Danny Garcia has a devilish face; a Luciferian goatee; a muscular physique; an evil, laconic smile; a garish fashion taste; and a goading, belligerent father. You can imagine him whipping the ass of cowering middle school classmates for kicks.
I am reading too much into Danny Garcia’s personality, yes. But the brutal power matched by just-above-mediocre boxing skills; the 31-0 record padded by undeserved wins; the tendency to wear leopard-skin shorts with no remorse; the father shouting racial slurs at opponents during press conferences ... Danny Garcia is easy not to like, particularly if you’re not from Philly and have no obligation to root for the Philly guy. If Danny Garcia is, in secret, a warm and caring man with a settled commitment to justice and protecting the underdog, I apologize to him. I don’t imagine that is the case.
The truth doesn’t matter, really. A potent villain is part of what makes boxing fun. A potent villain, Danny Garcia, a combo-punching knockout artist with a lazy streak and pronounced eyebrows, came to Brooklyn on Saturday to take on the hometown guy, Paulie Malignaggi—who himself spent years as a brash, loudmouthed, clownish yapper with showy sequined trunks and what not, but who has now, in the twilight of his career at age 34, settled into the satisfying role of hero underdog himself. Paulie is in fact one of boxing’s most amazing stories. A skinny little shit who has never had power and whose oft-broken hands have reduced him to fighting almost exclusively with his left hand, he used quickness, guile, and sheer will to maintain a long career at the very top level of the welterweight division. He has never beaten one of the world’s best, but he has held his own against a whole bunch of them, an accomplishment akin to fending off armed gladiators using nothing but a briskly snapped wet towel.
He is also, in his spare time, the best boxing announcer working today, making his ongoing risk of brain cells all the more brave, or insane.
Danny Garcia has spent his career quite successfully fighting at 140 pounds. Now, he has moved up to 147 pounds, as boxers tend to do as their careers progress, allowing them to forgo some of the pain of starving themselves and sitting in saunas to make weight. Bigger fighters tend to hit harder, so Garcia was easing himself into the division with Paulie, who poses the least physical danger of anyone with a respectable name and record.
Paulie has lost an ounce of quickness, as all aging fighters do, but his style is roughly the same as it has always been. He orients himself sideways, lead hand down, right hand at his chin, jerking his upper body constantly back and forth, and at the merest hint of an incoming punch, bends low at the waist and rotates on his front foot, popping up safely to the side. His offense consists of a jab. He slide steps forward and bends and jabs to the belly, or he jabs to the face, and he spins off to the side, and jabs again. He throws right hands only as changes of pace, to give his opponent the illusion that there might be something to worry about other than a jab. Paulie’s offense is more the notion of offense than actual, menacing offense; he throws his hand in his opponent’s face enough to convince him that he is in a fight and prevent him from getting comfortable, but the actual threat to anyone’s physical health remains low. He enters the ring in a skeleton-face bandana and gives the ol’ “cutthroat arm across the neck” sign to the crowd like a real bad man, but it is all for show. Paulie’s real accomplishment is just being able to hang with the best guys in the world, given his fundamental limitations.
Stipulate, then, that Paulie Malignaggi never had any real chance of winning against Danny Garcia, who does possess the sort of neck-snapping left hook power that has made some unfortunate fighters of lesser caliber spin halfway around and fall down as if a sniper had shot them in the jaw with an AK-47. He shuffles forward deliberately with his elbows flared, as if his muscles are strung so tightly that he is incapable of forcing his arms down to his sides. Garcia is above average in all departments and superlative in power, which makes him good enough to be undefeated but not good enough to be unpredictable.
The fight unfolded predictably. Garcia moved forward. Paulie moved around, jabbing. Paulie moved sideways, jabbing. Anywhere he moved, he jabbed. He has an uncanny ability to shoot a jab while his feet seem to slide backwards simultaneously, conveyor belt style. At times he would jump in close, throw a flurry of three or four wholly unharmful punches to Garcia’s stomach, then jump back again. Garcia, meanwhile, would step in and try to counter Paulie with a chopping right hand to knock his head off, and miss. Garcia missed an astounding number of right hands by inches, as Paulie ducked away; millions, by my estimate. Paulie possesses a cleverness—feinting, setting traps, moving in and out—that Garcia, comfortable in his ability to hurt people, lacks. Garcia simply moves forward at one speed. He is not slow, but he is plodding, and his refusal to crank up his energy and hasten his attack extended Paulie Malignaggi’s boxing career by at least several rounds.
Fights take place in brutal reality. The good guy does not always win. Sentimentality in boxing is best reserved for remembrances of times past rather than analyses of punches being presently thrown. Though Danny Garcia is unlikeable and plodding and relatively predictable, he is also far more strong and far more dangerous than Paulie Malignaggi. Garcia’s margin for error in this fight was near infinite, while Paulie was dodging devastation with each roll of his shoulder. Fatigue, which creeps up round by round, posed an existential threat to Paulie. All that moving and rolling takes its toll. By the ninth round, he was solidly tired. He began to catch Garcia’s left hook on his glove, rather than ducking under it. Shortly after Garcia pushed him back to the ropes, and caught him with that chopping right hand that had missed so many times before. Paulie scurried to the other side of the ring, but Garcia caught him there too, swinging a few final hooks before the ref jumped in and wrapped his arms around Paulie and stopped the fight. Though there had not even been a single knockdown, Paulie did not cuss, or argue. He returned to his corner and sat on his stool and cried. This was probably his last turn in the ring. He lost, as we all knew he would. But he is a skinny 34-year-old with one hand and 40 pro fights, and he survived.
Photos: Top and bottom via AP, middle via Getty