Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia, a mega fightAs March 16 draws closer, the welterweight title bout between unbeaten fighters at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, is gaining buzz. Fox has done a great build-up for the event and has raised the hype as the promotion has garnered national exposure. Champion Errol Spence, Jr., 24-0 with 21 knockouts, defends against lightweight and junior welterweight champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs). When the bout was announced, many praised Garcia for having the heart to go up in weight and challenge one of boxing’s pound-for-pound kings who everyone else has been avoiding. The thinking was that Spence was just going to be too big for Garcia. Garcia spent several weeks in San Jose working out of Victor Conte’s facility before he returned to Riverside, California, for the main portion of camp with trainer/brother Robert Garcia. The fighter’s confidence and incredible physique has many switching their vote as the bout approaches. Studying video also lifts up the prospect of a Garcia upset. Spence is a versatile southpaw who comes inside and works the body and adapts to the opposition, but he does get hit. Garcia is as patient as a chess player as he figures out and then dissects his opponents. Look for a tactical fight in the early rounds, heating up to be what could turn out to be a classic. I think the early rounds will favor Spence, but Garcia is going to eventually find his range and the 2012 Olympian Spence’s chin will be tested. At the end of the day, in Spence’s backyard and in what is just as big of a career moment for Errol, I am going to pick him by the slimmest of margins. But a Garcia upset certainly would not surprise me. Garcia is hungry to prove himself among the best. Despite a phenomenal record and his text-book style of boxing, Garcia has yet to garner the kind of fame and attention that would tend to follow a 39-0 fighter. I expect an electric atmosphere and look forward to a great event. I will go cliche and say that the fans are going to be the real winners of this fight.
Fight of the Century, 48 years laterSpeaking of a great event, March 8 marks the 48th anniversary of one of the most exciting bouts in history — an event so big that Frank Sinatra attended as a photographer for Life Magazine. A-list celebrities including Miles Davis and Woody Allen were in Madison Square Garden for the “Fight of the Century.” The 1971 battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, both undefeated, turned out to be the first of three classics between the two great champions. In his third fight back from banishment for refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War, Ali entered the ring at looking to regain the heavyweight crown that was stripped from him. Ali, a 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist at light heavyweight, faced champion Joe Frazier, the 1964 Olympic Heavyweight Gold Medalist. Ali started fast and may have spent too much energy just off of adrenaline. He was moving and throwing his combinations, but Frazier kept coming. In Round 3 Frazier’s hooks turned the momentum and his harder shots seemed to dictate Rounds 3-8. Round 9 is an underrated round historically, as it rarely is mentioned as one of boxing’s greatest rounds. Frazier’s left hook did damage, but Ali’s heart got him through and he unloaded fast combos to close the round out. It was a fight of whatever you preferred. Ali was the busier, while Frazier was more accurate and effective. In Round 11, Frazier shook Ali with two combos that each ended in Frazier’s famous left hooks. Ali’s legs buckled and the historic “long walk” happened. Toward the end of the round, Ali wobbled backward, looking as if he was playing possum. The walk killed the last few seconds of the round and Frazier didn’t score a knockdown. Ali was back in the fight in Rounds 12-14 and the bout seemed to be in the balance going into the final round. Frazier would end the doubt of who was winning early in Round 15, when a massive left hook dropped Ali. It was a devastating shot that would have ended the night against any other opponent, but Ali bounced up and, with a swollen jaw, survived the round. Frazier earned the unanimous decision to retain the heavyweight title. Referee Arthur Mercante scored 8-6 (1 even) and the ringside judges saw it 9-6 and 11-4. New York rules of the time did not have today’s 10 point-must system and judges scored based on rounds won, with even rounds left off of the final tally. Looking at the fight today, I scored it 9 rounds to 6 for Frazier, and using the 10 point must system, I scored 144-140 for Frazier. Regardless of the winner, the bout meant more than just being a boxing match. It was a time in our history where a boxing ring played the stage to what was happening in the country. Three months later, Ali scored a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court, which overruled a conviction for refusing to report to the military. What started out as a pro Ali crowd had turned to raucous support for Frazier in the middle rounds. By the end, there was the respect for the heart that Ali displayed. Many were angered in 1971 for Ali’s refusal to go to Vietnam, but as time has gone, “The Greatest” is now honored for his courage to stand up for his beliefs. It’s a stance that cost him his living for more than three years. Not many athletes or people today are willing to sacrifice that much for what they believe.
— Simon Ruvalcaba