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Danny Garcia: A portrait of the unified champion as a young man

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)

“My mom is left-handed so maybe that’s the reason for the left hook. Genetics. Because my mom, all her side of the family, her brothers and my mom: they’re all left-handed,” smiled WBA/WBC junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia last December 15. Garcia sat comfortably at a large circular table backstage at the Amir Khan-Carlos Molina fight at the L.A. Sports Arena. He was fresh off his first defense of his partially unified crown: a brutal fourth round knockout of Erik Morales off a left hook from that, like Garcia, had to be from Philadelphia. Garcia was there promoting Saturday’s dual belt title fight with Zab Judah live on Showtime from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Surrounded by photographers and casual passersby along with myself, Ring editors Doug Fischer and Mike Rosenthal and a few other reporters, Danny Garcia, 25-0, (16) was the picture of young lion in all his glory. Garcia had the perma-smile of someone who had snuck into the party and out of nowhere became the life of it. While many tabbed Garcia to beat the aged Morales back in March of 2013, few had picked him to beat the speedy Khan. Garcia’s smile didn’t so much say “I told you so” so much as “I knew I could do it.” It’s kind of impossible not to like him immediately.


“I’m right handed. My dad, [Angel Garcia, who is also Garcia’s trainer] is right-handed. I text with my left. I do a lot with my left. I can fight southpaw but I don’t understand why fighters do that sometimes,” he wondered.


When he sat down that day, Garcia said he weighed about 153 or so. He appeared in shape as he was beginning preparations for what was then going to be a February fight with veteran ex-champion Zab Judah. The fight was postponed roughly two weeks out when Garcia injured a rib in sparring. There was some controversy later when Garcia’s girlfriend tweeted about him being in a club with a rib injury. I say, why rehab on the couch when you don’t have to?

“Crafty veteran,” Garcia said, assessing Judah. “He’s got speed. Sneaky. Got good power. It’s always dangerous when you are facing someone with experience, speed and power. I definitely got to go in there and be on my A-Game and focused and take the fight to him.”


The fight features two men at opposite ends of their careers. Garcia is a champion barely in bloom. His glow shows that he knows this is a rare moment. His giddiness at times, laughing heartily and genuinely like a kid does after he makes a joke, was as if Garcia was breathing air just a little higher altitude than ours; Victory as a high.


Coming into the Khan fight, we knew Garcia could out fight an old Erik Morales. We didn’t know if he could handle a contemporary with Khan’s pedigree and talent level. But, like many boxing people, Danny and Angel felt Khan’s chin could be had. Despite his wins, Khan is still haunted by the first round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott and the shaky moments against Marcos Maidana.


“That’s the first thing I thought about when I took the fight. I was like ’He’s good but he don’t have a chin and I can punch.’ That’s the first thing that I thought about,’ Garcia recalled. “I knew I could beat him that’s why I took the fight. I didn’t let anybody force me. Nobody pushed me into the fight and made me go into the ring scared or anything. I knew I could beat him. I knew I had the perfect style to beat him. Like I said, I knew he’s not known for taking a good punch and I got a good punch. And I am a good counter puncher. That was the perfect match for me. But as far as people not giving me a chance, I understand because the media was more like ‘He has more HBO time than me.’ People were like ’Where did this kid come from’ so that was my opportunity that I could show the world that I can fight. And I did.”


Beyond experience, Khan brought speed Garcia had never seen.


“The first two first rounds [Khan] was coming fast so I wasn’t really seeing his punches like ’Oh snap! He’s a little faster than expected," laughed Garcia, jumping back and looking around as if he had no idea where a Khan punch would come from next and laughing. "Like I thought, ’How fast can he be?’ when I was in the gym. ‘How fast can another human be?’ Now I’m like ’Pretty fast so . . .” laughing again. “I give him that. He didn’t hurt me but he was fast. As soon as I started to see his punches like at the end of the second going into the third round, I started to see his punches, slipped a couple punches. That’s when I landed a couple body shots, a hook and took it from there.”


Garcia weathered an early storm of fast Khan’s punches from all angles. One raked across his right eye and cut him open in the second. Angel pushed gently with a sense of urgency that it was now or never for the young man to let Khan know who he is. As Garcia said, he’d had a measure of success late in the second and got in a left hook in the midst of an exchange that showed him the way home.


