Fights are sold in the context of a narrative. The promoter aims to tell a story about who their fighter is, about where he is from and, most importantly, where he is headed.
The narrative around Danny Garcia's fight with Mauricio Herrera last weekend seemed straight forward enough. At 25, Garcia was the undefeated WBA, WBC and lineal light welterweight champion. It was his return to action after his wildly successful defense last May against knockout artist Lucas Matthysse, an opponent expected by many to beat him.
The subtext to the narrative was Garcia's visit to Puerto Rico, the nation of his parents. Philadelphia born and bred, this was Garcia's chance to get in touch with his roots on the boxing-obsessed island.
And Mauricio Herrera's role in all of this was seen as a relatively minor one. He was "the B-side," the speed bump in the path of the surging young champion.
Serious fans were aware that Herrera was a respectable pro. He recorded a win in 2011 against current WBO 140-pound champion Ruslan Provodnikov.
But with just seven KOs and a 2-2 record over the past two years, it seemed unlikely Herrera would have the firepower to stand up to the champion all night long.
It takes a tremendous amount of pride to make your living as a world class prizefighter and being cast as "the opponent" doesn't sit right with many warriors at that level. Last month, I attended the Mayweather Promotions card broadcast on Showtime, when relatively obscure Derek Edwards stunned unbeaten super middleweight star Badou Jack with a first-round KO.
At the post-fight press conference, Edwards made it clear that being the looked-past fighter had motivated him:
It offends your dignity, being the guy who's supposed to be there to lose to the promoter's guy, having people assume you're the lesser fighter because of which dressing room you come out of...people forget we put the same time in at the gym, watching films, that we do the training and make the sacrifices with our diets.
Herrera was clearly channeling this same spirit on Saturday night in Puerto Rico. He showed up planning to win the fight. To many observers, he did.
Herrera fought an almost tactically perfect battle, neutralizing the quicker and more powerful Garcia with a brilliant jab and by pressuring Garcia from angles that all but took away the champion's feared left hook.
Garcia escaped with a majority decision, but the entire Showtime broadcast team scored the fight for Herrera. MaxBoxing's Steve Kim, likewise, tweeted a 7-5 score for Herrera.
@thefightscore 115-113 Herrera— Steve Kim (@stevemaxboxing) March 16, 2014
It was a tough fight to score. Judges Alejandro Rochin and Carlos Colon, who scored 116-112 for Garcia, seemed to have filled their cards out in advance, but Garcia managing to escape with a close victory can't exactly be called a robbery.
Still, if Garcia hadn't been the undefeated champion, competing in front of a crowd wildly cheering everything he did, I have a hard time believing he would have returned to Philadelphia with his belts.
Herrera was stoic and classy in his post-fight interview with Showtime's Jim Gray, but even yesterday he remained convinced that he should have won, tweeting out:
Watching my fight for the 3rd time @DannySwift never adjusted to my style. I won that fight and he knows it!— mauricio herrera (@elmaestro1) March 17, 2014
If the boxing universe ran according to basic fairness, Herrera would deserve a rematch. Whether or not he gets one is another matter. But by making such a terrific fight when so many expected him to fall with relative ease, he locked up the respect of the fans and assured himself at least one or two more big fights down the road.
It was a far different story in the heavyweight co-main event. Undefeated Deontay Wilder came to Puerto Rico riding a knockout streak of 30 straight, but veteran Malik Scott was expected to be his toughest test to date.
Instead Scott proved to be one of his easiest. At 1:36 of Round 1, Wilder connected with Scott on a hook-cross combination that sent him down for the count.
In most cases, few things will rally a boxing crowd to its feet like a quick knockout by a dominant heavyweight. But on seeing the replay of this one, many fans in Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez actually booed, convinced that Scott had taken a dive.
The accusation that Scott had been less than authentic in his effort was quickly echoed across the Internet. ESPN's Dan Rafael, not the sort of journalist to throw around accusations, was nonetheless damning in his assessment of Scott's performance:
I take absolutely nothing away from Wilder's performance. He did what he had to do. I have contempt for Scott and his lack of effort.— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) March 17, 2014
To me, the combination that put Scott down certainly looked less than devastating. Wilder didn't appear to get much turn-over on the hook and the straight right was blocked by Scott's gloves and barely seemed to land.
Still, I'm just a writer and have never been hit by anybody like Wilder. So without definitive proof, I'm not willing to accuse Scott of lying down. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was too badly rocked to get back up.
But from the weigh in the day before up until Wilder connected, Scott did not carry himself like a fighter who planned to win. He stepped on the scale wearing a paper bag over his head.
Prizefighters are often eccentric, and it's not unusual for them to act a little goofy to stay loose. But wearing a bag over one's head is an act of comic self-deprivation that doesn't make a fighter seem confident and determined.
In the ring, for the amount of time that it lasted, Scott once again seemed like he was just there to be knocked down. He threw just one punch by my count.
But even worse than his offensive inactivity was his lack of smart defensive movement. Scott seemed to spend that entire first round at the very end of Wilder's jab.
While Herrera spent every second of every round working hard to take away Garcia's biggest punch, Scott spent the short amount of time he was in the ring Saturday night camped out directly in range for Wilder's artillery.
Scott came into this fight against Wilder with a record of 36-1-1. In his February 2013 draw with Vyacheslav Glazkov, one judge scored the fight 97-93 in his favor. It was a fight I thought Scott clearly won.
Scott received his first loss against Dereck Chisora last July by controversial stoppage in Round 6, in a fight where he led on the cards. He was an underdog against Wilder, but a well-respected contender.
Fair or not, that level of respect has been severely diminished after this past weekend. Unlike Mauricio Herrera, who won fans in defeat, Scott just lost.