In late 2020, Mikey Garcia and Sandor Martin both made appearances on DAZN. At the end of October of the same year, Garcia made an appearance as guest of honor in combat Juan Francisco Estrada-Carlos Cuadras at TV Azteca Studios in Mexico City. Garcia, visibly above his fighting weight, did a lengthy in-ring interview with WBC boss Mauricio Sulaiman to help the broadcast kill time.
Garcia was so noticeably heavier than normal that Sulaiman at one point joked about Garcia’s weight and gestured towards his stomach. The two shared a laugh as Garcia explained that he had been a little less active, like many people, during the first days of the pandemic halt.
A few weeks earlier, Sandor Martin was also in the ring on a DAZN show, in his case facing 19-year-old Nestor Mariadaga. Little has been done about the fight. Martin was the reigning European welterweight champion, but no fighter had won a world title after holding that belt since Junior Witter achieved the feat in 2006 (Soulemayne M’Baye won the crown of the ‘EBU after a brief reign as world title holder), so the boxing public had been conditioned to think that fighters with that title had more than likely peaked. Martin has remained busy, beating the 8-9-1 Mariadaga at an empty location in Italy and has returned to the dark when it comes to the global boxing audience.
But what we saw on those nights may have finally decided the outcome last Saturday, when Martin claimed a shocking majority victory over Garcia in the main event of a DAZN event in Fresno, Calif.
Garcia is one of the most accomplished fighters of this era, a four-division world champion, having won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight. His claim to be a four-division champion isn’t as shaky as others: Garcia was the Ring Magazine champion at featherweight and the linear champion at 140 as well. However, his career has been marred by lengthy layoffs at various stages. There was a two-year hiatus as he faced his former promoter Top Rank in litigation, a year off between his first loss to Errol Spence and his subsequent return to welterweight to Jessie Vargas , and most recently, a 20 month layoff to come in this fight.
As an extremely talented operator renowned for his boxing IQ, Garcia has always rebounded well after layoffs. A combination of his supernatural boxing instincts and the fact that he had grown up in the sport had always kept him coming back and understanding. However, it’s probably no coincidence that on the same night he looked his worst physique, he put in the worst performance of his career. Although he clearly worked hard to lose his pandemic weight, his body resembled that of a fighter who fought to return the weight more than he trained to fight. Garcia’s frame, while never designed for a welterweight, lacked a lot of definition.
For much of the fight, Garcia slowly moved forward, placing himself in positions where he once beat his opponents with one of the best jabs in the sport, and instead was punched and danced by Martin.
Martin’s approach wasn’t particularly complicated, especially for a shrewd mind like Garcia. As a southpaw he struggled with Garcia’s left hand which frustrated Garcia who is used to dictating the pace with his own lead hand. Garcia adapted by keeping his left hand closer to his face and trying to surprise Martin with his jab, but Martin repeatedly beat Garcia with a quick-control right hook when he tried. Some of Martin’s best shots came when he pulled Garcia into a trap, backing up against the rope, slipping Garcia’s jab and ricocheting off the ropes with a right hook and returning to the center of the ring.
A few times during the fight, especially in the 9th round, Garcia tried to pick up the tempo and just overwhelm Martin, which a fighter of a significantly higher skill level is usually able to do. But he couldn’t keep up the tempo long enough to get Martin in trouble at any point in the fight.
Garcia’s problems in the ring and the reasons he looked that way could be explained in exactly the same way: he wasn’t busy enough.
If both fighters were at their peak, Mikey Garcia would beat Sandor Martin. Bettors assume the fighters will be in great shape when they set the betting lines, and for this fight Garcia made Garcia a 10-1 favorite, implying a less than 10% chance of a victory of Martin.
Even when in suboptimal condition, fighters as good as Garcia usually find a way to win anyway. And the sad fact is that even when they don’t deserve it, the gravitational pull that often drags judges’ pencils to the A-side of their scoreboards bail them out. But on some special nights the B side is good enough and the A side unconvincing enough that the result could only be the right one, which happened that night.
Upside down, Martin has benefited from not being as successful as Garcia has been so far. The European champions don’t command the same amount of money as the world champions (Garcia brought in $ 1.5 million for this fight while Martin won $ 150,000), which means they are forced to pay each other. beat more often. EBU title fights are usually well-matched in 12 rounds, and when those don’t materialize, top European fighters often fight like Martin against Mariadaga to help fill the annual envelope.
In recent years, especially in early 2020, Garcia has spoken of the retirement thinking. Over the course of his career, Garcia has also spoken more and more about the safety of fighters. In 2014, he attended a summit at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in the United States Capitol, to support further research on the prevention of brain damage and mental risks in competitive activities. In a 2017 interview I conducted with Garcia for Showtime Sports, he spoke candidly about wanting fans to have more compassion for fighters who throw in the towel during fights. It is possible that Garcia has been more judicious in the fights he leads as he has taken the risks of the sport more seriously over time. He understood that he didn’t have to fight for less than a million dollars, and is that he is going to take these risks, it should come with a high price.
Martin didn’t have that same financial cushion or the ability to pass that judgment if he is to support himself with boxing, and as a direct result of that, he simply entered this fight more prepared than Garcia.
These types of upheavals are upset for a reason. They’re shocking, and they don’t happen very often, but they do. There may be parallels between this fight and Roberto Duran’s 1982 loss to Kirkland Laing. Duran at the time was two years away from No Mas’s fight against Sugar Ray Leonard and had just lost to Wilfred Benitez for the 154-pound title. His weight gain was due to his fitness issues, and he weighed 155 against Laing, who himself hit the scales at under 150 pounds. Laing, who like Martin peaked as European champion, outclassed Duran and marked the upheaval of the year.
Laing would never reach greater heights, remaining in the pictures of British, Commonwealth and European titles for many years, but never really capitalizing on his magical night.
Duran, meanwhile, used the night as an alarm clock. His promoter Don King dumped him, and he went to see Bob Arum and voluntarily did an off-TV walkout on the Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello card for 25K to get back in shape. Two fights later, he had one of his best performances, an eight-round beating from Davey Moore for a 154-pound title.
While Martin’s victory may end up in the record books as the upheaval of the year 2021, it doesn’t have to be the end of Garcia’s career story, but simply the start of a new one. chapter. Garcia might not be able to order a million bucks next time around, but if he can rekindle his passion like Duran did, he can return to the big payout window with a few wins over the next two years.
Is this something he’s ready to do?
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman