By John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
Photos: John DiSanto
When Danny Garcia and Rod Salka face off Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, they couldn’t be in more diverse positions. One fighter doesn’t figure to win, even though he’s almost guaranteed a victory. The other isn’t given a snowball’s chance in the fight, but should find himself in a better position, no matter how bad he may lose.
Since it was announced, the fight, which will be televised live on Showtime, has gone through quite a few growing pains. What was originally scheduled as a 12-round junior welterweight world title fight, was rejected for sanction by the WBA and WBC, shrunken to 10 rounds, and then bloated to a 142-pound catch-weight bout. To say that this fight has had a rocky road would be an understatement.
“To me, it doesn’t really matter if this is a title fight or not,” Garcia said. “It’s my show. I’m going to put on a great performance. I’m going to go out there and give the fans a great fight. So don’t worry about it not being a title fight because it’s still a fight.”
Some fans say that the fight is such a waste of time that it should be scrapped completely. Yet given the unlikely nature of the match and the stakes for both boxers, it might still turn out to be an interesting pairing, especially if the most unlikely of scenarios plays out.
“If it ain’t somebody’s way, they not going to agree with it,” Garcia said. “One thing I can guarantee is that August 9th is going to be a great performance, and if people don’t watch it, they’re just going to miss out on a great night of boxing. I always go for the knockout. I need the knockout. I haven’t had a knockout since the Morales fight in Brooklyn.”
Philly-born Garcia is the heavy favorite, and expected to get that knockout. He is an undefeated world champion, who for the past two years has built an impressive legacy. His successful run up to the title and subsequent defenses was capped with an upset victory of boogeyman Lucas Matthysse, a fighter considered to be unbeatable. Unbeatable until Garcia soundly defeated him last September. Prior to that, Garcia also beat Amir Khan, Erik Morales (twice), Zab Judah, and others in a string of fights that made him a budding star.
However, Garcia hit a bump this past March when he faced a far-lesser-known Mauricio Herrera in a manufactured Puerto Rican homecoming for Garcia that did little but distract the young champion and feed his growing sense of self. It seemed to cost him.
The general attitude was that Garcia would, of course, easily turn back Herrera’s challenge before his “home” fans and set up bigger, better, and more lucrative fights (like a welterweight challenge of Floyd Mayweather).
But no one told Herrera that he came to Puerto Rico to lose. As a result, the Mexican-American boxed circles around Garcia, bloodied and broke his nose and almost left town with Garcia’s title belts. Ever since the close call, Garcia has been slammed with negative press and nasty social media comments.
That he chose to follow up the Herrera fight against an unheralded foe like Salka, just added to the disapproval by the suddenly fickle fans.
“I respect everybody’s opinion,” Garcia said. “I don’t knock anyone for their own opinion. If that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel. I can’t tell you what to say. But I can tell you what I’m going to do on August 9th. I’m going to go in there and fight hard for my fans.”
Many felt it was a disgrace that he would even consider defending his championship against a fighter not only unranked at 140 pounds, but barely rated in his natural division of lightweight. That lack of ranking led to the bout becoming a non-title fight.
Was Garcia’s confidence so shaken by the Herrera fight that he needed such an “easy” opponent? Were the skills he showed over the past two years suddenly so uncertain that the powers that be needed to ensure a victory just to keep the possibility of a Mayweather fight alive for 2015?
“I’ve always got something to prove,” Garcia said. “It’s either I’m fighting somebody I’m not going to win. Nobody believes in me. Or I’m fighting somebody I’m supposed to win, and then he fights good, and I still didn’t win.”
It seems no matter what Garcia does or says right now, he can’t win. Will it be the same after he fights Salka? Will anyone care if he walks right through his challenger from Pittsburgh? And if he somehow loses, or looks ordinary, as he did with Herrera, just imagine the fallout he’d hear over that.
“The fans know what they’re going to see when they see Danny Garcia,” the champion said. “They going to see blood, sweat, and tears. They going to see power. They going to see an exciting fight. Somebody’s going to get hurt, and it ain’t going to be me.”
Salka on the other hand, has no pressure on him, nothing to prove. No one expects him to win, so oddly, he has a golden opportunity to prove something. Anything he does with Garcia would be considered a plus.
