By Jake Donovan
A 24-year old rising star steps into the ring for his biggest challenge to date. Standing across the ring is a living legend among a boxing rich Mexico nation, defending the WBC 140 lb. crown and not yet ready to hand off the Generation Next.
So goes the storyline for Saturday’s HBO-televised headliner in Houston, where unbeaten Danny “Swift” Garcia (22-0, 14KO) pursues his first major title as he takes on Erik Morales (52-7, 36KO). It’s a surreal moment for Garcia, whose first attempt at alphabet hardware comes against a fighter he idolized during his youth.
If there’s anyone who can relate to what Garcia is experiencing this weekend, it’s his promoter Oscar de la Hoya.
Sixteen years ago, de la Hoya – though far more established at the time – was the same age as Garcia and carrying a similar record (21-0) into the ring when facing his own boxing idol, the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez.
de la Hoya entered the ring to mixed reactions from the crowd, but went on to become the sport’s biggest star and the pride of two nations – Mexico and the U.S. – in the aftermath of his 4th round stoppage of Chavez.
At no point prior to or during the fight did de la Hoya lose sight of the task at hand, even in the presence of a childhood hero.
“There was no question he was my idol - and he still is my idol,” de la Hoya says of Chavez while conjuring up memories from that June ’96 evening. “But when you get in the ring it’s a different thing. He’s still my idol to this day. The way I felt at the time is that you pass the torch. What I had in my head was that it was time for the torch to be passed.”
It’s clear from Garcia’s quotes leading up to this weekend’s fight that he carries the same mentality. The Philly native still remains a fan and student of the sport, but that as a prizefighter knows that he has a job to do this weekend, regardless of who stands in the opposite corner.
“I know Danny has the same respect for Morales that I did – and still do have – for Chavez,” de la Hoya states. “Win or lose, that respect will still go on. It was good for my career (at the time) and Danny Garcia wants to do the same thing.”
Of course, none of that is to be taken as a prediction for this weekend.
Morales continues to fend off Father Time, in typical nail-biting fashion. The 35-year old came just short of a huge upset in last April’s 12-round war with Marcos Maidana, following up that grueling task with his vacant-title winning efforts over Pablo Cano, overcoming a disastrous start to stop his then-unbeaten – and much younger countryman – in the 10th round.
Garcia enters this weekend as a slight betting favorite, but if there’s anything that Morales has proven in addition to his mile long list of accomplishments in 20 years as a pro, it’s to never discount the will of a fighter. That fighting will only goes stronger with the backing of an entire nation.
“Morales is the only Mexican fighter to win titles in four weight classes and he was already an icon before that,” de la Hoya points out. “He doesn’t want his story to end like it did for Chavez when he fought me. That’s what makes this such a terrific fight.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].