John Smallwood: Remembering His Roots

Proud Philadelphian Garcia also filled with pride about Puerto Rican heritage

Posted: October 22, 2012

Danny Garcia knows where he is from.

The holder of three world boxing

championship belts at 140 pounds was born and raised in North Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old champion still trains at Harrowgate Boxing Club, where he was introduced to the sport at age 10 by his father, Angel.

Garcia will proudly carry his Philadelphia boxing roots into the ring Saturday night when he defends his unified super lightweight titles against former champion Erik Morales at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

But Danny Garcia also knows his heritage.

Angel was born in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, before moving to Philadelphia as a child. Danny's mother, Maritza, is originally from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

As Danny says: "Puerto Rico is in my blood. I come from a traditional Puerto Rican family. I eat chicken, rice and beans, when I'm not on a diet. You come in our house, it has the smells of Puerto Rico."

That's why Danny doubles-down on his boxing heritage.

It gives him immense pride to be Philadelphia's first Latino world boxing champion. But from the start of his career, he has said that he also wants to become the "next great Puerto Rican fighter."

In a sense, what's at stake in Brooklyn is Garcia's coming-out party as a champion from Philadelphia and Puerto Rico.

Garcia has the belts, but how he is received for this fight, which headlines the Showtime Championship Boxing telecast, will go a long way toward establishing whether he has superstar-marketability in both communities.

It's bad luck that this fight is now under a cloud, because Morales is reported to have failed a random drug test administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Morales, 36, reportedly had his "A" sample test positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, which aids in weight loss. He missed weight for his first fight with Garcia, although the bout went on as scheduled.

Fight 2 is still scheduled to go on, because the results of Morales' "B" sample won't likely come until after the fight.

It will be the second time a Garcia/Morales fight has pre-bout controversy. Garcia won the vacant WBC title in March after Morales was stripped of it for missing weight.

If Garcia wins the rematch, nothing changes.

If Morales wins and then his "B" sample comes back dirty, both the WBC and WBA titles at 140 pounds with likely be vacant.

"I feel strong," said Garcia, who beat Morales by unanimous decision in March in Texas. "I'm well prepared and can't wait to showcase my skills.

"I expect a lot of fans from Philadelphia to come. Everyone is coming to this fight. It's big."

We'll see.

Despite being an undefeated champion, Garcia (24-0) is just starting to be recognized in Philly.

Much of that can be attributed to the old saying "out of sight, out of mind."

Los Angeles-based Golden Boy Promotions, which was established by boxing great Oscar de la Hoya in 2002, signed Garcia when he turned pro in 2007.

He made his professional debut at the Borgata, but then had eight of his next nine fights in Nevada or California.

Garcia has fought professionally only three times in Pennsylvania and hasn't boxed on the East Coast since Oct. 8, 2010.

It will be interesting to see how many Philadelphians will go up the Jersey Turnpike to see the city's only reigning champion fight in Brooklyn.

What will be of equal interest to Garcia will be for him find out how he will be received by the large Puerto Rican community in New York, since he was not born in New York or Puerto Rico.

Being a champion in itself is not enough in boxing. You have to be a champion the people want to see and can sell out venues.

"That's why we put the fight [in Brooklyn,]" Garcia said. "We're going to find out. We're trying to build it big.

"But all I can do is go into the ring and give my best performance. Then I have to let the fans determine that."

Because he is just entering that "superstar" phase as a fighter, it's still too early to get a clear read on Garcia's marketability.

Morales was the draw for the first fight at Reliant Stadium in Houston, not just because he was the champion but because he was from Tijuana, Mexico, and his huge following with Mexican and Mexican-American fans would produce a big gate in Texas.

Even though Garcia was the newly crowned champion, he didn't have the clout to get his first title defense against Amir Kahn, the international superstar from Great Britain, in Atlantic City, as he wanted.

Kahn was the main attraction for unification title fight in July in Las Vegas.

But Kahn, despite his name recognition, apparently was not a guy who could bring legions of fans across the pond - even to Las Vegas.

According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, more tickets for the fight at Mandalay Bay were given away (3,364) than were sold (3,147.)

The total gate of $426,152 was less than the purse for either fighter: Kahn got $950,000 and Garcia $520,000.

But in Vegas, getting that much additional foot traffic in a casino for a fight weekend is the biggest moneymaker.

Unlike in Vegas and Atlantic City, there is no auxiliary income from casino pits in New York.

There has not been a world championship fight in Brooklyn in more than 80 years, and even Madison Square Garden, once the Mecca of boxing, gets big fight cards only every couple years.

This is big for boxing in the Big Apple.

They need a big house at Barclays Center, which is probably why five New York fighters, including WBA welterweight champion Paul Malignaggi, from Brooklyn, are on the undercard.

But this Garcia's moment to see if he can shine as a headline draw.

"I feel comfortable now," Garcia said. "I'm around my kind of fans. East Coast fans. I'm an East Coast fighter. It's not my hometown, but it's close."

"Puerto Rican fighters are real strong. Fighters from Philadelphia are real smart. The advantage I have is I'm strong and smart. That's from Puerto Rico and Philly."


Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/JohnSmallwood.

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