Garcia out to show he belongs in spotlight

Posted: September 13, 2013

LAS VEGAS - He put his right hand up to shield his eyes from the bright bar of light that flashed across his face, as if he hadn't seen the sun for days, not hours, ending another long training session. Danny Garcia has spent a life forever walking out of dark gyms. Forever, it seems, disproving doubt.

He was once a shadowy, tiny silhouette bouncing against the backdrop of a TV screen, parroting the left hooks and jabs of Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker and Roy Jones when he'd watch fights with his father Angel.

Danny was the kid bypassed when it came time to hand out trophies at amateur tournaments - because they didn't honor walkovers (victory accrued when the opponent fails to appear). They never called his name. He was the kid everyone wanted to fight and thought they could beat. That was until they fought him.

Cut to the present. Philly's own Garcia cuts a larger-than-life figure on I-95 billboards with championship belts draped over his shoulders. He now walks out of his own gym, which bears his initials in raised brown concrete, with his own parking space that has his name stenciled on the asphalt.

Garcia will be the featured undercard bout at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas tomorrow night in the most anticipated fight since Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya's 2007 record-breaking pay-per-view match (2.5 million buys). In the main event, Mayweather challenges WBC/WBA light middleweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez at a catchweight of 152 pounds.

Garcia, 25, (26-0 with 16 KOs) will be taking on knockout artist Lucas "The Machine" Matthysse (34-2, 32 KOs) in the biggest fight of his career.

It's also Garcia's weekend to steal. Here's why: Chances are Mayweather's singular skills shine in another virtuoso performance and he easily outboxes Alvarez. With the sustained fury Garcia-Matthysse promises to bring, it opens the door for the most compelling fight of the night.

And here's another reason: No one thinks "Swift" Garcia can win.

Both Garcia and Matthysse, 30, are established boxing superstars. The winner - on this stage - becomes a crossover megastar.

The concurrence of events couldn't be aligned more sharply. Everything, from the setting, to the atmosphere, to the opponent, is in place for Garcia, who holds the WBC, WBA and Ring magazine light-welterweight belts. Actually, toss the belts away, Garcia is the light-welterweight world champion. That's what's so baffling to Angel and Danny.

It's why this moment could be his moment to be fully recognized as one of boxing's best. To disprove doubt. To realize a lifelong endeavor. A major payday awaits the winner, tethered to a possible date with Mayweather.

The odds are against it if you believe the Las Vegas books, most of which have Garcia as a 2-1 underdog.

It's surprising, considering Garcia's distinguished amateur past. He won the under-19 nationals in 2005, the U.S. nationals in 2006 and finished his amateur career with a sterling 107-13 record. In some circles, it was said he was the best amateur to come out of Philadelphia since Meldrick Taylor.

The last time Garcia lost a fight was when he was a teenager, way back on Aug. 25, 2007, losing a 26-12 points decision to Javier Molina at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

As a pro, Molina is struggling up the welterweight ranks. Garcia is fighting in grand casino arenas before the pretty people.

"Go ahead, bet on Matthysse, lose your money. Danny hasn't lost in a long time, in over 7 years, and I don't want to bring that up now, because no one thinks we can win again," said Angel Garcia, Danny's bombastic, lightning-rod father and trainer. "Matthysse is nothing. He's a bum. An opponent. A sparring partner. I keep telling people that we're working on God's time. Matthysse has wins over 34 nobodies. Nobodies.

"It's the same disrespect. It keeps on following us. I'm serious. I'm not making it up. Wherever we go, regardless of who we fight, Danny never gets the kind of respect I've always felt he deserved. Look what happened in the Amir Khan fight."

There are still some who think Garcia hit Khan with a lucky punch in their bout in July 2012.

Garcia, bleeding from a cut over his right eye, splashed the 7-to-1 favorite Khan, knocking him down in the third round and twice more in the fourth. Garcia's signature victory left the boxing world aghast. No one saw that coming.

No one - except for Danny and his team. It traces back to his roots. Back to disproving what others believed - beating guys he wasn't supposed to.

"You know, I accept some things with a laugh," Danny said. "Amir Khan was supposed to be a killer, and look what I did to him. Then it gets back to me that people thought I was lucky. Well, I must be lucky my whole life then, because I keep winning. I think there's a lack of respect for me out there, from the promoters, boxing people. It's something I've faced ever since I put on gloves. I don't understand it. I know my father doesn't.

"When I used to fight in the amateurs, guys wouldn't show up for the finals and I won the tournament. They wouldn't call my name when it was time to get the trophy. They called everyone else's name. Believe me, you remember things like that. I'd say there was disrespect there. It's followed me into the pros."

Then Danny laughs again. He lives with his parents in a nice, split-level home, on a narrow dead-end, tree-lined street nestled in comfortable Bensalem. At first, the neighbors didn't recognize him. The families living on the block never poked their heads out, until the night Danny arrived back after his signature victory over Khan. Now, it seems, everyone on the street knows him - as does the boxing world.

But he holds back. He'll defer to his father, who's sometimes a tinderbox ready to ignite.

Danny always succumbs to his father's wishes, out of deference, out of respect, though mostly out of love. He lives simply. The only luxury he's indulged himself with is a sporty, white Camaro he bought with the extra $50,000 that was added to the purse after Erik Morales was fined for coming in overweight for their bout in March of last year.

Angel is the core of Team Garcia, the unbending centerpiece whom everyone gravitates toward. It's not beneath him to fill the water bottles between training sessions, or to pick up the punch mitts and work out a kid.

He's tireless in his pursuit of what he thinks is right and won't stop until he reaches that destination. His everything is Danny. He often gets chastised for making things more difficult for his son. But many times, he's right.

"The winner on Sept. 14 is going to be Danny, and after Danny beats Matthysse, I don't know what I'm going to say," Angel said. "I don't understand why so many people hate Danny. He's a great kid. I'm the big mouth; they should hate me, not him.

"Danny has never been pampered. Danny is supposed to lose to the guys he beats - and that makes a champion. These guys come from overseas and they get away with murder. If Danny would have two losses, do you think he would be in the spotlight? He'd be on one of those ESPN fights. Matthysse doesn't intimidate me or Danny. He's in for a good, long night if he thinks he can knock Danny out. After Danny wins, a lot of people will be disappointed he won."

Then Angel paused, emphatically sure it was understood: "We wanted this fight. I wanted this fight. We want to bring Matthysse down - and we will."

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