By Mitchell Gladstone
Danny Garcia trains under the watchful eyes of Puerto Rican boxing greats — Felix Trinidad, Miguel Cotto, Hector Camacho, and Wilfredo Gomez — whose images cover the back wall of his gym.
But it’s Philadelphia, Garcia’s city, that has inspired his career.
“Philadelphia made me who I am. It gives me the hunger,” Garcia said. “I’ve been to a lot of different cities around the world. People in Philly are a lot different. … We’re raised a little more street-smart. We’re raised a little tougher. We’re raised to never back down and to hold our ground.”
An official announcement is expected soon for a Sept. 8 fight against Shawn Porter in Brooklyn, where Garcia is hoping to recover the World Boxing Council welterweight title, which is currently vacant because of a long-term injury to Keith Thurman.
A win against Porter would make Garcia, 30, a world champion yet again. A loss, and Garcia will have to figure out what’s next.
“He’s at the crossroads of his career,” said Teddy Atlas, a longtime trainer and a commentator for ESPN. “This [fight] will tell where he goes.”
At the far end of Garcia’s mural, after the Puerto Rican greats, there’s Bernard Hopkins.
Hopkins, a seven-time world champion in three weight classes over nearly 20 years, is not Puerto Rican. Like Garcia, Hopkins is Philadelphia through and through.
>>READ MORE: Philly-boxer label still packs a punch
Only Hopkins, though, is an icon of his sport.
Despite a 34-1 record and three world titles, Garcia is not there — yet.
‘They probably didn’t want me to win’
The Barclays Center is a familiar setting for Garcia. The home of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders has hosted more than half of his last 11 fights and will be the site of his September bout.
The most recent one at the Barclays was different from the others. After 12 rounds against Keith Thurman on March 4, 2017, both men remained standing and the attention of the arena turned from the fighters to the judges. The first called the bout 115-113 in favor of Garcia.
“I thought that sounded about right,” Garcia said.
“And the other one said 115-113 for [Thurman]. Then the last judge who gave it 116-112 to him actually gave him the last two rounds, and I was like, ‘How the hell did he see him winning those last two rounds?’ That’s what killed me. They probably didn’t want me to win this fight.”
It was the first loss of Garcia’s professional career. He had ripped off 33 straight victories starting with his 2007 debut, and except for a three-month gap in late 2015, Garcia had retained at least one world title since March 2012.
“It felt like somebody died that I knew. I woke up [the next day] and I couldn’t believe it was real,” he said. “[Afterward,] I just went to my room, took a shower, and went to sleep.”
Garcia hadn’t experienced a defeat of that magnitude since the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials. In 2006, Garcia was crowned U.S. Amateur champion, setting the stage for him potentially to represent his country in Beijing.
Garcia’s father and trainer, Angel, said that politics and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s trial format ultimately prevented Danny from the signature moment of a stellar amateur career.
At that point, it was time to turn the page in a life of boxing that had already spanned a decade of Danny’s young life.
“When Danny was about 5, I could see from the way that he carried himself that he was going to be a fighter,” Angel said. “I used to tell friends of mine, and today, they ask me, ‘How did you know?’ ”
Danny Garcia made quick work in his first pro bout, knocking out Mike Denby in Atlantic City with a little more than a minute gone in the first round. From there, it was off to Las Vegas less than a month later, when Garcia put away Jesus Villareal by technical knockout as part of the undercard for a welterweight title fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Ricky Hatton.
With celebrities scattered around the floor, Garcia and his family settled into their seats near the top of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. He watched from the nosebleeds that night, imagining the day when he’d be the main event.
“I was going to Vegas, I was traveling, and I was a young kid getting money. It was a whole new experience,” Garcia said. “Those days really helped me because I knew how hard I had to work to get to that level. … I looked at the crowd and I said, ‘I’ve got a long way to go in this game.’ ”
Treadmills and Tastykakes
Angel Garcia had the youngest of his two sons in the gym by age 8. Danny started working out at Harrowgate Boxing Club, less than a half-mile from his current base camp on Jasper Street in the city’s Juniata section.
Although Pennsylvania law mandated that children younger than 10 couldn’t train, the Garcias skirted the sport’s rules.
Angel then went to jail in 1998, charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and even with the elder Garcia behind bars, his son kept at it in the gym.
“I wasn’t a perfect man,” Angel said. “My family had to eat. People have to understand that not only blacks had it hard in this country. I had it hard, too.”
By the time Angel was released, the Garcias had lost their home to foreclosure and Angel had little choice but to work whatever jobs he could. His first was as a security guard, making an hourly wage working from 3 to 9 p.m. Angel remained resolute, confident in what his son’s future held: “I knew my job was Danny.”
Eventually, Angel became Danny’s sole trainer, and once the head of the household in the Garcia family had enough money, he became more particular in his job selection — Angel never took a job that required him to work past 5 p.m.
That was the start of “holy time.”
“From 5 to 7 at night was holy time,” Angel Garcia said. “Nobody came between me and Danny in the gym. Nothing. No friends, no wife, nothing came in between us. Nothing stopped me from going to the gym.
“If somebody told me, ‘If you go to the gym today, you die,’ I’d go there and die that day because I knew it was hard work and dedication. That’s the only way you make it.”
Danny Garcia had little time beyond “gym, school, or in the house” throughout his middle and high school years, as his dad put it. After his school day at George Washington High, Danny was expected to come home and hop on the treadmill.
