Garcia prepares for title defense in father's homeland, Puerto Rico

"I have the Puerto Rico power and the Philadelphia toughness," Danny Garcia says.
"I have the Puerto Rico power and the Philadelphia toughness," Danny Garcia says. (TOM GRALISH / Staff)
Posted: March 11, 2014

Angel Garcia, the father and trainer of boxing champion Danny Garcia, extended his arms and held his hands 12 inches apart.

That is how big, Angel Garcia said, the brick of cheese was that the government supplied when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. The bland government cheese found its way into nearly every meal.

He grew up in Naguabo, a small town on the island's east coast that is known for its sugar cane. The town was quiet and boring at night, Garcia said. Everyone farmed or mined in the morning.

Garcia ran the streets shoeless, and his toys were old car tires. Leave a tire outside, he said, and it was gone by the morning.

His mother sought a better life for Garcia, his two older brothers, and baby sister. She divorced Garcia's father and moved by herself to North Philadelphia.

A seamstress, she found work in an American Street factory and earned enough money in a year to fly her children to America.

"We dreamed to have a better life," Garcia said.

The dream returns Saturday to Puerto Rico - just 45 miles from where Angel Garcia ran shoeless - when Danny Garcia defends his unified light-welterweight titles against Mauricio Herrera in Bayamon's Coliseo Rubén Rodríguez.

Danny Garcia is one of boxing's brightest stars and a millionaire champion. He owns a home in Bensalem, where he lives with his parents and twin sisters. And he recently bought another property in Montgomery County.

The champion drives a white Camaro, purchased after he won his first world title. His boxing gym is also home to his own recording studio, barbershop, and auto body shop. It is every business he said he ever wanted to own.

"I'm happy because they don't have to suffer what I suffered," Angel Garcia said. "That means it ended with me - the suffering ended here."

Rich in boxing history, Puerto Rico does not have a current world champion. Garcia (27-0, 16 knockouts) said he hopes people will see him as that if he defeats Herrera (20-3, 7 KOs), a 33-year-old Mexican American.

Garcia plans to fight three times this year, and if he stays undefeated, the champ could be in line to meet Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May 2015.

"I have the best of both worlds," said Garcia, the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, and Ring Magazine champion. "I have the Puerto Rico power and the Philadelphia toughness."

A Puerto Rican flag waves from a two-by-four near the Jasper Street entrance to Garcia's Juniata Park gym. He grew up just a few blocks away and began boxing as a 10-year-old at the Harrowgate Boxing Club.

Another Puerto Rican flag inside hangs from the gym's ceiling. An airbrushed portrait of Garcia - with the island's flag behind him - looks over the ring.

Garcia and his father visited Puerto Rico last month to hype the title fight. The champion said there was no language barrier since everyone seemed to speak English.

He has been practicing his Spanish, which his parents speak fluently, and now can fully understand it. But he said he just needs to be more confident when speaking.

Garcia's mother, Maritza, moved with her parents when she was six months old from Puerto Rico to New York City. She said she was nervous that boricuas - natives - would view her son as an outsider when he visited last month.

"They loved him," said Maritza Garcia, who was born in Ponce. "When he landed at the airport, they were going crazy for him."

Danny Garcia did not visit Puerto Rico until two years ago, but his mother said she raised her children on the island's customs.

"Everything was rice and beans," she said.

The toughest part of his two-month training camp has been keeping his weight down. Danny Garcia said that's always the biggest challenge. And it will continue to be up until he weighs in on Friday afternoon.

Once he makes weight, Garcia plans to take his family out for a steak dinner near their oceanfront resort. It won't be government cheese, but the Garcias will be home.


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen

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