“I didn’t underestimate [Khan] but I was like ’C’mon. Is he a super hero?’ But he’s really fast. He’s fast but he’s kind of reckless,” said Garcia.


By “reckless” Garcia means Khan has a habit of sticking around for the receipt after giving an opponent the business end of series of long combinations. Meaning, he stands still and looks to see if his punches had any effect or lingers in a combination too long as opposed to pivoting off his shots all night and wearing out an opponent. When he does that, few can stop Khan. But when he sticks around?


In the midst of an exchange, Garcia landed a brutal left hook that caught Khan on the right side of his lower jaw and mainly in his neck. He dropped to the canvas completely disoriented. It was a beautiful shot that turned a competitive fight into a desperate race for Khan to clear his head before Danny took it off. Garcia attacked with poise but kept Khan hurt. Khan’s legs never returned despite a brave final stand. Question Khan’s chin or punch resistance all you want. There is no question he has heart. But heart is not enough and after two more knockdowns, it was clear to referee Kenny Bayless that young Khan had had enough and waved it off at 1:23 of the fourth.


After Saturday, Khan, Garcia and Judah will have each other in common. However, just because Khan had success using his long jab and quick feet to beat Judah up from a distance, Garcia fights nothing like that.


At 5’8 ½” with a 68 ½” reach, Garcia seems to fight shorter than that at times. At his best, he is weaving in behind a shield defense, compact and looking to explode with the hook or right hand. A steady fighter whose main weapon of destruction is his left hook, Garcia is like fellow Philly fighter, Bernard Hopkins, in that he doesn’t have just one thing he relies on. He’s well-rounded in his attack. Not the fastest of hand or foot but he’s tough, smart and he has that left hook. The chin appears sturdy, as well.


“Styles make fights and that’s what so interesting about boxing because [Khan] is fast and he’s lanky. He kept Judah on the outside like beating [Judah] up. Boom! Boom! Boom! Then [Khan] came inside, hit him with the body shot,” Garcia said, reflecting on Amir Khan’s 2011 fifth round body shot knockout of Judah. “And then you got me. I’m strong. I’m aggressive. I come forward. I can box but you know sometimes I’d just rather fight so I make a more interesting fight. I think styles make fights and this is going to be a good fight . . . . For however long it lasts.” Garcia slowly broke into a conspiratorial laugh. As he did, you could see he was trying to remain respectful even as his laugh was saying what all of us were likely thinking.


At age 36, Brooklyn’s own Zab “Super” Judah has fought 295 rounds in 51 total fights for a record of 42-7 with 29 wins by knockout. Of those seven losses, three were by stoppage. His last win was the fight following the Khan loss; a March of 2012 ninth round technical knockout of contender Vernon Paris in an IBF title eliminator. It’s a solid win. The long layoff is not good but the Paris win is telling in that he was a young fighter who got taken to school by the always dangerous veteran Judah. While he has always been hot and cold despite winning titles at 140 and becoming the linear welterweight champion, Judah in recent years has been dedicated in his training. The man is fast, experienced and has legitimate one punch knockout power at 140 pounds. But like Khan, there is that chin factor.


The latter has been pointed out bluntly by Angel Garcia. To say Angel is honest is an understatement. Brutally honest would be getting there. It’s not a style for everyone but one that serves as the perfect counter balance to Danny, who declared he’s more comfortable having everyone like him.


“My dad doesn’t do it for the cameras. That’s how he is. I tell people if you get a camera and you follow him like if he gets his own reality show, I just want 20%, man, because I know I’m going to be rich off it,” joked Garcia. Seeing the two interact and speak about each other makes their bond very clear. They appear in some ways to have forged each other. “His attitude, his charisma, he speaks his mind. He’s a character and it’s perfect because that’s the way he is. Me, I’m a humble guy. I don’t like talking. I’m not a loudmouth. That’s how my parents raised me, to be humble, to respect people. But my dad’s from the streets so he’s got a whole different mindset on how he approaches people. And I’m his son! Like, ’you’re about to fight my son.’ When I was young I used to get in street fights and I would come home and tell my dad. My dad used to take me back over there and ’Fight my son one on one.’ He was always like that. He was always protecting me in that way.”


