All Danny Garcia had known as a professional fighter was winning.
He unified junior welterweight world titles and then moved up in weight and won a welterweight world title in 2016. But in his first defense, a much-anticipated unification fight with Keith Thurman last March, Garcia finally tasted defeat, losing a competitive decision.
Garcia took 11 months off, came to grips with the loss and spent time with his family, including his baby daughter. But he embarked on his ring return Saturday night and was a winner again.
Garcia outboxed, outslugged and finally knocked out Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios in the ninth round of a welterweight world title elimination fight before 6,240 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
“I felt the ring rust a little in the beginning. I wasn’t as sharp as I wanted to be,” Garcia said. “He’s a good inside fighter, and he was giving me some good inside uppercuts, but I felt good. It was a good nine rounds.
“He came to fight. Everyone knows when they fight Danny Garcia, they come to fight, so I was prepared for it. I came to box, and I did that. I came to bang, and I banged. I gave the fans what they wanted, a knockout.”
With the win, Garcia moved a step closer to a mandatory title shot against Thurman, who was seated ringside, though that potential rematch wouldn’t happen until at least the fall. Thurman has been out of action since defeating Garcia because of elbow surgery that followed the bout. Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) is due to return May 19 against an opponent to be determined in a tune-up fight, after which he could face Garcia again.
“I would love the rematch with Keith Thurman, but it’s on him,” Garcia said. “Whenever he’s ready.”
Garcia said it took time to get over the loss to Thurman.
“It was tough because my mindset is I’m a winner. I hate losing,” he said. “I took the loss like a true champion and I bounced back like a true champion.”
Most thought Garcia-Rios would be the mismatch because Rios hadn’t looked good against a quality opponent in years. The former lightweight world titleholder, who had moved up to junior welterweight and eventually welterweight, came into the fight 3-3 in his past six bouts, including one-sided losses to Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley Jr.
Rios exited a 19-month retirement in November to knock out journeyman Aaron Herrera in the seventh round to set himself up for the much bigger fight with Garcia. But there’s a big difference between Garcia and Herrera, as Rios quickly found out.
From the outset, Garcia’s speed advantage was obvious, and Rios, who had reunited with trainer Robert Garcia after a one-fight break, had a hard time catching up with him. While Garcia used lateral movement and also steadily landed solid right hands, jabs and body shots, Rios was largely ineffective for long stretches.
Although Rios fought better than most thought he would, Garcia still had a big edge in terms of CompuBox punch statistics. He landed 188 of 614 punches (31 percent) and Rios landed 109-of-605 (18 percent).
When Rios charged forward in the third round in an effort to get into Garcia’s chest, he was met by right hands and body shots. But he kept the pressure on Garcia and it made for an entertaining fight.
Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs), 29, of Philadelphia, continued to take it to the defensively porous Rios in the fifth round as he connected with hard shots to the body and head. Rios continued to come forward but walked into clean punches.
Rios (34-4-1, 25 KOs), 31, of Oxnard, California, finally found a good measure of success in the sixth round. Not only did he block some punches, but he also landed many more shots than Garcia, including short right hands that seemed to get Garcia’s attention.
“I came to box and I did that. I came to bang and I banged. I gave the fans what they wanted, a knockout.”
But Garcia, who earned $1.25 million to Garcia’s $500,000, kept his jab pumping, and whenever Rios got close, Garcia usually spun away without taking the full force of Rios’ punch.
It looked like more of the same in the ninth round when out of nowhere Garcia flattened Rios in the middle of the ring with a clean right hand to the jaw over Rios’ low left hand. Rios beat the count, but when referee Kenny Bayless asked him to take a step forward, Rios was very unsteady and wobbling, giving Bayless no choice but to stop the fight at 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
“He was standing in front of me and I just let it go,” Garcia said. “I let the straight right hand go. I wasn’t looking for that shot. I was just boxing. I was letting my hands go, and just like every other knockout, I let my hands go and the shot lands.”
Rios was bitterly disappointed with the result.
“I’m mad. I don’t like going out like that,” Rios said, dropping in several expletives. “I’m a warrior. I got back up and was ready to continue. I’m mad. I’m f—ing mad.”
At the time of the stoppage, Garcia was ahead on all three scorecards, 79-73, 79-73 and 78-74.
“I was doing good, but I got lazy with the jab, and he came over with the right hand and he caught me. It was my fault,” Rios said. “I think I was doing really good in there. I was breaking him down little by little. He was getting tired. But it was one of those things where I got lazy with the jab and he came over it.”