The sweetest thing we’ve gotten yet from Al Haymon’s aspired-for 2015 boxing takeover, or that we’re even scheduled to get, arrives Saturday night when Danny Garcia faces Lamont Peterson on NBC’s “Premier Boxing Champions.” Anyone embittered by the manner in which it has arrived is entitled. Yet a pugilistic confection it remains.
We were forced to wait for this, a meeting between the junior welterweight champion (Garcia) and the next best contender he has yet to meet (Peterson), as the powerful boxing adviser Haymon bided his time on Showtime before mounting his free-TV rebellion. We had to sit through two unremarkable match-ups on paper for Garcia, one of which, against Mauricio Herrera, turned into a surprising near-upset. We had to deal with the unnecessary double-header pitting Garcia and Peterson against separate hapless foes in match-ups that didn’t “build up” the fight so much as leave a bad taste in all mouths concerned. And the fight isn’t even going to be contested for the junior welterweight championship, but, rather, at 143 pounds.
These kind of things don’t overly diminish what is at its core a compelling fight, however. Garcia and Peterson are two very good fighters, Garcia arguably one of the 10 best in the world in any division, who do a lot of everything well but almost nothing so well as to ever make it an easy night in the ring for them. Both can box cautiously, yet both tend to get lassoed into high-contact battles. The winner will pine to face the victor in the May 2 superbout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, so both Garcia and Peterson will presumably be at their best, especially with each saying they were struggling to make the junior welterweight limit already.
It’s also got a difficult style knot to unravel. Garcia is the overall better fighter, the faster one, the better puncher, the better defender and the one who’s beaten better opposition. Where Peterson suffered a knockout loss vs. Lucas Matthysse, the man sandwiched between the pair in the current top 10 rankings, Garcia outboxed Matthysse for a narrow win. Where Peterson nicked Amir Khan by a close and oft-debated decision win, Garcia blasted him to the canvas multiple times for a stoppage. Garcia is a jack of all trades, master of none (OK, except maybe that counter left hook) who just gets the job done, one way or the other. These are all good reasons that Garcia is the betting favorite.
But Peterson poses some specific problems for Garcia that could mask some of his deficiencies and highlight his advantages. Garcia has slugged with faster fighters (like Khan) and outmaneuvered slower ones (Matthysse). At the same time, both those men managed things against Garcia that Peterson can, too. Like Matthysse, he’s the better inside fighter. Like Khan, he can use his length and jab to box from distance. Unlike Matthysse, Peterson is pretty mobile and fast. Unlike Khan, Peterson is not prone to recklessness when hurt — the Matthysse fight excepted.
Garcia has talked up Peterson as some kind of runner/holder in the build-up to this fight, which suggests he hopes Peterson will respond with pride and come straight in to help him set up counterpunches. Peterson, for his part, has spoken of needing to be careful not to get countered.
There are a couple scoring-related topics to throw into the mix, too. Peterson is from D.C., Garcia Philadelphia. Garcia is probably the “house” fighter in the sense that he’s the guy who’s gotten the bigger push — which is fair, since he has a Puerto Rican heritage to draw on, and a weird headline-grabbing dad training him, and six fucking toes. He’s also a proven draw already in the Barclays Center, where Saturday’s contest will be waged. So, yeah, if it’s close, Garcia probably wins. Meanwhile, Garcia does have a tendency toward low blows, something that cost him a point against Matthysse, although he dodged the penalty against Herrera. A vigorous ref could dock Garcia if he pulls that trick again.
All my initial instincts for this fight pointed toward a Garcia win, for all the reasons he’s the favorite. It doesn’t under any circumstances figure to be an easy fight for him, even if he does win. Over the course of his rise, Garcia has struggled at times against an old Erik Morales, against Khan before the knockout, against Matthysse, against Zab Judah late and most certainly against Herrera. Peterson’s given more physically talented fighters than himself (other than ever-asterisk Matthysse), at minimum, trouble: Timothy Bradley, Victor Ortiz, Khan.
This is to say, I don’t think I’m just being a homer for a fighter from my town in switching my prediction. The tape spoke to me. I saw Peterson starting faster in fights than he used to, which got him in trouble in some bouts. I saw an improved jab. I saw how Matthysse and Herrera did when they cornered Garcia up close.
To be sure, Peterson is not as crafty on defense as Herrera, nor as unconventional on offense as Herrera, nor will he make Garcia pay as much when he hits him as Matthysse could. With Peterson’s tendency to get dropped, a trip to the canvas could be costly in unfriendly environs. But failing a disputed decision or some knockdowns, unless Garcia is really energized by fighting at 143 and Peterson is dealing with whatever that mysterious testosterone thing was, then I’m riding with Peterson to take a close one.