Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia made Dejan Zlaticanin earn every penny of the $325,000 he got to defend his World Boxing Council lightweight championship on Showtime last Saturday. Garcia knocked out the champion midway through the third round with a three-punch combination that left the 32-year-old prone motionless on the ring for what seemed like an hour. From the televised angle it appeared Zlaticanin was dead. It was among the many brutal lessons the fight unexpected taught viewer’s.
In capturing his third championship in different weight classes, Garcia made Zlaticanin look like an amateur. Zlaticanin, from Montenegro, did not come out in his usual style of throwing punches from every angle. He was doing an adequate job of blocking punches to his head until Garcia started digging in left hooks to the body.
Before the fight Garcia told IECN that he wanted Zlaticanin to change his strategy so that he could try new techniques of his own. Zlaticanin obliged by coming out slow and hoping the 29-year-old Garcia would tire late. The strategy was a failure and Garcia’s win will go down in the annals of sports as a case study lesson.
Lesson 1. When opportunity presents itself, seize the moment. When Zlaticanin got in good position he simply did not throw punches. Lesson 2. Protect yourself at all times. Zlaticanin let his guard down, something he’s gotten away with hundreds of times with lesser skilled fighters.
Everything seemed to go into slow motion for Garcia in that one second before he delivered the devastating final punch. For that split second, a defenseless Zlaticanin got a glimpse of Garcia ready to unleash his KO punch but was out of position to avoid it. For that second, Garcia seemed to hesitant before having to put his already stricken opponent to sleep with a fully extended right hand to the jaw.
The final punch caught veteran referee Tony Weeks terribly out of position as well. Garcia says he’s never played much of other sports, yet put himself in position to throw the final punch by using an NBA-like pivot move. Weeks was waving off the fight before Zlaticanin’s limp body hit the canvass. The horrific outcome of the ex-champ laying on the floor could please only those with hearts of stone. Garcia was obviously concerned after Zlaticanin did not respond to ringside doctors, who were finally able to drag Zlaticanin by the feet into position to apply oxygen. Likewise, every true boxing fan felt the trauma of what looked like the real possibility of a boxing tragedy.
Instead of being left laying there for dead, Zlaticanin should have immediately been put on a stretcher and taken to a hospital, which eventually did happen. However, with MGM Grand ownership counting on those in attendance to stay afterwards and gamble, it would not have looked good for business. Those who’ve seen boxing fatalities will never forget them. It’s an unwritten rule not to bring up the subject.
Neither Garcia nor Zlaticanin will ever be the same. The severe head trauma Zlaticanin suffered in the fight could become irreversible. He should never fight again. Garcia, a decent man, was not basking in the glory of his complete demolition. Not in recent history has a champion in any sport been dethroned in such an unconscious fashion. Since Garcia didn’t even have time to work up a sweat, he will be able to fight again soon. He earned a reported $375,000 for his 8-minute assignment.
Zlaticanin did get in two good punches, a left to Garcia’s chest and a left to the jaw, which Garcia seamed to feel. By the fateful round three, the defending champ lost his will. Garcia has told IECN that boxing is a business and once in the ring, “It’s my job to follow the plan and take care of that business.” Also before the fight Garcia’s wife, Fatima said she no longer would take their three children to see their father fight. It was a good thing.
Zlaticanin is now 22-1 with 15 knockouts. Garcia is 36-0, 30 KO’s. Zlaticanin had never even been knocked down before. “I’m very glad he recovered,” said Garcia. “I never wish harm on any of my opponents.” He told reporter Jim Gray that he still considered Zlaticanin a champion. “Once a champion, always a champion.”