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Martinez vs. Garcia: Boxing's devils are in the details

By Gabriel Montoya


The only time boxing is truly a sport is when the bell rings. Everything else is negotiable. Only in boxing can you be a world champion, lose your belt on the scales by missing the weight limit, move up in weight and immediately fight for another world title - on HBO, no less. Boxing is a sport that has had numerous “kickbacks for rankings” scandals, ring deaths and injuries due to negligence or worse, all the while not really reforming or chasing out the culprits completely from the back alley of sports. With four “major” title organizations, two cable networks and two major promoters basically providing them with exclusive content, the creation of multiple universes within boxing makes it easy to miss the small things left untended as they ultimately become gigantic things. How can one reform an amorphous, international sport with more moving parts than the most intricate old-school wristwatch? I wish the answer was,“You can,” but the first step is admitting you have a problem and boxing doesn’t know the word “admit.”
 
The tragedy of Magomed Abdusalamov, reported in detail by the New York Post http://nypost.com/2013/11/08/comatose-boxer-okd-by-doctors-after-fight/, is the kind of thing that happens because the sport by and large (media, commission officials, everyone else involved) let the important things slip on a regular basis. Did Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s recent weight debacle vs Bryan Vera cost the former anything? No. He’ll fight on HBO at a weight to be named later in early 2014. Mickey Bey, Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson all were on major cable networks in their very next fights following positive drug tests. Berto and Peterson’s were title outings.
 
And because it can do little else, boxing shrugs.

Tonight, Mikey Garcia, fresh off knocking out Juan Manuel Lopez in four rounds after missing weight by two pounds, will go from losing his WBO title on the scales to fighting for Martinez’ WBO super featherweight title. This is not to say Garcia is a bad guy or that he is the problem here. It’s the system around him and every fighter in the world in combat sports that is lacking. These men fight for money and titles so they can fight for even bigger money and titles. That’s the game. It’s the meaning of “prizefighting.”
 
More dangerously, they make unnatural weights that put their bodies and brains at risk. It’s common for a fighter to cut 20 pounds or more during a fight camp. They barely eat and/or drink. They avoid baths or showers for fear of absorbing moisture in an effort to get to a weight they’ll exceed by 10 to 15 pounds 36 hours later. Then they’ll take punches to the head. Hopefully, if their training team is modern and believes in things like using sea salt or electrolyte drinks to replenish, their brains won’t be dry husks smashing into the inner walls of their skulls, causing who knows what kind of damage.
 
There were reports that Garcia vomited on his way to the Lopez weigh-in. I’ve heard writers joke about, “So-and-so” passing out on the scales. Last month, an MMA fighter, Leandro Souza, keeled over and died prior to his weigh-in.
 
 
And the combat sports world shrugs and grants another therapeutic usage exemption for synthetic testosterone or goes to Brazil for another fight card despite its local anti-doping lab being suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
 
Absurd feats of physical endurance are the norm in boxing. Abdusalamov, after 10 rounds of a brutal fight (with a broken nose and hand), had to take a cab to the hospital. He also vomited on the street and at the hospital before passing out - possibly forever. He’d just endured a dreadful beating in a back-and-forth losing effort. It’s so commonplace that we seem to think it’s normal to not have an ambulance waiting for a mandatory visit to the hospital afterward. Would Abdusalamov be healthy and conscious if he had oxygen in the ambulance or someone monitoring him immediately on the ride over? Would it have taken 30 minutes to get to the hospital by ambulance as it did by cab? We’ll never know.
 
What we do know is that missing weight in the Garcia gym is not a new thing. Brandon Rios, a 5’8”, large-framed former lightweight now fighting at welterweight, missed weight two fights in a row. After losing his title on the scales in a winning effort versus John Murray, Rios was given a shot at the title his infraction vacated. He missed weight again in his next fight, one most fans and pundits think he lost despite winning via split decision on the cards. Boxing always finds ways to enable bad behavior, especially its own.
 
After missing weight, Garcia changed up his team. He used to work in Riverside, CA, primarily with his father overseeing his training. His strength and conditioning team was headed up by Darryl Hudson, a proven commodity who helped Garcia in his title quest. For this camp, Garcia decided to move his operation to his brother’s Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard. Hudson was unceremoniously let go and replaced by Alex Ariza, the man responsible for taking Manny Pacquiao from 130 pounds to 147 in about 14 months.
 
The results have been stunning (pic.twitter.com/L6AfGymYot). Garcia looks like a brick house now and weighed in at a smiling 128.75 to Martinez’s 129.75.

And so the questions will include, “How is it working with the colorful Alex Ariza?” If/When Garcia wins, the question will be, “Do you feel redeemed from missing weight in your last fight?” And the problems - athletes killing themselves to make unnatural weights one fight at a time, lax rules and regulations in a sport that is essentially sanctioned attempted murder and suspect rankings, will go on unaddressed.
 
Rocky Martinez is likely going to lose this fight. He was chosen because he has a belt. The WBO was amendable to Garcia’s title challenge and because Martinez is a vulnerable champion (meaning he is a little chinny and a lot aggressive), he’ll open up, leaving room for Garcia to land a sniper-fire counterpunch that will put him to sleep around the seventh.
 
That’s why Martinez is here. This is billed as a Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry because of Martinez and Garcia’s respective heritages. But this is really a fight between complacency and boxing at its finest in 2013.
 
The sport is a dangerous, hot mess and it isn’t Mikey Garcia’s fault. It’s not Roman Martinez’s either. They are dreamers living theirs, fighting on the biggest stage possible as only a few ever get to. The fault lies in the people charged with looking after the health and safety of fighters.
 
When a fighter misses weight in a gym with a dodgy history, maybe we should look into that. After all, the men taking these fighters down in weight through starvation and dehydration are not doctors. They are fight people helping their gamecocks get down to their agreed weights any way possible.
 
When a fighter dies making weight, maybe we should look into it as not merely an individual case but a symptom of a larger problem.
 
When a fighter has to take a cab to the hospital because no one thought this broken warrior needed immediate care, we should hang our heads in shame and promise to do better. And then actually do better.
 
When a fighter at age 26, Franky Leal, dies due to injuries suffered in a fight that should never have happened, maybe we should grow a conscience and go after the culprits who fought him not once but five times after he was taken away on a stretcher in Texas.
 
The devil is in the details. In boxing’s case, the devil is in the details so common, they’ve become background noise.
 
Post script...
 
On Sunday, the New York Daily News’ Mitch Abramson published this article, “NYSAC Defends Handling of Comatose Boxer Magomed Abdusalamov.”
 
 
In it, a source within the NYSAC denied Abdusalamov’s manager, Boris Grinberg’s account of things, citing that Abdusalamov declined to go to the hospital. In this writer’s opinion, that should not be an issue. The fighter, having gone through a 10-round professional boxing match against a heavyweight fighter, should not be the one making that call. Fighters are trained from an early age in this sport to say, “No,” when asked if hurt.
However, making it mandatory for a fighter to go to the hospital, as I believe it should be after a fight this brutal and long, opens up a financial Pandora’s Box. The question becomes: Who will pay for that ambulance ride and stay? The fighter? The promoter? The state commission? The sanctioning bodies involved? Or the manager of the fighter?
 
I’ll more on this later this week on Maxboxing.com...
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
 
Please visit our Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.


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