Boxing fans often plead the case that fighters should take tougher matchups more often because, among other reasons, in the event that they lose, the goodwill they will generate from observers for taking risks will keep their career afloat regardless. Of course, this is a generalization that has a lot of caveats. Lose too decisively too many times and the fans and the network executives who make final calls on which fights will be broadcast will determine you’re no longer relevant. Lose to a fighter who in turn loses to a fighter they weren’t expected to and your reputation is sullied by proxy.
Gone are the days when a division’s top ten rankings are populated with fighters with double digit losses. The modern boxing schedule and career pacing doesn’t resemble anything before the 1970s. Fighters are often chastised for cherishing their undefeated record, and observers too can be quick to relish in a fighter being “exposed” when they suffer just one loss. But there still exists a needle that can be thread whereby fighters can take tough, competitive losses in marquee bouts and maintain relevance.
This is the thesis Danny Garcia is operating under as he makes his return to the ring on Saturday night against Jose Benavidez, breaking a nearly two-year layoff.
The fight will be the start of a new campaign for Garcia at 154 pounds after spending five years competing at 147. After winning the RING title at 140, Garcia moved up to be a part of a stacked welterweight lineup with the dawn of Premier Boxing Champions. When the series and company as we know it debuted on March 7 of 2015, Garcia was a central figure in its marketing, strolling down a red carpet in a tuxedo in the introductory PBC trailer. Ultimately, the fights it purported to be building towards mostly happened, but not in the way Garcia imagined. He fought Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter and Errol Spence and came up short in each fight. These also represent the only three losses in his career.
All three were close, competitive fights between some of the division’s very best. The Thurman fight in particular set a record for boxing attendance at Barclays Center and on television, averaged 3.74 million viewers and peaked at 5.1 million for the main event, making it CBS’ highest-rated boxing telecast since 1998. When combined with his time spent fighting on HBO and subsequently on Showtime, Garcia has been one of the most-watched and most visible fighters of the modern era.
Due to his bona fides as champion previously at 140 and willingness to fight top opponents, Garcia has seemingly been able to maintain a healthy respect from boxing viewers. There’s another factor at play too. Garcia has been unusually honest and gracious with regards to his losses in a way that appeases fans who demand their losers be humble. These demands can be somewhat unreasonable in a sport that requires a healthy ego to even participate, but when they are met, the audience is often quite pleased. Even when interviewed in the ring following his loss to Spence, Garcia said “all three (losses) were good fights, and I’m proud.”
“Danny did great fighting at 147. The Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter fights could have gone either way,” said Danny’s father and trainer Angel Garcia at a recent media workout. “And then the Spence fight, we were going through a lot of changes because of COVID. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything, I’m just being honest. Danny was suffering from anxiety leading up to the Spence fight. There was too much going on. We had a difficult camp. I’m not making excuses. But he still did great and he still threw 750 punches.”
For contrast’s sake, consider the general audience’s reaction to Adrien Broner’s professing that he won fights that were not debatably scored, and how the announcement of his subsequent comeback bouts like the one on August 20 against Omar Figueroa have been received. Broner is one of the most successful draws of his era, a trailblazer when it comes to fighter utilization of social media and one of a small collection of fighters over the last ten years to have developed a mainstream cultural cachet. While Garcia’s upcoming bout is generally met with a reaction of “okay let’s see,” talk of Broner’s bout is often some version of “here we go again.” Broner has won once since February of 2017, but like Garcia, all four of his losses have come to excellent fighters—Porter, Manny Pacquiao, Mikey Garcia and Marcos Maidana. In particular, he went viral for his insistence that he beat Pacquiao, a viewpoint he shared with very few, if any.
“I beat him, everybody out there know I beat him. Everybody out there knows I beat him, I controlled the fight, he was missing, I hit him plenty more times. I beat him,” said Broner in a post-fight interview with Jim Gray.
Broner and his supporters would no doubt argue that his post-fight defiance should be taken with a grain of salt and is also a part of his appeal, and they would certainly have a point. But one could also argue that while Broner is traveling a similar road to Garcia—trying to bounce back after past dominance followed by high-profile losses—the next stage in Garcia’s career is being taken more seriously than Broner’s even though his plans are arguably even more audacious. Broner is campaigning at 140 once again, a weight he’s held a world title at in the past and knows he’s physically equipped to fight at. Garcia is moving up to 154, a number he’s described as his “walk around weight” in the past, but where he would give up four inches in height and nearly five inches in reach to divisional champ Jermell Charlo.
There are of course other factors at play beyond just their responses to losing that influence the differences in perception of Garcia and Broner at this point. Primarily, nobody questions Garcia’s dedication to the sport like they do Broner’s. Garcia has admitted to being burnt out in 2020. Both have admitted to having dealt with mental and emotional issues outside of boxing, but Garcia has managed to both convey and deal with this in a more palatable way than Broner has.
“I had to wake myself up to train hard again for one of the biggest fights of my career. It just took a mental toll on me. I was mentally tired,” said Garcia during the media workout. “I knew that I needed my mind to rest, have some fun, and spend some time with my family. I needed time to enjoy everything that I worked so hard for, start to miss the game of boxing and then come back strong. I think that’s what I’ve done.”
Effectively, both Garcia and Broner feel like fighters who likely peaked in a previous era fighting to maintain their relevance. Garcia’s warm reception in his quest has had a lot to do with how he’s presented himself. On Instagram, where he has a healthy following, he presents an aspirational lifestyle and has maintained the aesthetics of a star. He’s dabbled in many of the same things Broner has outside of boxing—he raps, he has a clothing line, he even has an OnlyFans—and seems to do so with a smile, suggesting he’s not taking any of it too seriously. Moreover, he’s even maintained a friendly relationship with his past rivals, even appearing on Porter’s podcast, happily talking about how Spence and Terence Crawford will match up.
Garcia and Broner have intentionally or not adopted contrasting images that have been quite profitable for them within the sport. The Nice Guy and the Defiant One. They’re traveling down the same path starting again this month, but comeback roads in boxing are only as long as ticket buyers and check signers are willing to pave for you. The runway might be short. One more loss for either man and it might not matter how they react to their hand not being raised, there simply may not be room for them on the top line of the marquee any longer.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman