Bring on March 4.
Welterweight world titleholder Danny Garcia plowed through huge underdog Samuel Vargas with ease, knocking him out in the seventh round of a nontitle fight Saturday at Temple University's Liacouras Center in Philadelphia to set up big business next year.
The victory in the tune-up fight of the Premier Boxing Champions card in Garcia's hometown was the final hurdle before a hugely anticipated world title unification fight against Keith Thurman, who joined the Spike broadcast team, on March 4 at a venue to be determined.
Regardless of where the fight takes place, the Thurman-Garcia fight is one of the most eagerly anticipated in boxing and a showdown between two of the best in the deep 147-pound weight division. They did their part to drum up interest with Garcia pummeling the hapless Vargas and then getting into a verbal confrontation and going nose to nose during a joint post-fight interview in the ring.
First Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) had to dispose of Vargas (25-3-1, 13 KOs), and he did so easily in a one-sided destruction.
Just before the bell ended the second round, Garcia sent Vargas tumbling to the mat on the end of a powerful right hand. He barely beat the count, getting up just as referee Gary Rosato was about to finish the 10-count.
By the third round, Vargas' left eye was black and blue and swelling. Garcia continued to pound him round after round and even threw him to the canvas like a rag doll during the seventh round, which drew a stern warning from Rosato.
Later in the seventh round, Garcia, 28, blasted Vargas, 27, who is from Colombia and fights out of Toronto, with two left hooks along the ropes and then fired six more hard shots. Vargas was in bad shape, and Rosato jumped in to wave off the fight at 2 minutes, 17 seconds, just as Vargas' corner was throwing in the towel.
"I got beat up in there," Vargas said. "It takes a lot of courage to come to North Philadelphia and fight the champ. It just wasn't my night. I've been hit harder before, but it was the accumulation of punches that got to me.
"I thought he'd be a heavier hitter. He's a great fighter and a great person for his city. I will be back. This was a great experience."
With Vargas dismissed, it didn't take long to bring the hype for March 4. Garcia stormed to the ring ropes and peered down at Thurman at his broadcast position and began to jaw with him.
"I've been waiting for this, man," Thurman said. "I asked for this fight this year. This is what his team wanted -- they wanted a tune-up. I was ready this year. He got to put on a nice performance for his fans. He got his confidence. He feels strong. He got his daddy [trainer Angel Garcia] in his ear talking and pumping him. This is going to be the third daddy's boy that I beat. Believe that."
Later, Thurman assessed Garcia's performance.
"Danny looked strong. He always looks strong when he's sitting there flat-footed and letting big hooks go," Thurman said. "His opposition was never a threat to him at any point. Danny had a decent victory. They said that he wanted to tune up. Now he's ready to come see me.
"You have two big punchers on March 4. I don't see how the fight can go 12 rounds. Danny, in my opinion, is someone who has been slightly exposed in the past. I see myself as the best competition that Danny has ever faced. He may see himself as the best fighter I've faced. But I believe that Danny Garcia is actually going to have a problem with many true welterweights. I think my counters and my power is going to be the ultimate game-changer."
Garcia, the former unified junior welterweight world champion, vacated his titles and moved up to welterweight in mid-2015. In January, he easily outpointed Thurman victim Robert Guerrero to win a vacant welterweight title, one of the belts Floyd Mayweather vacated upon his retirement.
Garcia had not fought since then and wanted a tune-up fight to get ready for Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs), 27, of Clearwater, Florida.
"I came here to do what I did today. I haven't fought since January. I came to get some good rounds in and knock my opponent out at the end, and that's what I did," Garcia said.
When asked about the impending Thurman bout, Garcia whipped his hometown fans into a frenzy.
"Philly, if you all want to see me whip this guy's ass, make some noise," Garcia shouted to the crowd on the open mic.
The crowd went wild.
"I'm gonna whup him," Garcia said. "There's not much more to say. He got what he asked for, and now he's going to face a real big dog. March 4 fans can expect what they always get from me. It's going to be fireworks. I'm a Philly champion. I have the heart of a champion, and I'm coming to win and unify titles."
