Danny Garcia is one of the smoothest operators in boxing today, and on Saturday night, he looks to take a huge step toward staking his claim as the next great Puerto Rican superstar.
With a combination of the best of both worlds—a rugged Philadelphia fighting background mixed with the competitive spirit of boxing-crazed Puerto Rico—Garcia has skyrocketed up the ranks, unifying the 140-pound division and establishing himself as one of the sport’s best young fighters.
But on Saturday night, he’ll do something he’s never done as a professional fighter.
He will defend his WBA/WBC Junior Welterweight Championships against Mauricio Herrera at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, which has hosted Puerto Rican legends Miguel Cotto and Felix Trinidad. He says he’s been after this opportunity for his whole career.
“It’s a very big moment for me. It’s something I always dreamed of. I worked my way here. I fought my way here, and I just can’t wait,” Garcia told Bleacher Report on Wednesday.
That big moment has been matched by the reception the junior welterweight champion has received in the land of his parent’s birth.
There was some question about how he’d be received, given he was born in the United States and not on the island, but Garcia says that Puerto Rican fans have embraced him.
“They love me. They love me. They gave me a warm welcome,” Garcia said. “Everywhere I go people are taking pictures of me. The whole island is excited. I can’t wait for Saturday night.”
The 25-year-old champion was born and raised in Philadelphia, but his father and trainer Angel Garcia—one of the more outspoken and, at times, controversial figures in boxing—is native to Naguabo, Puerto Rico.
The relationship between the two—boxer and trainer, but father and son first—is special to the champion, and he credits it with being a large part of his success.
"It’s great to me as a fighter. I’ve got somebody I can trust in my corner and that’s the most important thing. In the gym he’s serious, but he’s having fun and doesn’t make it feel like a job you don’t want to go to. He’s always motivated. He’s always having fun, and we’re always working hard. It’s a tough sport so you need to have somebody around you with good energy pushing you."
Garcia enters this fight at a rare moment in Puerto Rican boxing history. The island, which is known for its proud boxing tradition and producing dozens of great fighters, is without a single native-born world champion.
That’s a stunning and potentially opportune fact. Puerto Rico is known for its fighters—which is especially impressive, given its small size and population when compared to other fighting hotbeds—and Garcia hopes to seize on that and proudly represent the fans.
“Puerto Rico has had a lot of great champions. This is a place where they love boxing,” he said. “I’m just happy to fight in Puerto Rico for a title, and represent Puerto Rico in this fight and forever.”
Herrera, who will attempt to unseat the champion and ruin his homecoming, isn’t as sexy a name as some of Garcia’s more recent opponents.
But he’s compiled a solid professional career—he's 20-3, with seven knockouts—and holds a decision win over the recently surging WBO junior welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov.
Still, the 33-year-old Californian will enter as a massive underdog. While that may be nothing new for him, the role of big favorite is something that Garcia—who entered as an underdog in the biggest fight of his career last September against Lucas Matthysse—finds relatively new.
That newfound status doesn’t bother him, however, and he says it won’t change his approach in the slightest.
“I always have the same mindset no matter what people think. As far as me being the underdog [against Matthysse] that’s what they thought,” Garcia said. “I always have the same mindset and that’s to win and get the job done. I’m going into this fight like I go into every other fight.”
But the stakes are certainly high in this event. Garcia is young, talented and extremely well-spoken. He has superstar potential, and it’s not an accident that he’s been repeatedly floated as a future foil for pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather.
In the past, he has been reluctant to call out anyone other than the man he’ll be facing in his next fight.
He remains that way today but maintains that he’s open to a fight with Mayweather in the future, as long as everything falls into place.
“I’m so focused on March 15 that if I say yeah I’m overlooking my opponent,” Garcia said.
“I’m always down for the big fights and the best fights in boxing. If that’s what my promoter and manager want then let's do it.”
But as Garcia—who remarked that he could “easily” go up to 147 pounds—would agree, first things first.
If he doesn’t get by Herrera, all the talk of future bouts, championships and glory will take a potentially devastating hit.
There’s always the risk of a letdown—given the perceived lack of threat coming into this bout when compared to September against Matthysse—and that’s something Garcia and his team will need to guard against.
He understands that he’ll be in there with a dangerous foe who has nothing to lose, and while many fans don’t see this fight as risky, he has a job to do.
“He’s a tough fighter. I don’t pick my opponents. My manager and promoter pick my opponents. I fight whoever they tell me to fight,” he said.
“He’s just another name in my way that I have to get out of the way.”
That last part is certainly true.
If Garcia hopes to become the next in a long string of great Puerto Rican fighters, it starts on Saturday night in Bayamon.
And a big win would go a long way.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand from a personal interview.