Some mornings before he left the house, Angel would make a definitive footprint on the treadmill.
If it was still there when he returned, there would be hell to pay.
“He didn’t have a childhood,” Angel said. “I don’t regret it, because I hate when people sometimes crucify their dad for being strict but they got successful at the same time. The only way you’re going to be successful is by being strict.”
Angel didn’t forget to count the Tastykakes in the Garcias’ pantry, either.
“He came home one day and was like, ‘There’s a cake missing,’ and I’d be like, ‘I didn’t eat it,’ ” recalled Danny, a self-proclaimed Butterscotch Krimpet lover. “He said, ‘There were seven and there’s only six here,’ and I was, like, ‘I’m telling you, I didn’t eat the cake!’ ”
Those days are now behind them. Angel is typically the only one in the gym training with Danny other than his sparring partner. The two have been a team for nearly 20 years.
“Right now, business is business and when I’m in the gym, he trusts me to do what I need to in the ring,” Danny said of his dad. “We’re just regular outside the gym, and when we’re in the gym, it’s business. But it wasn’t always that way.”
And even if they butt heads, Angel isn’t worried.
“At the end of the day, I’m still his dad,” he said. “If you get another regular coach to do this job and [Danny] tells you to get the hell out of the gym, you’ve got to leave because you’re fired. If he fires me, he’s going to lose me forever.”
‘I’m doing this for Danny Garcia’
Garcia’s bout against Porter has been a long time coming. The two camps tried to negotiate before, but could never come to terms.
When Garcia beat Brandon Rios in Las Vegas earlier this year, Porter jumped into the ring to confront his soon-to-be foe.
“He just said he wanted to fight. He wants to get paid. That’s all I remember,” Garcia said with a smirk. “He said it was his backyard and I said, ‘I didn’t know you were from Vegas.’ ”
Welterweight class history has many recognizable names. In recent years, guys such as Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao dominated the division. Before that, there were Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, and Trinidad. And before the litany of alphabet belts, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Henry Armstrong were world champions in the class.
If Garcia can take down Porter, it will be his eighth victory in a title fight and fourth overall world championship between the welterweight and super-lightweight divisions. The victor would become the latest to hold the WBC’s welterweight belt — Thurman was forced to vacate the title in April as he rehabs an elbow injury.
“It would feel better than any other one I’ve won, because it’s a different story,” Garcia said. “From losing it to getting it back, it feels better than being a young kid and winning it.”
Atlas described Porter as “big, tough, and determined,” but said Garcia has the advantage, noting that the Philadelphian is the better boxer.
Atlas added that when both boxers have experience — Porter, 30, has fought professionally since 2008 with 17 knockouts and only two losses in 31 bouts — a “boxing IQ” comes into play. He believes Garcia has an edge in that mental battle.
Major Moments in Garcia’s Career
- March 11, 2006: Wins U.S. National Championship at 132 pounds in Colorado Springs, Colo., one of the top amateur titles in the country
- August 2007: Fails to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team
- Nov. 17, 2007: Knocks out Mike Denby at the Borgata in Atlantic City to win professional debut
- March 24, 2012: Wins unanimous decision against Erik Morales for his first world title, the WBC light-welterweight belt (132 pounds) at Reliant Arena in Houston (fight No. 23)
- July 14, 2012: Earns technical knockout against Amir Khan in the 12th round, unifying the WBA and WBC titles at 132 pounds, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas (fight No. 24)
- Jan. 23, 2016: Vacates his titles at 132 and moves up to the welterweight class (140), wins unanimous decision vs. Robert Guerrero at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to earn the WBC welterweight title (fight No. 32)
- March 4, 2017: With a chance to unify the WBC and WBA welterweight titles, Garcia loses to Keith Thurman at the Barclays Center, his first professional defeat, by split decision (fight No. 34)
- Feb. 17, 2018: Returns to the ring after nearly a year away, beating Brandon Rios by TKO in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay (fight No. 35)
- Sept. 8, 2018: Set to fight Shawn Porter at the Barclays Center, looking to retake the WBC welterweight title (fight No. 36)
Win, lose or draw, Garcia doesn’t plan to leave the sport anytime soon. He hopes eventually to unify the welterweight titles, something he could have done with a victory against Thurman last year.
Garcia also has ideas of moving up to 154 pounds, the super-welterweight class, and becoming a three-division champion.
“As far as where I want to be, as far as achievements, I’m not there yet,” Garcia said. “I’m not talking about fame; I’m talking about milestones. … I think about [how far I’ve come] all the time. But I know where I want to be in my career.”
When he’s not in the gym, Garcia is seemingly always around family. Beyond Angel, Danny’s brother, Erik, runs the body shop at their Juniata complex, and his twin sisters, Sianney and Angeliese, have a recording studio there. His mom, Maritza, mans the family house in Montgomery County.
Garcia and his longtime girlfriend, Erica Mendez, had their first child three years ago. With Philly Swift now in the picture, life is different for Danny. He’ll still train for two or three hours a day with about 45 additional minutes of running as he readies for Sept. 8.
Although he can’t be that “stupid kid” anymore, Garcia is fighting for the same thing he always has.
“I would say I’m doing this for Danny Garcia, just to prove to myself where I belong and who I am,” he said. “I’m going to be one of the best fighters coming out of Philadelphia and one of the best Latino fighters who’s ever done it.”