Danny Garcia (28-0, 16 knockouts), the junior welterweight champion of the world, is one of boxing's very best. The Philadelphian packs plenty of grit, prodigious skill and a powerful punch into a slender 140-pound frame. He rose to the top by knocking out British sensation Amir Khan and stayed there with an upset win over Lucas Matthysse last year.
Ring Magazine proclaims him the very best junior welterweight in the world. According to ESPN, he's knocking on the door for a place among the most elite fighters in the world, currently sitting 12th on their list of pound-for-pound greats.
"Good looks too. Not to toot my own horn," Garcia joked in an exclusive interview. "...Danny Garcia knows how to put on a show."
But the joke rings a bit hollow, the mood a little tense. Because, despite small talk about how he's now referring to himself in the third person, Garcia knows where our conversation is going. It's a series of questions he's been asked all week as he prepares mentally for his bout.
Because, despite his elevated status, Garcia isn't boxing one of the world's top fighters Saturday night at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn (9 p.m. ET on Showtime).
Because, despite the presence of third-ranked junior welterweight Lamont Peterson on the very same fight card, announcer Paulie Malignaggi is as close as Garcia will come to a top-flight fighter.
Instead of Peterson or a long list of appropriate opponents, he'll step into the ring against Rod Salka (19-3, 3 knockouts), a light-punching lightweight who sent even hardcore fans of the sport scrambling to BoxRec in order to refresh their memories about who exactly he is.
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Garcia shouldn't be in the ring with the Salkas of the world at this point of his career. Even after struggling in his last bout against the unheralded Mauricio Herrera, Garcia should be testing himself every time out. That's what champions do. Matching him with Salka isn't just an insult to boxing fans. It's an insult to Garcia as well.
According to Bad Left Hook's Scott Christ, the fight has "been dismissed as terrible matchmaking from the moment it was signed." ESPN's Dan Rafael agrees. He calls the fight "one of the most pathetic Showtime main events in its nearly 30-year boxing history."
Garcia, in his heart, knows it too.
"I'm a top-tier fighter. I'm one of the stars in boxing. People want me to fight who they want me to fight. So when I don't fight them they get angry. They get mad and talk bad about the fight," Garcia said, admitting he understood where fans are coming from.
That's not to say, however, he's taking Salka lightly. "At the end of the day, you can't take nobody light. You've always got to be prepared. You've always got to be ready. Just because he doesn't have a name don't mean he can't fight."
There's a ring of truth there, especially coming from Garcia, who took the crown despite being a huge underdog against Khan and then Matthysse. He's earned his accolades the hard way, the B-side in every major fight of his career. In a boxing world built on who you know as much as how you fight, he's taken the top spot on merit alone.
Sportsbooks have made him a massive favorite for a reason, placing the odds at up to 50-to-1 that he'll walk away the winner. But he understands all too well that underdogs can and do lose—he's proven that point himself.
In today's boxing world it just doesn't make financial sense for Garcia and Peterson to meet on a random Saturday night on Showtime. The risk is too high, the reward too low. For a fighter like Garcia, on the verge of stardom but not quite there yet, the smart play is to wait for one of boxing's few stars, men with last names like Mayweather, Alvarez or Pacquiao to come calling.
Opportunities are scarce. Stepping in against a tough fighter without a name, and losing, can put a young star like Garcia at the back of the line. A loss against a fighter like Peterson, even a valiant one, would remove Garcia from the Floyd sweepstakes.
Even Garcia's father Angel, one of the sport's most talkative motor mouths, a man who has enraged foes prior to past bouts, can't quite muster up the energy to hate Rod Salka, a popular former soldier who deployed to Iraq in 2003.
"To me, Salka is going to come 100 percent, fighting an undefeated guy. He’s going to want to get that reputation," Angel told the press last week. "But I’m not worried about him. I’m worried about Danny and I know he’s going to be ready."
The rhetoric may yet escalate. With weigh-ins still to come, Garcia says it's too early to count his father out.
"We'll have to see. People will have to tune in to see what he brings out. He's just a spontaneous person," Garcia said. "He's an entertaining person and a funny person. He doesn't just do it for the media. That's just how he is."
But, like everyone else, Angel seems to be looking past this fight toward greater glory. Although it may seem Showtime and Golden Boy are preparing for an eventual matchup with Peterson to decide once and for all who's tops at junior welterweight, the Salka fight is being contested at 142 pounds. Garcia is inching up toward 147—the perfect weight for a potential showdown with Floyd Mayweather.
Garcia's name is being floated out there for the potential jackpot fight. Perhaps that explains why Garcia's manager, the elusive and media-averse Al Haymon, was loath to present him a real challenge this Saturday. Strangely enough, it could be Salka, of all people, is the road to Mayweather.
"Of course that's everybody's dream to fight Floyd Mayweather," Garcia admitted after no small amount of prodding. "If that were to happen in the future I'd be excited. But if not, I'll just build my own legacy."
Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer. His most recent book, Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling, is available wherever fine books are sold.
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