Mikey Garcia somewhat redeemed himself for failing to make the featherweight limit by demolishing Juan Manuel Lopez inside four rounds on Saturday night. After a reasonably competitive opening frame in which Juanma managed to sneak in a couple of noteworthy left hands, Garcia found his rhythm and proceeded to systematically deconstruct his overmatched opponent in each of the remaining three rounds, knocking him down in the second and again for good in the fourth.
In this analysis, I’d like to examine how Mikey Garcia was able to take Lopez apart so efficiently by looking at his technical prowess and understated footwork.
The jab leads the way
When you have an orthodox vs. southpaw encounter, the advantage usually lies with the boxer who can work their lead foot to the outside of their opponent’s. Because of this, the rear straight, rather than the jab, often becomes the offensive weapon of choice.
Here’s Manny Pacquiao demonstrating the importance of securing the outside position with the lead foot and utilizing the rear straight during a mixed lead clash.
Pacquiao (southpaw) lands a rear straight against Miguel Cotto (orthodox).
Notice how by working the lead foot to the outside of an opponent’s, the rear straight becomes more readily available. Not only that, but because the body rotation of a rear straight is almost identical to that of an outside slip (the head is taken off line and placed over the lead foot), the rear straight also has built-in defense. Thus, in a mixed lead encounter, if both fighters are throwing simultaneously (as was the case with Pacquiao and Cotto in the above image) the fighter who is throwing the rear straight will often find the mark and force their opponent’s jab to sail across their rear shoulder.
With this in mind, then, imagine my surprise upon seeing Mikey Garcia ignore the golden rule of orthodox vs. southpaw strategy as he continually placed his lead foot inside of Juanma’s lead foot to land his jab.
Garcia steps inside of Lopez’ lead foot and lands a jab.
I’ve spoken an awful a lot recently about the use of “blinding” or probing jabs to gauge one’s distance and to ascertain an opponent’s reactions (think of Floyd Mayweather and Guillermo Rigondeaux recently). A million miles away from this type of non-committal, low contact jab is the kind that Garcia used to disrupt Juanma’s rhythm and snap his head back with repeatedly. Just as Juanma was preparing to launch an attack, Garcia would get off first by stepping in behind a stiff jab.
It was astonishing to see how little regard Garcia had for Juanma’s rear hand as he continued to line himself up with it every time he stepped forward to land the jab. While there was very little telegraphic motion to spot as Garcia released his jab, Juanma really should have been doing proactively to prevent it from landing or to deter Garcia from even throwing it. Missing were any kind of evasion, deflection or blocking skills such as pre-emptive footwork (circling away), head movement (slipping, weaving) or parrying (lead hand against the jab in an opposite lead). Instead, Juanma continued to catch the jab flush on his face.
After establishing the jab, Garcia changed up his attack.
Garcia feints a jab and hooks around Lopez’ guard.
Having conditioned Juanma with the jab, Garcia began varying his attack by mixing in some feints, left hooks and right hands. The left hook in particular worked a treat for Garcia as he would first feint with the left (along the same path as the jab would be travelling) to draw out or narrow Juanma’s hands before shifting to a lead hook toward the exposed side of Juanma’s head (above image).
Although he seldom threw his right hand as a lead (as is the usual modus operandi for an orthodox fighter against a southpaw) Garcia had no trouble threading it through behind his jab in combination.
Garcia connects with a stiff one-two (jab-right cross), sending Lopez to the canvas.
Undoubtedly, Garcia’s precision punching will have caught the public’s eye more than just about any other aspect. Nevertheless, I believe that Garcia’s footwork is his greatest (and probably most underrated) asset.
Footwork plays a pivotal role in boxing–not only in moving a fighter into range where they can land an attack, but also in moving them off line where they can avoid an opponent’s attack. Therefore, an intelligent boxer will always look to place himself at an angle, leaving him in a position to counter and his opponent off balance.
Garcia circles behind his jab, forcing Lopez to turn and face him or risk being hit from a dominant angle. Off balance, Lopez falls short with a retaliatory left cross. Lateral movement in conjunction with the jab (stick and move) is an excellent strategy against come-forward fighters.
Footwork can also be used to open up the distance so that an opponent’s attack falls short.
Lopez overcommits and falls short with a left cross. Garcia makes him pay with a left hook.
As Juanma grew increasingly frustrated due to the fact that he wasn’t able to land much, he became more and more reckless in his pursuit. As a result, Garcia lured him in and onto hard counters almost every time he advanced.
Lopez overcommits with a one-two, sending him off balance. As Lopez is over extended, Garcia counters with a left hook and pivots off the attack line, forcing Juanma to turn and face him.
Using progressively shorter steps each time he took a step back, Garcia instilled Juanma with a false sense of distance. Believing Garcia was well within range, Juanma would launch an attack only for Garcia to take a deeper step back and counter Juanma as he was off balance and falling short.
He who controls the distance, usually controls (and wins) the fight.
Garcia’s jab draws a lead from Lopez. With Juanma baited into overcommitting with his left, Garcia steps back and counters with his right before securing a dominant angle off a (missed) straight right hand and finishing Lopez with a left hook. Notice how instead of getting too enthused after hurting Juanma with the initial right hand, Garcia takes a step back to assess the situation and give himself more punching room. This is the mark of a real craftsman –Juan Manuel Marquez did something very similar while finishing Juan Diaz in their first meeting.
Two things that stood out for me as I was watching the fight: 1) Mikey Garcia didn’t look at all like a fighter who had just struggled to make weight. His timing, rhythm, reflexes, coordination, balance, you name it, were all there for him. Quite frankly, I don’t recall him ever looking better. 2) Juan Manuel Lopez looks a far cry from the fighter who, without exaggeration, was once seen as the future of our sport. Watching Juanma now, I think he’s been the victim of a severe underdevelopment as far as learning the basics of defense are concerned –unless you’ve got the athletic qualities and other worldly reflexes of a prime Muhammad Ali, you’re going to get hit often.
However, the same cannot be said of Mikey Garcia, who, despite his tender age, already has the appearance of one of the finest ring mechanics in boxing. Garcia may not be blessed with exceptionally fast hands or feet, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think he is as hard a puncher as his knockout ratio suggests he is.
What I do believe, though, is that Mikey Garcia is a tremendously accurate puncher with a fine appreciation of timing and control of distance who knows how to manipulate his opponents into certain positions by using his footwork (angulation and lateral movement) and punch variety (targeting different lines to create further openings).
Simply put, when I look at a technician like Mikey Garcia, I see a fighter who has been taught the fundamentals of boxing and has been taught them well.
Who will win the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight?