There is a moment in every boxing career when the end of the road has arrived. For too many, that moment comes on the canvas, with a referee waving his arms to stop the punishment. Of course, the obvious is often ignored. Often it takes two or three consecutive such moments for the decision to finally sink in, but eventually all fighters must decide to hang up their gloves. On January 6, 2001, two fighters, both former world champions, came to the end of their careers. Roberto Garcia, an aggressive but well-schooled former titlist suffered his third consecutive loss by knockout, yet another loss late in a fight he was winning. And Luisito Espinosa, a 33 year-old former champion in two divisions, suffered his third loss in four fights, and his tenth overall. Hopefully both men will have the good sense to halt their careers now, while they are still healthy.
Garcia was seeking to regain a 130 lb. title after dropping his IBF belt to Diego Corrales in October of 1999. This time, the Oxnard, CA native was facing Cuban gold-medalist-turned-defector-turned-WBA junior lightweight champion, Joel Casamayor. Casamayor's reputation as a hard-to-hit southpaw was a good pairing for the pressure and punch style of Garcia. Both men began the fight tentatively.
In fact, not much of anything happened in the opening feel-out round. Garcia moved towards a circling Casamayor, trying to cut off the ring while blocking Casamayor's infrequent jab. Casamayor probably prevented a 10-10 round by being a little busier, although neither man landed any significant punches.
Garcia opened the second round with a lead right hand that, while telegraphed, caught Casamayor on the chin. When Casamayor answered, Garcia simply leaned back and watched the counter sail past his face. And so went much of the rest of the bout. In fact, Garcia was pulling a Casamayor on Casamayor, making the champion miss most of his punches with an effortless step back or shifting of the hips. Garcia limited his offense to simple one-twos and lead right hands, but his lack of combination punching hardly hampered him. He was landing and Casamayor was not.
Garcia had touched Casamayor in the second, but he really hadn't tagged him hard. He must have really wanted to, because he came out to begin the third throwing wild single punches. This is Casamayor's game, and he was able to easily avoid these amateurish assaults and pick off an off-balance Garcia after he missed. But after a minute, Garcia regained a measure of calmness and returned to a simple one-two offense. Casamayor began missing again, and the frustration shone through. During one tie-up, Casamayor tried to lift Garcia off his feet.
Then, as the round entered it's final minute, Garcia threw a left hook that hit Casamayor. It wasn't a big punch, but it grazed the champion as he shuffled left and helped him in his subsequent off-balance slip. Referee Kenny Bayless correctly ruled the downing a slip, but when the fight continued, Garcia attacked as though Casamayor was hurt. Joel retreated to the ropes and Garcia nailed him with a flurry of body and head shots. Casamayor covered up, and at one point looked like he might be hurt, but the round ended before Garcia could put together enough landed punches to do serious damage.
Garcia added to his small lead with a patient and consistent fourth round. Over and over, Garcia would throw a looping right hand right at Casamayor. Sometimes it landed, often it was easily blocked. But after each attempt, Casamayor would counter with one or two punches, and each time Garcia would simply step back and make Casamayor miss. This unexciting pace continued into the fifth, where Casamayor upped his output, and only missed some more. The frustration in the champion grew, and during one clinch late in the round, Casamayor blatantly thrust his shoulder at Garcia's face. Bayless offered a stern warning.
Garcia had established a winning pace, and Casamayor desperately needed to turn things around. When the bell rang to begin the sixth round, the WBA champ stormed across the ring and blasted Garcia with his first effective flurry of the evening. Garcia simply stood and traded. Big mistake. About 15 seconds into the round, Casamayor threw a sort-of left hook from the south paw stance. Garcia was caught turning into the punch, and his head wobbled around on his shoulders like one of those little dolls they give out at baseball games. It was the type of punch that usually ends up with a man sprawled on the canvas. Garcia didn't fall, but he was clearly shaken, perhaps even momentarily out on his feet. Casamayor now attacked, firing a straight left down the pike that snapped Garcia's head straight back, Pez dispenser style. The challenger wilted into the ropes, took a few more punches, then blatantly grabbed on and clung to a tight clinch. Bayless stepped between the men to break them, couldn't do so immediately, and so a still-frustrated Casamayor threw a short left hook at Garcia's ear.
Bayless immediately called time and deducted a point from Casamayor. The break gave Garcia a few moments to clear his head, but it wasn't enough. When the action resumed, Garcia was still in bad shape, and began eating one big Casamayor punch after another. Bayless watched Garcia closely as more than one big left hand wobbled him back on his heels. But every time Casamayor looked like he finally had Garcia taken care of (and there were about 10 such moments), Garcia would dip low and come up with his head under Casamayor's armpit. It was a tremendously effective way to begin a clinch, and the manner with which the men tangled usually took a few extra seconds for the ref to unwind. Without these clinches, Garcia would have been finished. If was a steady 3:00 of punishment, and really a miracle that Garcia was able to survive to the bell. It would have been a 10-8 round without a knockdown had Casamayor not lost a point.
The pace slowed in the seventh, much to the surprise of everyone at ringside. Rather than press the action and see what Garcia had left, Casamayor stayed back, trying to counter some of Garcia's one-at-a-time offerings. It was a close round, much closer than it should have been after the one-sided drubbing of the previous stanza. The eighth was also close, as Garcia regained strength in his legs and began firing with more authority. With the pace relatively even, and Garcia being the fighter moving forward, it was easy to bank another round for the challenger. It helped that Garcia ended the round with a flurry of nice left hooks, his best hooks of the evening.
Going into the ninth, Boxing Chronicle had Garcia up 76-74 (the official cards would later be revealed to read 76-74 Garcia, 77-74 Casamayor, and 76-76 even). But Garcia had a similar lead against both Ben Tackie and Diego Corrales when those men lowered the boom. Casamayor had done his homework. Early in the round, Casamayor fired a big counter left that crunched straight into Garcia's chin and plopped him onto the seat of his pants. Garcia rose at a measured pace, and didn't seem too hurt by the punch. But when the action resumed, Casamayor planted another left on the button as Garcia leaned back, and again the challengers legs looked soft. Garcia retreated as Casamayor fired four consecutive chopping left hands. Each one lowered Garcia a few inches more until he finally dropped onto all fours. Referee Kenny Bayless was out of position, and as he moved between Casamayor and the fallen Garcia, he caught his calf on Garcia's drooped head and fell himself. But Bayless quickly popped up to his knees and waved the fight over. It seemed like a quick stoppage, especially since Bayless didn't get a chance to evaluate the manner in which Garcia was trying to rise. But there was no objection from Garcia, and replays showed that the last punch delivered really rocked the challenger. He was immediately helped to his feet by Casamayor, and the warriors engaged in an extended hug.
And so Robert Garcia (33-3/24) must now face the words he used before this bout. "This is really do-or-die for me," Garcia had said at the final press conference. "If I lose, I think it would probably be time for to think about doing something else with my life." Garcia was right. This is his third loss in four bouts, all by devastating kayo. Although his skills remain sharp, he hasn't been able to defeat the top players in his division. Few fighters, former champions or not, can return from three knockouts in four fights. Let's hope that Garcia has the sense to realize that he should not try.
As for Casamayor (24-0/15), this was hardly a showcase evening for him. With the exception of the sixth round, he fought with little urgency. His heralded defense was largely on vacation, and his usual accurate punching was just a rumor. There has been much talk that Casamayor really strains to make 130. Indeed, he looked drained most of this night. This is the perfect performance to lure in a big puncher like WBO champ Acelino Freitas, or if they stay at 130, the winner of the impending Mayweather-Corrales showdown. But it isn't the type of outing that builds a fan base, and it certainly wasn't the kind of performance that supports talk of pound-for-pound greatness. Let's hope this was just an off night for the champion, because there will be stiffer challenges to his title in the near future.
On the undercard, former bantamweight and featherweight world champion Luisito Espinosa stepped into the ring with his own career on the line. Having dropped his WBC 126 lb. title to Cesar Soto in May of 1999, and losing his chance at regaining the green belt in an April, 2000 match with current champ Guty Espadas, Espinosa badly needed a win to keep his title hopes alive. His opponent was Augie Sanchez, who suffered one of the most heinous knockouts of Y2K when Prince Naseem Hamed battered him into the canvas in his last fight. Sanchez left the ring that night on a stretcher, and it was with much curiosity that boxing fans watched his return to action.
Sanchez got off to a very slow start, barely throwing a single punch in the opening round. As Espinosa casually jabbed and moved, Sanchez seemed content to hold his hands high and get a look at his foe. He did attempt a right to the body, and another right upstairs, but in between Sanchez ate a few of Espinosa's classic left hooks, and a surprise Espinosa uppercut that snapped Sanchez' head and made him take a few steps back at the end of the round.
Sanchez woke up in the second round, getting his own left hook warmed up with repeated throwings. Espinosa looked very calm as he circled and boxed his decade-younger opponent. But even when Espinosa landed, he seemed to pause and admire his work. By the end of the round, when Sanchez had timed Espinosa and was able to get him to miss, Espinosa's post-punch pauses offered Augie a wide-open chance to counter. Time and again, Espinosa would launch a big right hand, miss badly, and then hover leaning forward after missing. Each time, Sanchez countered with well placed punches, waking up the hometown crowd.
Sanchez really gave it Espinosa in the third, however. A minute in, Sanchez fired a left hook and followed it with a straight right. Espinosa's hands were only at chest-level, and neither glove raised upward to block the incoming. After getting popped, Luisito just stood there, so Sanchez hit him again... and again... and again. Two at a time, Sanchez cracked into Espinosa with loud flush punches. Espinosa was now backed onto the ropes, and then ate 10 more punches... all from himself. Espinosa flurried short shots into his own chin to show Sanchez that he wanted more. Sanchez obliged. Moments after the bravado, Sanchez honored the request with a chopping straight right that landed so loudly it seemed certain that either Espinosa's jaw or Sanchez' hand had broken. 15 seconds later, Sanchez threw another single right, and again the downward punch crunched Espinosa's face, this time sending him falling sideways to the canvas.
Espinosa beat the count and opted to continue. Sanchez attacked with caution, but Espinosa simply couldn't protect himself from the steady diet of right hands being fed to him. Espinosa looked every day of his 33 years, unable to hold up his hands and taking unnecessary punishment. Sanchez' streak of flush punches increased in intensity, and by the time the bell sounded, Sanchez was mid-flurry, landing all the way. Joe Cortez was on the verge of halting the action for most of the final minute of the round.
The fourth started competitively. Sanchez nailed Espinosa with a beautiful sneak uppercut, and Espinosa followed a moment later with a looping overhand right. But after 45 seconds of jabbing and missing by both men, Sanchez landed a short right hand. The punch swiveled Espinosa's head, and Sanchez followed with another. When that one landed, he tried with a third. Yep, it landed too. Espinosa backed to the ropes. A flurrying Sanchez landed two more flush right hands. He then landed a crushing third. Espinosa, already bent over under the flurry, turned his head away as he took a knee. It was a clear concession, and Joe Cortez rightly picked up on the signal to step in and halt the fight.
And so Augie Sanchez (27-2/24) puts his young career back on track. Although he has little chance of ever rematching with Hamed, there are still plenty of opportunities out there for him. He's a good enough catcher that the other champions would probably welcome a chance to bash him around, yet he has good enough punching power to keep it interesting. Expect him back in action soon.
As for Espinosa (now 45-10/24), the manner of his defeat seemed to indicate a realization that it was all over. Having now dropped three of four, and this last one to a mid-level fighter at best, Espinosa must surely realize that he can't compete near the top of the game. We don't know what his financial situation is (he has still never been paid for a few of his fights in the Philippines), but let's hope that he's saved enough dough to avoid yet another fight.
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL CASAMAYOR 10 9 9 9 9 9* 10 9 KO
GARCIA 9 10 10 10 10 8 9 10
* = -1 for hitting on the break
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL SANCHEZ 9 10 10 KO
ESPINOSA 10 9 8