Tuesday, May 21

Punk boxing

During the press conference following the Devin Haney/ Ryan Garcia fight, the winner, Garcia, responded to questions about his erratic behavior ahead of the clash with a piece of wisdom we’d all be wise to adhere to: the internet isn’t real.

A moment’s reflection would confirm this for most of us if the internet allowed us such a pause. In the run-up to the fight, which Haney was heavily favored to win, we were treated – on our phones – to Garcia beating up his own security and claims of attempted abductions and pedophile rings. One could be forgiven for imagining the fight playing out like Lennox/ McCall II, where Oliver McCall suffered a complete nervous breakdown in the ring.

What we did see that night in Brooklyn was Ryan Garcia gleefully taking a sledgehammer to the odds brazenly stacked against him. And the smug assumptions of the boxing cognoscenti crumble with each left hand. Not that I thought any differently as my first can of 0% gin hissed awake on the opening bell.

Haney’s strategy seemed solid at the bell—pressure, volume, wear Garcia down. But even as Garcia flagged physically, no plan B emerged from Haney’s corner. Instead, Garcia’s left kept finding its home, round after round, and with each knockdown (all 3 of them), Haney’s hope of victory slipped further away.

Why, one must inquire, did Haney persist in the path of Garcia’s devastating left hook? It’s one thing to recognize a threat, quite another to neutralize it. It seems a grave oversight, a sort of tactical myopia that saw him repeatedly caught by a weapon he knew was coming. After all, boxing, much like chess, is won in the mind as much as in the physical realm. Here, Garcia was not only the superior strategist but also the more adaptable philosopher in gloves.

Credit where it’s due—Garcia wasn’t a one-trick pony. He mixed it up, setting up the first knockdown with a jab-hook combo that had Haney guessing wrong every time. His right hand played a pivotal role too, especially in the later rounds, turning the tide with combinations that left Haney buckling. He taunted Haney throughout, getting under the man’s skin, and didn’t stop at the post-fight conference where he admitted, or at least, made the claim to have drunk alcohol every night during training. The Garcia who humiliated champion Haney wasn’t even taking his training seriously (ouch!) which we probably should believe considering he didn’t make weight. These extra pounds mean that the title Haney lost will remain unclaimed.

The bout offered, too, a critique of the broader boxing establishment—referee Harvey Dock’s handling of the match, particularly in that tempestuous seventh round, stood as a stark reminder of the subjective chaos that often underpins the supposed objectivity of sports officiating. Decisions made in the heat of such tumultuous moments can shape not just the outcome of rounds but the legacy of fighters.

In the grand tapestry of boxing lore, Haney-Garcia will be stitched as a vivid tableau of expectation clashing with reality, a stark reminder that in the ring, as in life, the only certainty is the thrilling uncertainty of the fight. But we have also been introduced to a new type of showman: a fighter as determined to get into our heads as he is his opponents. Either we were all played, or Garcia is quite mad, and Haney simply had a bad night (which, I dare say, wouldn’t be repeated in a rematch).

A purist in many of my tastes, I got to say that I dig this new breed of showman. Like Sean Strickland whose short reign as UFC champ was punctuated by press conferences that played like Sam Kinison routines, I think… Actually, I know I can get behind the new shock-jock fighter. For anyone who’s ever thrown hands – in a bar, or maybe at a tense intersection – a fight offers you a liberating madness. A holiday back in the old country – by that I mean back to our primate selves. Life’s script, as it were, is tossed skyward to land on the pavement like a flustered fowl. Violence can take you anywhere. The show put on by this impish, zany assassin – that we saw both on reels spouting Qanon-style conspiracies over the last few months and then in the ring – where he humbled Haney like he was the biblical character Job – was nothing short of apocalyptic.

Maybe Gesamtkunstwerk, or total art (an art that encompasses all other art forms) that Richard Wagner strived for will be best realised in boxing? Maybe the clown prince already delivered it that night in Brooklyn?

Kiwi cruiserweight David ‘The Great White’ Light told me that boxing had taught him most people are delusional and you just can’t be delusional and do what a boxer does: everyone can see what you can throw and what you can take. Garcia’s may put it another way:

“Don’t believe your eyes, until it’s too late”.

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