Ryan Garcia needs to shoulder the responsibility — turning your back is not allowed

One perfectly placed left hook by Ryan Garcia robbed Oscar Duarte of his equilibrium and his chance of a life-changing triumph at the Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday. The Mexican slugger had performed well and applied truckloads of pressure, but he couldn’t recover from an eighth-round knockdown and was counted out.

I’ve always been a big advocate of Garcia. After all, what’s not to like? The young Californian’s hand speed often looks like it’s electrically controlled; his reflexes border on psychic anticipation, and he can switch off the lights with a single shot. All of that is wrapped up in a movie-star exterior reminiscent of a prime version of his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya.

Boxing needs that kind of excitement.

MORE: Full fight results from Ryan Garcia vs. Oscar Duarte

While Garcia lost to Gervonta Davis in his first true test at the elite level back in April, it wasn’t the end of the world. “Tank” is an extraordinary boxer and one of the hardest hitters in the sport. The 25-year-old Garcia has plenty of time to add strings to his bow, mature as a fighter, and claim career-defining triumphs down the road.

Last night, we saw some of the same old stuff from “King Ry” and a few new wrinkles. The speed was there, he countered well, and the finish was swift and decisive. The former amateur star also jabbed effectively and his feet were quick. On the flip side, Garcia employed a pseudo shoulder roll where he almost turned away from the action and allowed his opponent to unload. In my view, Garcia was very lucky that referee James Green took his side on this.

Early in the bout, Duarte would throw an overhand right or a right to the body, but instead of catching, slipping, or blocking the punch, Garcia would turn away from it. The shot would therefore hit him behind the ear or on the back and he would complain to Green. Duarte was admonished for fouling in Round 3 and received a stern warning in the fourth. As a result, the Mexican star stopped throwing right hands up close and became a one-armed bandit with the left hook. He still had success, but Duarte was now restricted and, as a result, easier to read. In truth, Green should have issued Garcia with a stern warning for turning his back.

The shoulder roll (or Philly Shell) was made famous in the modern era by Floyd Mayweather. However, in reality, this innovative defensive technique was around long before the ex-champ was even thought of. Variations of it appear in old fight films featuring Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles; James Toney was a master of it, as was Mayweather’s Uncle Roger. The left shoulder is used to deflect the jab and for every power punch coming your way, there’s a defence and counterattack.

When a fighter is comfortable in this posture, you’ll notice one thing that always stands out: they never, ever, take their eyes off an opponent. Search out Mayweather’s fight against Puerto Rican great Miguel Cotto and watch how he works off the ropes with the shoulder roll. He’s always looking to see what shots are being released so that he can return fire with a precise counter. And when the attacks become too difficult to read, Mayweather will also bend at the knees or the waist. Regardless, his eyes are always fixed on the target.

MORE: Ryan Garcia stops Oscar Duarte in the eighth round

What Garcia was doing was partially turning off the centre line for protection. If you’re turning your back, then the opponent can’t be blamed for punching you on the back of the head. In effect, you’re causing your own problem. An example of this can be seen in Muhammad Ali’s 1976 rubber match against Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium. Norton, who was never fooled by Ali’s rope-a-dope routine, would throw an overhand right instead of a straight right. Instinctively, Ali would turn his head away to slip the punch, but the shot would nail him behind the ear. How many warnings did Norton receive? None.

“Never trying the shoulder roll again,” said Garcia via Instagram.

Good plan!

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