Like a pale martyr in his shirt of fireA Life Drama (1853), Alexander Smith, Poet, 1830-1867
The pain etched across Luke Campbell’s face as he sank, first to one knee, and then to two, drew silence from those who have never experienced the agony his body was submerged in. Prizefighters and pugs watching on, winced. Phantom pangs, recreated by their memory, of an excruciating purgatory similar to that which Ryan Garcia’s whistling left hook had sentenced Campbell to.
A head shot is the more familiar path to a knockout, it draws a roar, an exultation from the gathered as the victim’s eyes roll, their legs fixed or shapeless at the moment of impact. Body shots are a seemingly clandestine conclusion, darker and a more gratuitous coup de grace the pain of which only boxing’s Templar can truly understand.
In landing the shot that inflicted this exclusive hell on the fallen Englishman, Ryan Garcia secured the statement victory his resume needed and substantiated much of the promise he is swathed in.
The fight represented ambitious matchmaking for the 22-year-old protege following a parade of mediocrity before it. Momentum was with him of course, as well as a swell of good will from an enormous social media following, gorged on his good looks and curated highlight reel and a promoter, Oscar DeLaHoya, searching for a Canelo replacement to preserve his relevance. The broadcaster, DAZN, eagerly supported him too, recognising the demographic he could provide to their embryonic service, one accustomed to apps, downloads and sharing.
As Campbell walked to the ring, flanked by his trainer Shane McGuigan, easy for you to say, the scale of his challenge began to materialise. A partisan crowd of 6,000 booed his entrance, not a friend in the house, and, unknown to him, an American commentary team that had Garcia three points to the good from seeing him warm up in the changing room. The proud Yorkshireman was impervious. At home in the moment, the experience of previous engagements of this magnitude, the ones Garcia had yet to have doubters would point out, offering solace amid the din.
Garcia began aggressively, established himself as the bigger man, back long and stiff, feet set. Campbell circled, set, circled again. Felt the power on his gloves as Mora, Mannix and Grisham salivated over Garica’s thuds to the gloves. In days of yore, Campbell would have been acknowledged for his defence, in the days of now, such deft details are inconvenient to the preset narrative. Garcia the killer. Campbell the prey.
And then. With the DAZN tone set. Campbell spilt Yorkshire tea right across the script. Teasing Garcia with body shots before landing a sweeping left hook and decking the youngster. That moment had arrived. The crisis. The Henry Cooper experience. Garcia rose, quickly, youthful energy, disbelief, disorientation wrestling for control. Campbell didn’t rush in. Waited. Poised. Tried to pick the fight ending shot but Garcia rallied. Attacked a little. His head had cleared.
The fight was on. Garcia was complimented by the commentary team simply for rising. As rounds unravelled it was hard to tell whether Campbell had even won the 2nd, after all, Garcia had got up. The fact one of the judges only awarded Campbell a 10-9 despite the knockdown evidence enough of the bias he was battling.
Although the flaw which left Garcia on the floor remained, a high chin – like a man peering into a toxic drain – he recovered to take the third. Campbell was still targeting the body, both to bring down Garcia’s hands for head shots but to invest in fatiguing the inexperienced attraction for the later rounds. The fourth, despite the commentary continuing the rebranding of the second round as a glorious success for Garcia, was a clear win for Campbell.
Which mean it was 2-2 with Campbell ahead thanks to the knockdown. It is tempting to redact the notes and conclusions written when the final outcome contradicts the story those scribbled points are telling but Campbell, while always on the precipice, such is Garcia’s power, was winning.
Garcia established control again in the fifth, having rested through the fourth but the sixth and the start of the seventh were some of Campbell’s most sustained periods of success. Busier and more accurate and while the expression on Garcia’s face remained unchanged, the hooks grew more wild as he stretched for a breakthrough.
And then, boom. He did what exceptional talents do, he found a gap and punched right through it and rendered a brave, capable and confident opponent virtually motionless. His face distorted and disfigured with pain. That Campbell was vertical at the count of 10 and half was a testament to his courage, condition and character.
The ecstasy Garcia felt as he leapt like a child into the arms of his father exaggerating the contrast and underlining just how serious the Englishman’s challenge had been.
Garcia goes on. A satchel of flaws and zingers. Campbell retreats, dreams shattered, prime passed.