Salka up to Garcia challenge

Posted: August 08, 2014

NEW YORK - In the weeks leading up to by far the biggest fight of his boxing career, Rod Salka has been retweeting many of the messages from his supporters.

Over the weekend, one fan tweeted at him a photo of the movie poster for the 2006 "Rocky Balboa" film. Instead of the movie's title, the capitalized block letters above the picture of Sylvester Stallone atop the Art Museum steps read "Salka."

It's ironic, considering Salka's opponent, light welterweight world champion Danny Garcia (28-0, 16 knockouts), is the one from Rocky's hometown. But there's no denying that Salka (19-0, 3 KOs), a 31-year-old from the Pittsburgh suburb of Bunola, is playing the role of the heavy underdog in tomorrow night's 10-round, non-title fight at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

Just don't expect him to agree with that sentiment. While he found the altered movie poster humorous, Salka's not at all buying into the comparison. Sure, he's not rated, but he has claimed a pair of regional titles, he pointed out yesterday, and is fighting on Showtime for a third time.

"It's not really like that," he said. "If people want to call it that and make me look like a bigger underdog, it will be all the sweeter when I win [and] I'll let them do it. It is what it is.

"I understand that I'm the underdog," he added, "but I don't look at myself as being the underdog at all."

Salka has nothing to lose against Garcia, the proven 26-year-old WBC and WBA titleholder from Juniata Park. He can't take Garcia's belts - neither the WBC nor WBA sanctioned the fight because of Salka's lack of rating - but the challenger would put himself on the map with an upset. Garcia, on the other hand, has a lot to lose - he would be forced to vacate his belts with a defeat - and really not that much to gain. If he wins like expected, the boxing world will chalk it up to a lightly regarded opponent.

Regardless, Garcia said he had one of his best training camps yet, sparring more than a hundred rounds and running at least as many miles. Garcia, who in March eked out a disputed victory against Mauricio Herrera, has said he feels he always has something to prove.

"I know [Salka] trained hard and this is a lifetime opportunity for him to come up here," Garcia said yesterday from behind a podium in the lobby of the Barclays Center, where the final pre-fight news conference was held. "He knows what's at stake. But I trained like this is my last fight, too. I overlook nobody.

"I'm in great shape. I think all the fights in my career that I've been in led me to be the person that I am today and prepared for me each title fight. I feel like a young vet, man."

Salka, who once lost to Garcia in the finals of the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves, is 5 years his opponent's senior. He spent a decade in the U.S. Air Force - he reported to basic training 4 days after Sept. 11, 2001 - and made his pro boxing debut in July 2007, 4 months before Garcia. He typically fights at lightweight, and last defeated the previously undefeated Alexei Collado in April.

Amid it all, Salka's time in the military adds perspective to his boxing career.

"I'm 31 years old, so you just go through a lot of things in life that kind of make this kind of stuff just seem like unnecessary," he said. "Like the pressure that people want to put on [the fight]. Yeah, that's pressure, but nobody's lives are at stake. This isn't life or death. This isn't any kind of pressure like that to me.

"When I think of pressure I'm thinking you've got 10 guys bearing down on you with AK-47s and stuff like that. That's pressure. Or cancer and stuff like that and you're dealing with something. That's real life, real pressure. This here is what we choose to do. So there's no pressure here."

Since this bout was announced, Salka has yet to appear fazed by all the critics, those who say he didn't deserve to fight Garcia. ESPN's Todd Grisham recently quipped on air that Salka wasn't even a household name in his own house.

Sitting at the dais yesterday, Salka barely cracked a smile through about 35 minutes. When it was his time to step behind the podium, he was brief.

"Talking's done," he told the assembled media. "We've been talking about this too long. I'm kind of sick of talking about it. The fight's on Saturday. Everybody's going to come out, see a great fight, and whatever's gonna happen, gonna happen and I'll talk to you guys after that."

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