BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – Danny Garcia came to Puerto Rico to pay homage to his heritage and to defend his junior welterweight titles against Mauricio Herrera in what he hoped would be an entertaining night of boxing. Little did he know that he would be in for the fight of his life.
Garcia had to fight tooth and nail, but he managed to pull out a 12-round majority decision against the rugged Herrera to retain THE RING, WBC and WBA belts before a vocal and partisan crowd of 10,152 at the Coliseo Ruben Rodrigquez on Saturday night.
Garcia (28-0, 16 knockouts) got off to a slow start and fell behind. He had to dig deep into his reserves to put on a final kick to pull it out. And in the end, with his nose bloodied, he had his hand raised in victory. Judge Gustavo Padilla scored it 114-114, a draw. Judges Carlos Colon and Alejandro Rochin both scored it 116-112 for Garcia. RingTV.com scored it 114-114, a draw.
“He’s a good fighter, but I’m a true champion, so I have to make adjustments,’’ Garcia said. “He was a little crafty and I had to find my comfort zone."
Garcia said he wasn’t surprised that Herrera fought him so tough.
“That’s the way it is when you’re a champion," he said. “Everybody wants to take what you got. Everybody is going to come with their A-game. I know it’s not going to be easy from this point on."
Herrera (20-4, 7 KOs) thought Garcia would be tougher. Early on he kept expecting Garcia to pressure him and bring the fight to his doorstep. When Garcia didn’t step up, Herrera got more confident.
“I felt good in there. I felt I pressured him. I expected him to be a lot tougher," Herrera said. “I respected him in the beginning but I started to get a feel for him and I got confident."
Herrera said he thought he did enough to win.
“I’m disappointed. I finished strong. A lot of his punches were missing. I thought I won the fight," he said.
The evening was set up for Garcia to shine on this trip from the star treatment from Showtime to the visits around San Juan with the adoring crowds mobbing him for autographs after his workouts. It carried over into fight night.
With the crowd chanting “Danny! Danny! Danny!" Garcia, junior welterweight champion, entered the ring as a favorite son of Puerto Rico.
All of the recent Puerto Rican boxing stars have made their way back to the island to fight in front of the fans once they won world titles. Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto, who live on the island, defended their championships here. So it was only fitting that a rising star with a Puerto Rican heritage should pay homage to his roots and put on a show for the local fans.
Garcia was born in Philadelphia, but his parents were born in Puerto Rico. He made his first visit to the island two years ago and spent time with various relatives. Garcia has been warmly embraced by the boxing fans here, who have always supported their champions.
But as the fight unfolded, Garcia learned that it’s not all that easy to please a Puerto Rican fight crowd, especially if you come out of the gate like Secretariat.
Herrera caught Garcia’s attention early on, landing a sharp straight right in the second round that snapped Garcia’s head back and serving notice that this was not going to be a cakewalk. Garcia had the advantage in speed and he used it sparingly to put together stinging combinations. But he couldn’t outwork Herrera who kept pressing forward, slinging punches and ducking most of Garcia’s harder shots.
With the opening scoring in effect they announced the scoring on the PA system after the fourth round and it was unanimous – for someone. They didn’t announce who was ahead, but it was a good guess that it was Herrera because Garcia had gotten off to his usual slow start. Announcing that Herrera was ahead at that point would have been tantamount to yelling “Fire!" in a crowded theater.
The crowd had been lulled into silence. At one point in the seventh round someone shouted, “Come on Danny. We need a win for Puerto Rico, baby!" When Garcia landed a couple of left hooks on Herrera’s chin, the crowd cheered. They were looking for a reason to love him.
A smattering of boos arouse from the crowd in the eighth round as Garcia and Herrera spent more time circling each other than throwing punches. Herrera was the equivalent of the scrappy basketball team that dives for every loose ball. He spent the fight trying to grind Garcia down, putting the pressure on him, moving him backwards, tying him up when Garcia wanted to fight inside. Herrera was landing just enough punches to stay slightly busier than Garcia.
Herrera busted Garcia’s nose in ninth round. A straight left sent a torrent of blood flowing from both nostrils. But it wasn’t all bad news for Garcia. According to the opening scoring that was announced after the ninth round Garcia was leading in the fight.
Garcia roared out of his corner in the 10th round with a greater sense of urgency. He jumped on Herrera from the opening bell, landing a left and a right to the body with vicious intentions. The crowd perked up and the volume in the building increased.
Garcia tried to close the show, but Herrera wasn’t going to be a willing foil to his knockout plans. Both fighters finished on their feet and Garcia and Herrera embraced in the middle of the ring when the bell sounded.
Garcia said he didn’t have any plans regarding future opponents. But he did say it might be time to abandon the 140 pound division.
“It’s getting a little hard (to make weight). I have to think about moving up,’’ Garcia said. “The weight may have had an effect on my performance. It wasn’t only that because my opponent came to fight and he made a great fight for the fans."
In the co-feature of the evening Deontay Wilder made quick work of his friend Malik Scott, knocking out Scott at 1:36 of the first round with a short left hook to the temple followed by a quick right hand to the chin.
Scott stayed down on one side and attempted to get to his feet, but couldn’t manage to scramble up. Referee Roberto Ramirez, Jr. counted him just as he made it to his feet. Once he was up, Scott stumbled forward into the ref’s arms. It ended so suddenly that it looked farcical.
“I got power, natural power that you can’t buy. I didn’t expect this fight to go so fast," Wilder said. “You have to understand that I’ve got power in both hands and speed and because of that you’re liable to get knocked out."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Scott (36-2-1, 13 KOs) threw just one punch in the fight and that one didn’t connect. Wilder barely worked up a sweat.
“He got me with the left hook. I got caught that’s all I can remember that happened. I’m so disappointed." Scott said. “I really don’t remember what happened. I just got caught with a shot. I didn’t see the shot coming."
Scott had vowed to drag Wilder into deep water and baptize him. Instead it was Scott who was floundering around the ring like a drowning man in search of a life preserver.
Wilder (31-0, 31 KOs) had posted an impressive record entering the match against Scott on Saturday night – 30 knockouts in 30 fights and no of them having gone past the fourth round. But there were few notable opponents on his resume. Scott was definitely a step up in class from the journeyman that Wilder had been accustomed to facing. But he treated Scott in the same manner as he had the other 30 opponents before him.
The fact that they are very good friends also added another dimension to the match. They had roomed together at a training camp for Tomasz Adamek before he fought Vitali Klitschko for the title. Their families spend time together. It is not the optimal condition for a heavyweight fight with potential championship implications down the road.
Both Wilder and Scott said they were going to leave their friendship out of the ring and pick it back up once the match was over. Whether their friendship will survive this knockout will be determined later.
The boxing world will have to wait a little longer to find out just how good a boxer Wilder really is. Scott was supposed to give Wilder a test in that department. But Wilder blasted right through it.
“I get tested in the gym. I make it look easy. I don’t care if I do it in four rounds," Wilder said.
Wilder now steps to the head of the class to fight the winner of Chris Arreola-Bermane Stiverne, who will meet for the vacant WBC title. Perhaps he will face a stiffer test against someone who isn’t his friend in his next match.