By Matt Richardson and Mariano A. Agmi at ringside
Photos: Chris Farina/Top Rank
WBO junior lightweight champion Miguel Angel (Mikey) Garcia continued to burnish his credentials as one of the best fighters in the world Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, bouncing back from a brief second-round scare to win a unanimous decision against top contender Juan Carlos Burgos. The fight was the main event of a double-header televised by HBO.
Judges scores were 119-109 and 118-110 (twice), all for the still unbeaten Garcia (34-0, 28 KO’s). In front of a sell-out crowd of 4,829 fans, Garcia easily outboxed his opponent but didn’t appease those in attendance with the clinical and often dull approach. Despite much of the crowd disseminating before the main event began (most in attendance were there for the heavyweight co-feature) they still mustered enough to offer a series of boos in the final rounds. Frankly, by the twelfth round, it appeared that most in attendance weren’t even paying attention. It was an unfortunate ending to what commenced as an interesting encounter.
Garcia won the opening round by boxing well from the outside and by beating Burgos to the punch but that aggression was short-lived when he was hurt by a big left hook in the second. Garcia’s knees buckled and he almost hit the canvas but he was able to recuperate well enough in the final seconds of the round to stay upright. Garcia paid back the favor in the third when he momentarily stunned Burgos (30-2-2, 20 KO’s) after connecting with a right.
Burgos took some time to clear his head, causing referee Harvey Dock to force a break as Burgos held Garcia’s fists under his armpits. Shortly after, however, he seemed to have regained his senses.
It would be the last time the fight would be exciting. Both fighters seemed to taste the other’s power and had no interest in a second helping.
Garcia landed well with a left-right combination in the fourth but the pace soon lapsed into a routine after that. Garcia would outbox his foe while Burgos tried but couldn’t land anything of significance. By the eleventh round, the crowd was jeering and the fight ended one round later to similar chants.
It was a lopsided performance by Garcia (Burgos only won a combined five rounds on all three judges’ scorecards) but far from the star-making display Garcia promoter Bob Arum had touted in the pre-fight hype. Garcia has been active and is consistently beating top boxers. While he is undoubtedly talented and is probably even in the top ten pound for pound fighters in the world, his performance on Saturday left something to be desired if he’s truly being groomed for a big match down the line with someone like Manny Pacquiao.
Burgos, meanwhile, is now 0-2-1 in his last three performances, although he stated after the bout that he was proud of how he fought. “I feel good,” he said directly afterward. “We did a good job. I hurt him but he recovered well. He was well prepared.” -Matt Richardson
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The co-feature pitted two undefeated heavyweights making their HBO debut, as Philadelphia native Bryant Jennings improved to 18-0 (10 KOs) with a systematic breakdown of tough Pole Artur Szpilka (16-1, 12 KOs). Jennings dropped Szpilka in rounds six and ten, finally causing the ringside doctor to request a halt to the bout in the tenth and final round.
Jennings may have been the American boxer from the East Coast, but he may as well have been fighting in Eastern Europe, as he entered the ring to loud jeers from the heavily Polish crowd.
Undeterred, the American patiently waited for opportunities to counter with sharp rights in round one while Szpilka went on the offensive, winning the round on all three scorecards with his activity. Jennings opened up in round two, hurting his opponent with a right to the head near the ropes. The Pole held on briefly before landing a few straight left hands that Jennings shrugged off.
Jennings began to walk Szpilka down in round three, as the Polish southpaw circled and looked for a counter left. While Jennings appeared conservative but sharp, Szpilka was slower and fought at a nervous pace. The Pole won round four on two of the three cards with his higher work rate and a few straight lefts, while Jennings seemed intent on landing hard shots on the inside.
Jennings picked up the activity in round five, landing a one-two followed by a left hook. The fighters traded big shots as the round came to a close, with Szpilka receiving the worst of it as he was stunned by a left hook at the bell.
“I didn’t have trouble trying to figure him out, but there is a feeling out process because I don’t watch tape,” stated Jennings about the even early rounds. “I was just trying to lure him into some things.”
With his back to the ropes, Szpilka lowered his hands in round six and dared Jennings to fire. The American obliged, landing a few sharp punches on the inside. The Philly native then turned his attention to Szpilka’s body, landing a left hook to the liver and a right upstairs. Another left to the liver forced the Pole to take a knee. Szpilka beat the count and bravely attempted to trade, but he was outgunned and caught a few blows that caused him to wobble back to his corner at the bell.
“I was trying to go to the body a little more, but he was making it real awkward with the way he was ducking low,” explained Jennings. “I thought the ref was going to ask him to come up, because he stayed down a little too long and I didn’t want to hit him on the back of the head. I think that he just started to wear down and things started to take place.”
Sensing that the end was near, Jennings came out for the kill in round seven. While Szpilka landed occasional straight left hands, Jennings was hammering away with both hands to the head and body. The Pole caught a brief break at the end of the stanza, as Jennings appeared to twist his ankle and Szpilka capitalized with a straight left.
Jennings continued to pummel Szpilka in rounds eight and nine, landing right hands to the head that snapped his opponent’s head repeatedly and mixing his attack with left hooks and uppercuts to the body.
The fighters traded shots immediately to start round ten, with Jennings landing a counter left hook that caused Szpilka to crumble along the ropes for an eight count. Jennings continued to pummel Szpilka when the action resumed, landing to the head and body and causing Szpilka to double over. The ringside doctor had seen enough at this point, calling for referee Michael Ortega to halt the contest at 2:20 of round ten.
With the win, Jennings emerges as one of the top American heavyweight prospects to look out for in 2014. The Philly native was clearly the technically superior fighter throughout the bout, landing 173 of 422 punches for a 41% connect rate, including 151 of 328 power punches (46%).
The always game Szpilka gave a valiant effort in his first defeat, landing 89 of 369 punches for a 24% connect rate. It was an ordeal for the Polish fighter to even make it to this card, as he was deported to Poland earlier in the month due to a problem with his visa. Thankfully, he received a waiver just in time for fight week so that this heavyweight clash could take place. -Mariano A. Agmi
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In a battle of undefeated lightweights, blue chip prospect Felix “El Diamante” Verdejo (10-0, 7 KOs) shone brightly, knocking out Mexican Lauro Alcantar (8-1, 1 KO) with a spectacular left hook to the chin in round one. The 2012 Olympian out of Puerto Rico got his offense going immediately, landing a right hand and a left hook a few moments later that caused Alcantar to spin and crash to the canvas, flat on his back. Referee Gary Rosado immediately halted the bout at 0:21 seconds of the opening stanza. -Mariano A. Agmi
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Local light heavyweight Seanie Monaghan moved to 20-0 with 13 KO’s following a one-round win against Matt Vanda after the latter appeared to suffer an injury to his left bicep. The bout was called off on the advice of the ringside physician at the 2:51 mark of the opening frame with Vanda complaining of pain to the area. Monaghan was visibly upset at the abbreviated ending as Vanda continued to flex his muscle to illustrate what appeared to be his biceps rolling up into the arm. Vanda is now 45-16 with 24 KO wins but is just 3-7 in his last 10 appearances. –Matt Richardson
Philly-based super middleweight Jesse Hart (the son of the “Cyclone”) dominated journeyman Derrick Findley through six rounds. All three judges submitted identical scores of 60-54. Hart, forced to go the distance for just the second time in a dozen bouts, boxed well from the outside and found some success with uppercuts to the chin of the shorter Findley. Findley, who lost his last appearance in the same venue against Curtis Stevens last year, is now 0-4-1-1 in his last six bouts dating back to 2012. Hart moves to 12-0 with 10 KO’s and a brighter future. –Matt Richardson
In the swing bout, Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (3-0, 2 KOs) wasted no time in dispatching Utica’s Neyeine Muang (1-1-2) in round one of a junior welterweight contest. Rodriguez stunned and almost dropped Muang with a right to the head early in the round. Sensing that his opponent was hurt, the Jersey native jumped all over Muang, landing stinging uppercuts, a right hand that sent Muang reeling and finally a right and left hook to the liver that dropped the bloody Muang to the canvas, where he stayed for the full count in obvious pain. Referee Michael Ortega counted him out at 1:51 of round one. -Mariano A. Agmi
In a featherweight fight Puerto Rican prospect Alberto Machado blew out Nuwan Jayakody in the second round of a scheduled six. After a fairly competitive opening frame, Machado (6-0, 4 KO’s) dropped Jayakody with a right hook in the second that turned Jayakody’s legs to jelly. The Sri Lankan tried to regain his sense but the referee correctly called a halt at the 94-second mark. –Matt Richardson
Puerto Rican prospect Francisco Vargas (2-0, 2 KOs) opened the proceedings with a first round annihilation of Colorado’s Eligio Lopez (1-1, 1 KO) in a four round scheduled welterweight contest. After hurting Lopez with a right hook to the body and a straight left to the head, the southpaw tracked his opponent down and unleashed a hellacious left to the chin that knocked Lopez stiff. Referee Michael Ortega did not bother to count, immediately halting the hostilities at 1:59 of round one.-Mariano A. Agmi