It was a new weight class for the former two-division champion, but it was the Danny Garcia of old inside the ring Saturday night.
Garcia raised his hands in the 12th round, bringing the Barclays Center crowd to its feet as he stuck his tongue out at Jose Benavidez Jr., listening to the Brooklyn fans chant his name.
Then the bell rang, and it completed Garcia’s successful return to the ring after 19 months.
The 34-year-old Philadelphia announced his presence in the super welterweight division emphatically, cruising to a 114-114, 116-112 and 117-111 majority decision to improve to 37-3. The 114-114 score came under immediate question, as Garcia seemingly controlled the entire bout.
More importantly, it’s provided a jolt back into Garcia’s career, who still looks capable of being the world champion boxer he promises is still within him.
“I did take a break going through mental things, things went dark,” an emotional Garcia said afterward while fighting back tears. “I went through anxiety, deep depression, just trying to be strong.
“It was the pressure of life, being a good dad, just letting it out right now [crying] because it was stuck inside, it rained on me for a year and a half and the only way to do better is to fight and I’m a fighter, if you battle anxiety and depression, you can get out of it, that’s what I did today. I fought.”
Coming off three losses in his last six bouts, Garcia moved up to 154 pounds to begin his quest at a world title in a third division. His career had somewhat slowed after racing out to a 33-0 record, picking up losses to Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter and Errol Spence Jr. as he looked to unify his welterweight title, and the change offered somewhat of a reset. After the longest layoff of his career, he returned in front of his favorite crowd, who chanted his name all night while he made his ninth bout at Barclays Center.
Garcia’s stark size disadvantage at the new weight didn’t seem to bother him, using his speed to get around Benavidez’s guard and avoid his opponent’s wild attempts, remaining comfortable throughout the night.
After a pensive first two rounds, Garcia started letting his hands fly in the third, using flurries of jabs to set up body shots to Benavidez’s torso. Getting Benavidez to drop his hands, Garcia started to unload left-right combinations, connecting with big right hooks to Benavidez’s head.
Tempers flared in the fourth and fifth rounds, and Benavidez — despite seemingly being down all three rounds, began to taunt Garcia, sticking out his tongue, blowing kisses and talking to his opponent. Garcia returned the favor, raising his arms out to his side, leaving himself defenseless while pumping up the Brooklyn crowd.
Benavidez’s antics, and effort to convince the judges he wasn’t taking the punishment it was clear he was sustaining, didn’t stop Garcia’s relentless combinations from landing and racking up points on the scorecards. Benavidez found a few big right hands in the late rounds, but by the 12th and final round, the two were largely trading jibes and taunts rather than punches.
“He was like ‘stop running, little b–h.’ I was like ‘it’s all good,’ ” Garcia said. “But I got him back in the 12th round, you saw that, right? What goes around, comes around.”
Brooklyn native Adam Kownacki (20-3), despite an extremely promising first three rounds, lost to Ali Eren Demirezen in the heavyweight co-main event. It was the third-straight loss for the 33-year-old, whose career now stands at a crossroads as he’s forced to evaluate his future in the sport.
“I don’t know, I was letting him get off first, I wasn’t moving my feet, I went back to the old me instead of the first few rounds when I was doing good,” Kownacki said after the fight. “I have two kids, I’ll have a long talk with my wife to see what I want to do. I’ve had so many fights here, so many great memories, I don’t want to go out like a loser. I would like another fight to leave my fans with a win.”
Gary Antuanne Russell (16-0) stayed perfect in the card’s opener, beating Rances Barthelemy via sixth-round TKO in the his first fight since the family lost its patriarch, Gary Ruyssell Sr. The stoppage was extremely controversial, prompting loud boos throughout the arena, as the former champion Barthelemy looked to be able to continue before the referee stopped it. The win continued Russell’s 100 percent knockout record.
“I want to tell my father up above I did it for him, we’re going to keep it going for pops, I want to thank Showtime for letting me participate,” Gary Antuanne said after his win. “I know Rances was a high-grade class athlete, and he wanted to continue. Emotions were high. Whether we or bruised or beaten, as a warrior, you always want to continue but the referee was doing their job, and if he was allowed to continue, it would have been the same outcome. I would have gotten him.”