than half his life earning a living with his fists, Salido seemed a dulled blade Saturday night. The 351 grueling professional rounds piled onto the years in a violent apprenticeship had him perched precariously atop a very steep slope. There would come a moment when Salido would be pushed from that perch, and a precipitous fall would begin. That moment looked to be the first round Saturday night. Still, the angle of that slope, its improbable height and humble beginnings, are the mark of a real prizefighter. Having made the most of his potential, and a few bucks along the way, Salido would be wise to consider life after boxing. After fighting so hard to escape gatekeeper status, he stands to gain little donning that cap again.
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