Thurman had entered the ring and was standing just feet away from him when he responded, "I'm a different caliber. I'm not no cherry [picker]. I'm no easy pickin's, boy."
Then they went nose-to-nose, yelling at each other.
"Danny can talk whatever he wants, and Angel can say whatever he wants," Thurman said. "They can talk smack all day, but I know for a fact that everyone who faces Keith Thurman will tell you that I'm the hardest puncher they've faced."
To be continued March 4.
Hurd hammers Dan
Hot junior middleweight prospect Jarrett Hurd (19-0, 13 KOs) dominated the smaller Jo Jo Dan (35-4, 18 KOs), a longtime fringe welterweight contender and late replacement coming off a 14-month layoff, en route to a sixth-round knockout in the co-feature.
Hurd, 26, of Accokeek, Maryland, laid a beating on Dan, 35, a former welterweight world title challenger from Romania and living in Montreal. He bashed Dan, a southpaw, repeatedly with heavy right hands. A terrible right hand way below the belt in the third round took a lot of starch out of Dan, who went down to the mat and was in agony. Although Hurd's punches were powerful, Dan, who looked much smaller, could not inflict any damage with his shots.
In the sixth round, Hurd badly rocked Dan with a right hand and then landed several more punches, which prompted trainer Howard Grant to throw in the towel and referee Benjy Esteves Jr. to wave off the fight at 1 minute, 6 seconds.
"He was wobbly and shaky," Hurd said. "I probably would have taken him out in the next round. We knew he was a crafty southpaw. We wanted to take our time because we didn't know how he would come out. We felt him out at first. We didn't think he'd come in as much. I thought he'd try to move around. But he brought the fight a little closer than I expected.
"This does a lot for me. These fights I'm getting are bringing me closer to the belt. Hopefully, this moves me up the rankings. There are a lot of great fighters in this division, and whoever I can get in there with, I'll be ready for."
Dan chalked up the result to the massive size difference.
"The weight was a big difference. I took the fight on short notice, but I'm a natural 147-pounder, and I don't struggle to make that," Dan said. "He's a tough guy. I gave him some good shots, and I took some good shots. At the end of the day, this is boxing. I couldn't do enough to get the win."
In the opener of the triple-header, lightweight Javier Fortuna (31-1-1, 22 KOs), a former junior lightweight world titleholder from the Dominican Republic, won a spirited unanimous decision against Omar Douglas (17-1, 12 KOs) by scores of 96-93, 96-93 and 95-94. Fortuna, 27, overcame a knockdown on a clean left hook to the chin by Douglas, 25, of Wilmington, Delaware, during a back-and-forth exchange in the first round.
"He got me cold in the first round. I wasn't surprised that he came out sharp," Fortuna said. "I worked very hard to come back and win almost every round. I didn't feel the punch from the knockdown very long. It was easy to recover.
"Every time that I was aggressive, I tried to follow it up with more punches. I knew in the final round that I had to finish it well to make sure I won the fight with no questions. The decision is done, so there's nothing else to say. I felt like I won almost every round after the first one."
Douglas said he felt he won.
"He put it all on the line, and so did I. I knocked him down based on reflexes. The left hook was there for me," Douglas said. "I worked hard in there, and I did my part. I feel like I won the fight. The decision was absurd. He held me the whole fight. I definitely want a rematch. He's a former world champion. I gave it my all, but I just didn't get the decision."
Douglas is unlikely to get a rematch -- at least not right away. Instead, Fortuna is likely headed to a rematch with secondary world titleholder Jason Sosa, who upset Fortuna by 11th-round knockout in June. Sosa (20-1-4, 15 KOs), of Camden, New Jersey, retained his belt earlier Saturday by unanimous decision against Stephen Smith in Monte Carlo and now owes Fortuna a contractually obligated rematch.
"I want Jason Sosa next," Fortuna said. "That is a very big fight, and beating him this time would push my career up fast."