When it comes to grim irony, not even the back-stabbiest of Greek tragedies holds a candle to boxing. In this sport, titans fall, fortunes are squandered and, like clockwork, dreams are splintered on the rocks of reality — all inside a space as cozy as a Little Caesar’s lobby. Had he cared to look, bantamweight contender Joshua “Don’t Blink” Greer might have seen the warning signs of an upset gathering on the horizon of his main-event fight Tuesday at the Bubble in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand.
But you can imagine what he did next.
In fact, Greer (22-2-1) didn’t blink so much as he was bullied by Mike Plania (24-1) into questioning the nature of his fight plan almost from Jump Street. After boxing on the outside and cautiously jabbing his way through the early moments of round 1, Greer went down on a scything lead left hook from Plania that all but snuck in through the back door. Greer bounced up, but for almost the remainder of the fight, he never bounced back. He feinted, hesitated, hemmed and hawed until another knockdown in the sixth left Greer too far behind on the scorecards — judge Dave Moretti’s incoherent offering notwithstanding — to keep Plania from making off with a majority decision.
There’s a choose-your-own-adventure quality to boxing that allows fans — and fighters themselves — to follow a preferred storyline and, when convenient, back out of it in order to follow an alternate path that more aptly explains an outcome. Leading up to Tuesday’s fight, the dominant narrative focused mostly on Greer, 26, the native Chicagoan, returning from California to train in his old digs under George Hernandez, after lackluster performances (albeit wins) in his most recent fights. You get it: Back to basics. Back to our roots. Remember what got us here. Standard-issue prefight patter.
Flip to another page, though, and you would’ve find the betting money in Vegas shifting late toward Plania, who had an even more compelling origin story than Greer’s. The 23-year-old Filipino grew up hungry and scrapping on the streets of General Santos City, and you just knew we weren’t getting out of an ESPN broadcast without being reminded of the parallels to a certain Filipino senator at a talking-point volume and frequency that would make Fox News hairdos swoon. That Plania had lost only once in 24 fights — to Juan Carlos Payano, in a decision that saw Plania knock down the former titlist — cemented the notion that he was, at the very least, the livest of dogs against Greer.
The real protagonist in this story, though, was Plania’s lead left hook. The Filipino landed all manner of the punch against Greer, including at least one shot in each of the first six rounds that would have been at home in a Leroy Nieman painting. By round 6, Greer had developed such a dangerously Pavlovian response that, in one sequence, his reaction to Plania leading with the hook left Greer wide open to a punishing straight right hand to the gut. After suffering his second knockdown of the fight in the sixth, then covering up to allow Plania to land a cartoonish hook-hook-hook combination to the body, Greer seemed to realize that the status quo was a shit sandwich.
Fight strategies aren’t either/or propositions, which meant Greer wouldn’t necessarily change the odds of getting his ass kicked by simply shifting gears. Also: Setting fire to a carefully constructed plan of attack mid-fight tends to be 1) a morale killer and 2) send a drowning fighter grabbing for any nearby lifeline. But it was a ballsy choice in Round 8 when Greer waded in and, for the first time in the fight, stood head-to-head with Plania. It cost him some collateral damage, but getting inside forced the Chicagoan to fight or fall — and had the added benefit of sneaking his noggin inside the full extension of Plania’s arcing left hand.
It’s impossible to know whether this approach would have panned out for Greer over a full fight, but Plania moved backwards and was hit with hard, clean shots more often over the last six minutes than he had in eight rounds up to that point. In any case, Greer pulled the pin on Plan B far too late. If you didn’t watch with your own eyes, the final punch stats lied to your face: 451 thrown for Plania, 426 for Greer; 119 landed for Plania, 96 for Greer. Only Moretti, who scored the fight 94-94, saw anything remotely resembling a close fight.
Even Greer gave credit where it was due. “No excuses for me,” he told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after the fight. “Mike Plania was just the better man tonight.”
But just as we shouldn’t count on Plania blossoming into the next Manny Pacquiao — although he’s a nifty fighter who could be a shit-ton of fun to watch in the future — we can’t yet declare Greer lost at sea. In the coming weeks, he’ll be tagged in certain boxing circles as overhyped, a promotional creation, #washed and Christ knows what else after letting a title challenge (or the promise of it in his next fight, anyway) slip through his Everlasts. Yet Greer is only 26, and even at 118 pounds, that’s still prime territory. Maybe we’ve seen the extent of his abilities, and maybe we haven’t. Because boxing’s sense of irony cuts all ways, the moment he’s written off could easily be the start of a new success story Greer pens for himself.