Junior welterweight Danny Garcia was crowned “Homecoming King” at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on Saturday night, but not without stumbling up the steps of the stage. Garcia won a hard-fought majority decision over Mauricio Herrera in a fight that was far more difficult than any coronation is supposed to be.
The story heading into Garcia-Herrera had little to do with what might transpire after the opening bell. Rather, promotional energy—and plenty of mockery on social media—was directed toward the Philadelphia-born Garcia’s return to the little island that produced his parents, toward this homecoming orchestrated to tap Garcia into the Puerto Rican market. Golden Boy Promotions took the ceremonies’ preparations one step further in securing the services of Herrera. Unlike Lucas Matthysse and Zab Judah, who lobbed grenades at Garcia in his last two fights, Herrera is not a puncher; whatever moves he might bring to the dance, he represented a difficult but less dangerous opponent than Garcia has faced of late. Herrera, Riverside, California, is also Mexican-American, numbered, by slackening the reins, among the enemy in the fighting rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico. He appeared to be the perfect foil for Garcia’s triumphant return to a place he had never visited. What all of this means, of course, is that the outcome of the fight was never supposed to be in doubt. And in a way, given the revelations of open scoring, it was not. Yet doubt over the fight’s outcome will linger like a liver shot, because for much of the fight, Herrera schooled his more celebrated opponent.
Herrera started by forcing the counter-punching Garcia to lead. Garcia, 139 3/4, struggled in his role as the aggressor, while Herrera, firing little more than jabs—and with his right glove ever plastered to his temple—only compounded Garcia’s troubles. When Herrera went on the offensive it was with his head in Garcia’s chest, leaving Garcia punching like a man in a sleeping bag; when he wanted to reset, Herrera moved beyond range, where Garcia could not reach him. Unable to catch his opponent coming in, Garcia looked to time Herrera as he backed out. Herrera countered by either clinching, forcing referee Robert Ramirez Sr. to harmlessly separate the fighters, or by slipping out low and at angles that provided Garcia little to wing at. Neither man was administering much by way of damage, but Herrera was dictating the action.
In the middle rounds, Herrera become the aggressor, stalking Garcia around the ring. Garcia loaded up on left hooks and uppercuts, finding comfort in the familiarity of being pursued, but Herrera continued to outscore him. Accurate, powerful, and with Peter Parker’s precognition, it is rare for Garcia to not find a window for his left hook; yet Herrera was able to block and smother much of Garcia’s work, and whenever Garcia got on a roll, a well-placed jab from Herrera threw a wrench in his spokes. Like a man watching a lagging internet stream, Garcia seemed forever a step behind the action.
A sense of desperation swelled in Garcia’s corner, where Angel Garcia implored his son to open up, to get rough in the trenches, to do something to divert the course of the fight. Whatever the effect of those words, it was having his nose exploded by a Herrera combination in the ninth round that seemed to instil urgency in “Swift.” Up on his toes, Garcia plugged hooks into Herrera’s ribs, chest, and arms, he ripped off three-punch combinations that, even if they failed to land clean, nevertheless stalled Herrera’s pestering and gave Garcia the appearance of control. Undeterred by the threat transmitted by even a blocked Garcia hook, Herrera continued to bore in, and, after enduring some of Garcia’s finest work late, cracked the house fighter with a pair of sharp right hands at the close of the eleventh round.
Herrera, 139 1/4, fought the twelfth round like he needed a knockout to win—a message reflected in the tallies of open scoring—outfighting Garcia in the challenger’s last shot at victory. With the final bell, the drama petered out: this was a homecoming after all, and only one man was ticketed for King. Garcia, credited for throwing power punches as much as for actually landing them, credited for landing them by virtue of throwing them, was awarded the victory by scores of 116-112 twice, with a dissenting vote of 114-114. However unpopular, those are the scores that matter, ditto for the verdict, regardless of the rattling pitchforks and burning torches.
Ever the gentleman, Garcia praised Herrera’s efforts before turning his focus to himself. He was noncommittal about his future, but hinted at a possible move to welterweight. Of all the fighters Golden Boy Promotions can sacrifice to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Garcia, 28-0 (16), has the best credentials, having already wiped out potential Mayweather foe Amir Khan and out-slugged boogeyman Lucas Matthysse. He was not at his best last night, but Garcia’s best remains a threat to everyone from 140 to 147 pounds not named Mayweather.
Much the same can be said about Herrera, who proved yet again that he can disarm vastly more explosive foes. Expressing gratitude for the opportunity, and for the fans in Puerto Rico, Herrera, 20-4 (7), asked only for another crack at the King. He is more than deserving of such consolation.