BY BARRY WILNER
NEW YORK (AP) — Sometimes, even for a knockout artist, defense is the best option.
Keith Thurman went that route Saturday night, building a big lead over Danny Garcia and holding on to add the WBC welterweight title to his WBA championship.
Yes, Thurman has 22 knockouts in 28 fights, all wins. He won this unification bout, though, by getting tactical and going somewhat conservative.
“I was not giving the fight away,” he said. “I felt like we had a nice lead, we could cool down. I felt like we were controlling the 3-minute intervals in each and every round.”
Thurman handed Garcia his first loss in 34 bouts.
“I thought I pushed the fight like a true champion and did enough to get the victory,” Garcia said.
After five furious rounds to open things at Barclays Center, the pace slowed — even bringing boos from the large crowd at times. But it ended with a flourish of exchanges in the 12th and final round. And with Thurman holding up two belts.
“I thought I outboxed him, I thought it was a clear victory,” Thurman said. “But Danny, he came to fight.”
Thurman won a split decision, getting scores of 116-112 and 115-113. Garcia, favored by a majority of the fans who loudly derided the announcement of the winner, won one card 115-113.
The AP scored it 115-113 for Thurman.
“I knew with a wide spread it had to go to me when I heard,” Thurman said about the decision.
Using powerful rights, including straight leads that stopped Garcia in his tracks, Thurman dominated early. Garcia landed the occasional bomb, particularly one shot to the body that had Thurman grimacing at the end of the 10th.
“There might have been one left hook to the body that he landed that I felt,” Thurman admitted. “But we know how to endure these punches. This isn’t just about outboxing an opponent, you have to take a punch, too.”
Garcia came on from there, but it was too late.
“It was a tough fight,” he said. “I thought I came back strong. I can’t cry over anything, I’ll come back strong like a true champion. I would love to have a rematch to get my titles back.
Thurman won a terrific bout with Shawn Porter at Barclays last June. This one wasn’t of such high quality throughout, but it had its moments.
Both fighters opened up without reservation, each missing several haymakers, but also landing solid punches. Thurman’s right leads were particularly effective, while Garcia, whose right eye was getting red by the fourth round, used his right hand to keep Thurman off-balance.
With each fighter capable of landing the one punch to end it, the crowd of 16,533 roared with every shot — until the sixth, when both guys got cautious. Despite all the previous action, the fans booed what clearly was the worst round of the bout.
It was nearly impossible to live up to the fury of the first five rounds, anyway, and only occasionally the rest of the way did the fight do so.
But Thurman strategically was being smart.
“We knew we had the fight won,” trainer Dan Birmingham said. “Keith was still scoring while he was backing up — sticking and moving.”
Garcia, 146.5 pounds, of Philadelphia, actually landed a higher percentage of his punches, 30 percent to 26 percent for Thurman, 146.2 of Clearwater, Florida. But Thurman was far more active, attempting 570 punches, 136 more than Garcia.
The bout wasn’t very reminiscent of the classic 1981 welterweight unification fight between Sugar Ray Leonard, who announced this one from ringside for CBS, and Thomas Hearns. Leonard said this week he believed it could reach that level, but only early on and very late was that close to true.
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