By Jake Donovan
From the moment he turned pro all the way through his World championship winning effort over Lucas Matthysse last September, Danny Garcia has always been a “fight who they put in front of me” type of fighter. Some say it with a sense of modesty, others truly don’t care who they fight.
You can count Garcia among the latter category, to the point where he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of who he’s fighting. It explains the perceived chip on his shoulder, as his upcoming non-title fight with Rod Salka has been rightfully ripped by most in the media. The bout headlines on Showtime, live from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
That the apparent mismatch gets airtime hasn’t been as upsetting to fans and media alike as is the fact that the show also includes Lamont Peterson, a 140 lb. titlist whom most expected to land the assignment versus Garcia. Instead, Peterson appears in his own showcase bout as he faces Edgar Santana in the evening’s co-feature.
The suggested storyline for Saturday’s show is that wins by Garcia and Peterson will – or should – lead to a head-on collision by year’s end or the early 2015. Whatever happens in the future doesn’t really interest Garcia. All he cares about is the present, even if he’s alone in his anticipation.
“I've been sparring hundreds of rounds. I'm running my miles every day. I'm very excited for this fight,” Garcia (28-0, 16KOs) insists of his first non-title fight since 2011. “I can't wait to be back in the Barclays Center to give the fans my third performance at Barclays Center. I had two great performances there already, with Morales and Zab Judah.
“I'm really motivated and, like I say, August 9 at the Barclays Center it's the Danny Garcia purge.”
If the fight took place anywhere but inside the ring, it would be classified as bullying. Garcia is upwards of a 50-1 favorite in some circles, which means that – from a betting standpoint – a win by Salka (19-3, 3KOs) would go down as the biggest upset in boxing history. Salka has led an honorable life, serving in the United States military and thus far has enjoyed a pro career in which he’s regularly promoted his own fights in Western Pennsylvania.
A big break in his career came in April, when the blue collar fighter scored a major upset with a points win over previously unbeaten Alexei Collado on Showtime’s ShoBox series. The win was by far the biggest of his career, though even Salka himself didn’t expect the win to lead an opportunity like the one that awaits him this weekend.
“No, I wouldn't have thought that I'd be fighting Danny Garcia in my next fight,” Salka admits. “Heck, when I was promoting my own shows I didn't know who I was going to fight in my next fight. It's just the nature of the beast. You never know. It might be a big fight or I might have been fighting off TV or on another TV network somewhere else. You can't predict these things in boxing.”
To be honest, nobody seems to be sure how the fight came about. At least, nobody is willing to admit any knowledge to it coming to the table.
“You know, I don't pick my opponents. My manager Al Haymon does,” Garcia reminds the masses of the roles each member of his team plays. Garcia’s role is to simply fight the fights. “I never go against him. He picked the (Amir) Khan fight, he picked the Matthysse fight, he picked the Zab Judah fight, he picked the (Mauricio) Herrera fight, he picked all my fights.
“I never question him about his decisions. I just accept the fight and my job is to train hard and go in there August 9 and give the people at the Barclays Center a great performance and a good fight.”
Most will argue that the problem is that Haymon’s decisions aren’t being questioned. The fact that Garcia is gleefully going through with the fight has rubbed many the wrong way.
The fact is, Garcia will still go about his business, regardless of what’s written. The matchup aside, it’s what makes him the professional fighter and world champion that he is.
“That's the media's problem,” Garcia says of any lingering criticism surrounding this weekend’s headliner. “At the end of the day, he's got two hands, I've got two hands and we're going to fight. It's a fight. It doesn't matter who he is.
“It's going to be an excellent performance August 9, two guys going in there and giving their all and it's going to be a great fight.”
There aren’t many who share his viewpoint. Promoter Oscar de la Hoya does, although it’s his job to sell it as a competitive fight.
Salka shares Garcia’s view of the fight, to where he refuses to accept the role of prohibitive underdog. There’s no desire to go the distance with the champ, or merely give a good showing so that his stock can go up, win or lose.
“I don’t care what that would do,” Salka says of such a scenario, refusing to accept ‘moral victory’ as an alternative to an actual victory this weekend. “I don’t have any other expectations other than coming in there and winning the fight. Having any other thoughts about that only distracts from my goal, and my goal is to ignore (the critics) and win the fight. So come August 9, I’m coming to win.”
Naturally, so too is Garcia. The Philly native comes to win every time out, especially in his career-best victory over Matthysse last September. Many tabbed him as the underdog going in, but Garcia remained calm under pressure, even flooring the knockout artist late in the fight to preserve victory while gaining worldwide recognition as the true champ at 140 lb.
It’s been a struggle to claim that staying power ever since. Garcia struggled to a disputed points win over Mauricio Herrera earlier this year in Puerto Rico. That the fight was much closer than expected offered the suggestion that Herrera was robbed of a major upset.
Now with Garcia taking another step backwards in facing the smaller Salka in a fight taking place at a catchweight of 142 lb., there exists the concern that the unbeaten champ is squandering all of the overdue support that came his way last year.
Garcia doesn’t see it that way, at all.
“I already got momentum. I've been training hard. I'm 28 now. I have no losses and I'm always motivated. I feel like I've got great momentum now. I've just got to go in there August 9 and perform and get the (win).
“That's all that matters, other than ratings and rankings and what the people think, it doesn't matter because good media is good media and bad media is still good media, as long as people are paying attention it makes me relevant and I'm going to go in there August 9 and give the fans a great fight.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox