Understanding Khan vs Garcia

by Paul Albano: Whether we’re conscious of it or not, there are a lot of things that factor into the decisions we make. Or at least the big decisions. Usually, this involves some informal weighing of the probability and severity of risk versus the probability and awesomeness of the reward, with something like opportunity cost tossed in there somewhere as well (I’m no economist or social scientist, if that isn’t already clear). But you get the basic idea.. So when Tim Bradley decides to fight Manny Pacquiao the thought process probably looks something like this: Probability of encountering risk (in this case losing) is fairly high, but the severity of that risk is fairly low (Bradley will be a decided underdog on fight night, and unless you’re Erik Morales, Agapito Sanchez, Medgoen Singsurat, or some guy named Rustico Torrecamp, everyone who fights Pacquiao has lost), while the potential awesomeness of the reward is great—even though the probability of achieving that reward is low. In short, Bradley’s decision was easy to make—he has little to lose, a lot to potentially gain, and no other reasonable option that’s nearly as lucrative.

But other choices a little bit more difficult to make sense of. Case in point, Lucian Bute’s decision to stop by Nottingham, England for his ill-fated confrontation with Carl Froch—which was puzzling at the time, and proved disastrous in hindsight. If the above model is our decision making guide, then Bute and his team must have either 1) severely underestimated the threat Froch posed, or 2) really, really thought a win would boost Bute’s marketability, or 3) felt they had no other viable big fight option after proposed bouts with the other money guys in the division (Ward, Kessler, and even Pavlik) all fell through for various reasons.

Yet, it’s possible that Bute was led to Nottingham by something else. Something a lot simpler and lot less like algebra. Maybe Bute just wanted to fight Froch out of good ol’ fashion competitiveness. Maybe Bute desired to test himself against his best opponent to date, and prove he wasn’t afraid to venture from the warm, flannel-sleeved arms of Canada. And maybe that interest was paramount to his financial interests (according to numerous outlets, Bute left money on the table by traveling to England). If so, that’s awfully commendable. Bute no doubt got exposed last Saturday, (even though he probably isn’t as bad as he looked) and regardless of what lies ahead, his boxing future is not nearly as bright as it was a week ago. Which is bad for Bute, but good for fight fans, because there are two kinds of fighters that never get exposed—the ones that are really, really good; and the ones who avoid risks. Bute definitely isn’t the first kind, but he at least deserves credit for not being the latter.

All of this brings me back to the title of this somewhat rambling article, the recently announced Amir Khan-Danny Garcia fight. At first glance, it seems like an odd matchup, one that’s especially out of place in the current fight game, as the risk seems to outweigh the reward for both boxers. For Khan, he’s in against the most dangerous kind of unknown—a young, largely untested fighter blessed with speed and skill, but who as of right now has no clear place in the 140 lb. hierarchy. A win won’t mean a lot, because nobody is quite sure how good Garcia is yet (and it may also come with an asterisk that Garcia was just too green), while a loss for Khan would be absolutely devastating.

Garcia’s side of the equation is just as puzzling. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding him, he’s already gotten the seal of approval from HBO, plus he’s managed by all knowing advisor/reclusive comic book villain Al Haymon. Typically, this means a baffling series of soft touches on HBO Boxing After Dark cards, before working up the PPV chain to really a big fight against someone very famous and old. Yet, Garcia has elected to skip all that and take the most difficult fight he could reasonably get. And while a win against Khan would be huge for Garcia—and certainly cement his status amongst the division’s elite—Khan will likely be the prohibitive favorite.

But like Bute, maybe Khan and Garcia aren’t thinking like this. Maybe they just believe in their abilities, and want to prove themselves against the best possible opponents, regardless of the perceived career or financial risks. And maybe one day boxing will reach the point where that mentality doesn’t stand out. And then maybe we can have that one welterweight fight everyone is so keen on.

Article posted on 01.06.2012

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