Garcia tells stories about his father without any hint of embarrassment. Neither apologizes for the honesty. It’s refreshing. These are the ways his father taught him to be a man. Danny seemed proud to crack us all up describing the street fighting career that almost always precedes the amateur and pro.  


“Like, say I am in a street fight and we are just one on one getting it on and the dude tries to pick me up and slam me [Dad jumps in as a ref] like ’No! Stop! No! You’re going to keep it to hands and fight like a man!’ He made sure he don’t slam me and throw me on the floor. He’s like ’No. You’re going to handle this like men. Like with fists.’ That’s how he’s always been.”


Angel’s blunt assessment of Judah certainly has to have raised the game of the veteran fighter who will be defending his home turf at Barclays while vying for Garcia’s belts and late career glory. The possibility that Angel’s words might have awoken a sleeping giant doesn’t bother Danny. To him, Angel is just speaking the truth and being himself. If that upsets Judah, well, he’ll have an opportunity to do something about it on Saturday. At the media day Tuesday, Judah told assembled reporters “I am going to knock Danny Garcia out and watch Angel come in there and pick him up.”


“I’d be mad if [Angel] made up stories but he’s just saying true facts. And the truth hurts,” surmised Garcia.


Make no mistake, Judah is brought here not just because of his chin but because the styles will certainly mesh for an action event. But of the problems he will present, Garcia feels that the southpaw stance will be the least of them.


“I think he’s going to come hard. He seems real motivated about the fight. I know he’s going to train hard. But I’m ready. I’ve been in the gym training hard. I’ve been doing my whole life. Like one time, in the amateurs in a row and then lost to a right hander in the finals. So southpaws are nothing to me,” Garcia explained. “It’s the same thing to me. People get frustrated by that like ’oh I’m fighting a southpaw. I gotta throw the right hand the left hook and forget about a jab.”


The common thinking in boxing is that when facing a southpaw, that is someone who leads with their right hand as opposed to the traditional left lead, a right-handed fighter should eschew the left jab in favor of a right hand lead punch from the rear. This makes no sense. When facing the opposite stance, each man’s lead hand becomes closer to the target than when facing a mirror image stance. Garcia agrees with this theory.


“Exactly! I try to tell people. It’s just right there. So, yeah, the jab is a great punch against a southpaw and people don’t use it,” he said.  


A fight with an action boxer with Judah’s resume fits right in with why Garcia got into the sport in the first place. He has a passion for fighting and more than that, winning. To hear him tell it, fighting for him is definitely not about the money.


“When I grew up watching boxing, I always wanted to see the best fights,” he explained. “So when I got into boxing and I started fighting, I was in it for the glory. My last couple fights I was so happy after I won I forgot to get my money. Like not not counting it. I’m at the hotel taking a shower. ’Danny did you get your money?’ I’m like ’Ooh snap! I gotta get my money! I gotta get my money!’ Like I get so excited I get stuck into the glory of it. This is all new to me now.


“Don’t forget the money. Don’t forget the money,” Garcia continued, reminding himself, before explaining “But you train eight weeks for this and you don’t want to do nothing. You just want to go to your room.”


To be a champion at any age is not easy. At 25, Garcia seems to wear his crown fairly easily. But it’s about the long haul; the true commitment that Bernard Hopkins, who holds the record for middleweight title defenses at 20, showed and continues to show in the higher weights. Garcia seems to get this as he develops in his reign.


“I am expecting a tough fight. [Judah is] a crafty veteran with speed and power. I am taking this fight seriously. I’m not going in there thinking I’m just going to walk right through him. It’s going to be a tough fight and I am preparing my body for a war,” said Garcia at the time. “Every fight I am learning. Every fight I am learning and getting better. I am learning on the job. I am a young champion and I feel I am fighting the right fights to make me a complete, long reigning champion. I don’t want to be a short champion for like a year.”


Winning titles can be done through creative matchmaking. Winning fights is done by preparing long before the heat of the lights and the flurry of punches hit you. Garcia has paid the right prices thus far. That December evening, the young champion smiled as if the world was perfect because at that moment, it happened to be. Saturday is another chance for Danny Garcia to feel that way again.

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