Story & photos by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
When Danny Garcia enters the ring Saturday to defend his junior welterweight championship against Californian Mauricio Herrera, no one would blame him for suffering a bit of letdown. After all, he has been on a two-year tear through his division, winning titles, defying odds, and toppling star attractions like Lucas Matthysse, Eric Morales, Amir Khan, and Zab Judah. Against Herrera, it will be the first time in quite a while that Philadelphia’s top fighter will be the overwhelming pick to win a fight.
Therefore, it would be understandable for Garcia to approach his next fight as his easiest assignment in years. That would just be human nature.
However, if Garcia does come into the ring at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, expecting an easy night, he would be making a big mistake. A mistake that could cost him everything he accomplished recently.
Mauricio Herrera is a solid challenger with some very good wins on his 20-3, 7 KOs, record. Herrera was the first to defeat Russian strongman and thrill-machine Ruslan Provodnikov (2011). “El Maestro” has also won three regional championships in his seven-year career, and holds both height and reach advantages over Garcia. This world title opportunity is exactly what Herrera has been waiting for, and the timing is perfect for an upset.
“We didn’t take this fight just because it is for the world tile,” Herrera said. “We think we can win. I’ve never been in a bad fight. It’s going to be a great fight. I’m a spoiler, so he better look out for that.”
However, coming off his career-defining victory over Lucas Matthysse, Danny Garcia, 27-0, 16 KOs, has proven to the boxing world that he is a legitimate champion, a pound-for-pound candidate, and at (almost) 26, has probably entered his prime years.
“He’s getting more mature,” said Garcia’s trainer and father, Angel. “He’s hitting harder. He’s thinking more. Every fight you learn, and he showed the world that he is the true champion at 140.”
Recognition was a long time coming for Danny Garcia. He was either regularly expected to lose to more-famous opponents or criticized for not winning big enough (like in his fight with Judah). However, after pulling upset after upset, Garcia showed everyone what he is made of and now that elusive respect finally seems to be his. He is widely considered THE champion at 140 pounds, and is even being eyed as an eventual opponent for boxing’s top dog, Floyd Mayweather.
However, Garcia’s sudden status comes with a built-in risk. The high-flying fighter must avoid being over confident against the far less heralded Herrera. It is a mistake that many other young champions have made through the years. Garcia acknowledges the trap and is determined to avoid it.
“He wants to be champion,” Garcia said of his opponent. “So it’s another big fight for me, at the end of the day. So I gotta go in there and get the job done and stay champion.”
If there truly is a danger in this scenario, it might be something that has already quietly transpired.
If Garcia has cut any corners leading up to the fight, if he has taken it easy in training, or suffered more than a microscopic loss of his competitive edge, the damage may already be done. He just won’t know it until the bell rings.
However, Team Garcia does not believe there will be a problem.
“We take everybody real seriously,” Angel Garcia said. “We don’t take nothing for granted. We take him as serious as we took Matthysse, as we took Zab, as we took Morales, as we took Khan. We taking him very seriously and we’re training hard. We’re not changing nothing. Is he (Herrera) ready to take on the champ of the world? That is the question.”
To add to the potential trap, Garcia will receive a hero’s welcome for his first-ever bout in Puerto Rico. The attention will be heady leading up to, and especially on, fight night. Although the Philadelphian is an American fighter, Puerto Rico is the homeland of both Garcia’s parents, and he wears his Puerto Rican culture proudly.
“I want people to understand that he was born in America, so he’s an American fighter,” Angel Garcia said. “But culturally he is Puerto Rican. I’m 100% Puerto Rican. My wife is 100% Puerto Rican, and I want the Puerto Rican people to understand that he is also a Puerto Rican and accept him as the true champion that he is.”
Although not exactly a homecoming for Danny, the fight is being positioned as precisely that in an attempt to capitalize on both Garcia’s heritage and the fact Puerto Rico, always a boxing hotbed, currently boasts not a single world champion born on the island.
Garcia (and Golden Boy) would be more than happy to fill that void.
“Just because I wasn’t born in Puerto Rico doesn’t mean I’m not a Puerto Rican fighter,” Garcia said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to fight there. I’m Puerto Rican, so it’s like a dream come true to me. My family is really excited about going to Puerto Rico. They are shopping for new clothes, summer clothes. So it should be good. I’m just happy to reach out to my heritage and give them a great night of boxing.”
But looking to impress a hometown crowd can be another pitfall for a fighter like Garcia. Hometown adoration can inspire a fighter, but it can also be a problem. Just ask the former champ who tried too hard, took unnecessary risks, and lost their belts attempting to make their biggest fans happy.
“My mind is just on March 15th,” Garcia said. “So I’m not even paying attention to anything else.”
To be successful on Saturday, Danny Garcia must keep his nose to the grindstone and maintain the tunnel vision that has brought him the success he currently enjoys. As hard as it might be, he must hold onto that underdog mentality and approach Herrera as if he is another of the big names that have crowded his record during his rise to the top.
This is not necessarily an easy task for a boxer. We sometimes forget that fighters are human, and like all of us, are susceptible to the failings of human nature. Being a boxer is full of ups and downs, and it is up to the fighter and his team to find the motivation to give 100%, even when a lesser percentage may be enough.
So no one would blame Danny Garcia for letting down a little for this fight. But as a champion with so much more still to accomplish, Garcia must fight the urge to be human and continue to prove himself, even though the boxing world has finally realized that he is one of today’s best.
Garcia has become a champion and come out on top over the likes of Matthysse, Morales, Khan and Judah. Now he has make sure he can conquer human nature, and the toughest opponent of all – himself.
“I’m feeling good. I’m training hard and I’m ready right now,” Garcia said. “After every fight, my life has changed for the better. I work hard. It’s nothing but hard work and dedication for me. So there is no place in my mind for a letdown. I’m going to continue to keep winning.”
The fight will be broadcast live by Showtime.
To read more on the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.