Salka has not exactly been embraced by the fans for this fight, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much.
“Boxing fans are entitled to say whatever they want to say,” Salka said. “I did ten years in the military. You have that right in this country. Say whatever you want to say. I get it. People are mad about the fight, but you have to look at it from my point of view. I didn’t expect to get the fight. I’m not going to sit here and argue that I’m the most qualified (to fight him). But at the same time, I put myself in a good position signing with Golden Boy. If I had signed with some other promoter, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this fight. You have to get a break sometime.”
His position is clear. This is that break that every fighter waits for. He’s been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he’s looking to capitalize on it. The fact that he’s never been in with a fighter of Garcia’s level doesn’t concern him.
“I’m not saying that I’m going to go in there a 2-1 underdog,” Salka said. “I know when the odds come out, I’m going to be a big underdog. But recently I have been finding more of who I am as a fighter. I’m pretty good at it. I move around really well. I have good hand speed and good foot speed. I’ve got sneaky power. I’m not out there trying to walk you down and knock you out. But if you watch my recent fights and watch his recent fights, you could foresee me giving him some real problems, and even beating the guy. Anything can happen, and I really think I have a really good chance to go in there and prove a point.”
Salka talks a good game, sounds extremely confident and grounded. He’s not under any delusion that this will be an easy fight for him, but he says he’s ready for that challenge.
“I started in boxing late,” Salka said. “I was destined to have a couple missteps and some losses on my record (early on). It’s just growing pains. I was getting my own fights; I was putting on my own shows. With this fight, I’m even more confident that I’m more comfortable with what I’m going to do. So I’m just excited for the fight.”
After the difficulty Garcia had in his last outing, and the avalanche of criticism he’s received leading up to this one, Danny may be looking to make a statement to all those critics.
“I think I’m going to get a Danny Garcia that’s fighting Erik Morales for the first time. (He’ll have) something to prove,” Salka said. “Maybe as a champion, you can get complacent after a while. Fall into a certain groove where you’re not training the same, or maybe your head gets a little big. I don’t know if that’s the case with him. But I know after that last fight and all the crap he’s getting for this fight, he’s going to be coming. I’m going to get the best Danny Garcia that anybody’s seen in the last couple years. Especially with all the crap that the fight’s getting. I don’t doubt that for a second.”
The question is will Salka be ready to face that version of Garcia?
“As a fan, I’ve watched his fights on TV, but I’ve never watched one twice,” Salka said. “I kind of know what he does, but I don’t want to have any preconceived notions about what he’s going to do when we step in that ring. I’m just going to go in there and come forward and implement my game plan. And then, however he reacts to my game plan, is how I’ll have to make adjustments and go from there.”
Garcia’s approach to the fight is similar, but a bit more focused on a specific result.
“I seen him fight on ShowBox,” Garcia said. “He beat an undefeated guy. He boxed pretty good. He’s an awkward fighter. Last time (against Herrera) I made a lot of mistakes. This time, I’m not going to make mistakes. I’m going to go in there and be Danny Garcia on his A-Game. On August 9th, we’re going to call it the Purge. Team Garcia is going to purge the Barclay’s Center. A few hours of killing, bleeding. The Purge.”
“I’m excited for the fight,” Salka said. “I’m excited to get on TV and have a large audience watching live. So if you didn’t know who I was before, now you do. That’s been the whole question – Who is Rod Salka? I’m hoping that after August 9th everybody will know who I am and everybody will be happy about the fight.”
That’s the talk of a fighter with nothing to lose.
“All I care about is having no regrets,” Salka continued. “If I worked my hardest and know that I did my best, then at the end of the day, I can live with that. So that’s fine, no matter what happens. But with that being said, I’m happy to be here, but I’m not just happy to be here. I’m coming to win the fight.”
So is Garcia.
“At the end of the day, it’s about me winning. No matter how I win,” Garcia said. “A fight is a fight. A lot of people count people out because they don’t have a name. But a fight is a fight.”
That may be true. This is a fight, but Garcia may find that even if manages to purge the Barclays Center and Rod Salka, he may still be waging his fight with the fans. No matter how big he can win, Danny Garcia is a fighter in a no win situation.
To read more about the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.