BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – Danny Garcia thought he might have visited Puerto Rico when he was a kid, but he was mistaken. He definitely knows that he visited two years ago, traveling the island and visiting uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents.
That gave him an opportunity to soak in his heritage – his mother and father were both born in Puerto Rico before settling in Philadelphia. He got a taste for the island and the people. They embraced him like he was born here. He is even recognized when he goes to a shopping mall.
“I love it here – the weather, the beautiful people, the culture," said Garcia, who holds the RING, WBA and WBC junior welterweight titles. “Where I grew up in Philadelphia it’s just like Puerto Rico, but it’s city life. We eat the same food, listen to the same music. It’s just like a small part of Puerto Rico, except for the weather."
Now Garcia will get a chance to immerse himself in another slice of Puerto Rican heritage – the island's rich boxing tradition. He will defend his titles against Mauricio Herrera at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon on Saturday night on Showtime Championship Boxing.
Puerto Rican former titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez of Rio Piedras will face Daniel Ponce de Leon in a 10-round junior lightweight rematch on the undercard. In a sense this is like a hometown fight for Garcia.
“Everything will favor him," said Herrera, a Mexican-American from Riverside, Calif. “I’ve always been the underdog. I’m always going into someone else’s backyard with their promotion, with their judges. I’m going to do my best to be a world champion. I know he has everything on his side. That doesn’t bother me."
Following their press conference at Bayamon’s City Hall Braulio Castillo Theater, Garcia and Herrera jawed at each other during the faceoff.
“I just said I was going to hurt him. He was just shaking his head," Garcia said.
Herrera (20-3, 7 KOs) has a victory over Ruslan Provodnikov from 2011 and lost a tough decision to Mike Alvarado in 2012. Though he is 33 years old, he’s not a journeyman. He didn’t turn pro until he was 27 years old. He said he has never been down and he has never been hurt. He said Garcia picked the wrong boxer to fight in his Puerto Rico showcase.
“I told him that he made a mistake picking me. He’s in trouble. I’m not as easy as his people have been telling him," Herrera said.
There is some recent history helping Herrera make his case. Ivan Calderon and Lopez have had their world championships stripped from them in hometown matches before partisan Puerto Rican fans. They both lost in the same stadium that Garcia is fighting Herrera on Saturday night.
Garcia said it’s not going to happen to him. He said there haven’t been any distractions for him since he arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
“I trained in Philadelphia. I had a good training camp. I’m ready," he said. “I did everything I was supposed to do. I didn’t take any shortcuts. I came a week before the fight. I’m ready. I did what I always do."
This match has seen a much mellower Angel Garcia, Danny's father and trainer. Typically he is berating his son’s opponent and threatening to beat up someone in the opposing camp. But he was the picture of decorum at the press conference on Wednesday afternoon. He didn’t have one bad thing to say about Herrera or anyone in his camp.
“I don’t know. Sometimes he’s like that. It is what it is," Danny Garcia said. “It depends. Maybe it’s a mental thing he’s doing. Maybe [the other side is] saying, “Angel’s not doing that so they must not be taking it serious."
Garcia said he doesn’t tell his father what to do. But he asked him to reserve the madness until later in the promotion.
“I just told him, “Pop, just do it in the second press conference. You’re giving these guys extra energy to work out harder before they get in the ring with me," he said.
Garcia has grown from each of his previous three title defenses. He likes the feel of being a champion.
“It’s just starting to sink in," he said. “My last couple of fights I showed a lot. In the Judah fight I showed that I could take a punch. In the Matthysse fight I showed how much more experienced I am. I can control the fight. I’m growing into being a true champion and definitely one of those pound-for-pound fighters."
His victory over Lucas Matthysse has sent his confidence skyrocketing. He feels like he’s in complete control now when he steps into the ring.
“It’s kind of like you’re on cruise control. You adjust to the bumps in the road," he said. “You’re flying and every time a problem comes along you just figure out a way to get around it. That’s how it was when I was a contender. Being a champion is definitely everything."
That is something, other than the hostile crowd, that Herrera will have to deal with.
“When I look at him he’s not sure. He’s not sure what he’s gotten himself into," Garcia said. “I’m sure he trained hard. One thing about boxing is you never know what’s going to happen. I came so far to prove myself and I’m so hungry to get better and continue to keep winning. I’m only 25 years old and at the beginning of my career. Whatever he’s thinking it’s not going to stop me."