By Jake Donovan
Danny Garcia was born and raised in North Philadelphia, but has always embraced his Puerto Rican roots. The question heading into his upcoming world 140 lb. championship title defense versus Mauricio Herrera is whether or not Puerto Rico is ready to embrace Danny Garcia.
The early returns suggest a resounding yes.
The March 15 world title fight was formally announced during a press conference held Tuesday in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, which will play host to the event. The bout is part of a Showtime-televised tripleheader that also includes former two division champs Juan Manuel Lopez and Daniel Ponce de Leon in a rematch to their June ’08 encounter; and a heavyweight clash between Deontay Wilder and Malik Scott.
Even with the presence of Lopez—one of the island’s most popular fighters in recent years—on the scene and part of the press tour, there was a general aura of enthusiasm whenever focus turned towards the visiting Philly-Rican.
"In all of these years as boxing promoters, we never saw an enthusiasm like today by the fans for this event,” claims Peter Rivera, head of Puerto Rico Best Boxing Promotions (PRBBP), who co-promotes the event with Golden Boy Promotions. “I'm sure that the Puerto Rican fans will support Danny Garcia as the new Puerto Rican boxing star.”
Despite its rich boxing history, Puerto Rico could definitely use a new face for its brand.
Miguel Cotto remains the island’s most popular fighter, though clearly in the twilight of his career. Negotiations are ongoing for a sought after June 7 title fight with Sergio Martinez. A win would make him the first-ever Puerto Rican born fighter to claim championships in four separate weight classes.
However likely are his chances of winning the fight (which still isn’t finalized), it’s less likely that he will ever again fight in Puerto Rico. His first major title was won on the island, where he would still return at least once per year. That tradition ended in 2007 and—by his own admission prior to last October’s win over Delvin Rodriguez—was likely his last ever fight in his home land.
Lopez still remains an active presence, with five of his last eight bouts taking place in Puerto Rico. The 30-year old southpaw has seen better days, though, having lost twice to Salido in his birth land and is coming off of a knockout loss to Mikey Garcia last June.
Felix Verdejo, the 2013 Boxingscene.com Prospect of the Year, is a star on the rise and an ideal candidate for the island’s next superstar. The 20-year old proudly represented Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics and is on the industry’s radar as a can’t miss future champion. However, there still remains a developmental stage before reaching that level.
That leaves the door wide open for someone to fill the void in the present – home grown or otherwise.
“I am a Puerto Rican,” Garcia (27-0, 16KO) proudly proclaims. “I could have been born on the moon, but I'm still Puerto Rican.”
The statement is in line with a famous Boricua anthem, “ ¡Yo soy Boricua, pa’que tu lo sepas! ” The phrase – born from a song in the mid-1990’s-loosely translates to 'I am Puerto Rican, just so you know' and in the past couple of decades has defined Boricua culture, chanted at sporting events, parades and political rallies.
Garcia is no stranger to the way of life, despite anyone’s insistence of his “gringo” status having been born and raised in the United States. Philadelphia is second only to New York City in boasting the largest contingent of citizens either from Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican descent, the culture a part of the boxer’s every day life as both of his parents are were born and raised in Puerto Rico.
“My wife and I are both Puerto Rican, and like it or not, Danny is Boricua,” states Angel Garcia, Danny’s outspoken father and trainer. “It's always been a dream of his to fight in Puerto Rico, so we're happy to see that coming to pass.”
The fight marks Garcia’s first defense of the lineal 140 lb. championship he earned following his career-best win over Lucas Matthysse last September in Las Vegas. The 25-year old has constantly risen to the occasion no matter the challenge, yet prior to the win over Matthysse was viewed with skepticism and hesitance by most in the industry.
Even with his first of two wins over Erik Morales to win a major title at 140 lb., the question was always when Garcia was going to face a top challenge to prove his claim as one of the best in the game. His critics weren’t satisfied when he rallied to knock out Amir Khan in their July ’12 unification bout; they still weren’t convinced following his gutty 12-round win over Zab Judah last April.
The win over Matthysse, however, opened a lot of eyes, particularly when a late knockdown turned a close fight into an indisputable – and, for the moment, a career defining – win.
Now comes the fun part, when he gets to defend his throne and further expand his brand. While not at all sleeping on his challenger, Garcia is anxious to represent his Boricua culture in a way he’s never before experienced.
“It means a lot to me,” Garcia says of defending his title in Puerto Rico. “Everybody in the stands is going to be Puerto Rican. I've never had that before.”
The closest he’s come to that experience were in his pair of fights at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Garcia served as the headliner for the inaugural boxing card in the venue, his 4th round knockout win over Morales in their Oct. ’12 rematch. Six month later, Garcia returned to outpoint Judah.
On both occasions, he was well represented in attendance, between local Boricuas and his fans that made the trip from Philadelphia. Still, there remained the belief that he would ultimately have to win over the crowd more so than walk in as the overwhelming favorite, as has been the case ever since he turned pro more than six years ago.
His in-ring accomplishments to date have landed him in the running as a future candidate to stand in a corner opposite unbeaten pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. Being the first to solve the riddle of the sport’s very best would make him a hero in every circle, but such a fight for the moment remains an uncertainty.
What remains certain is that Garcia is a star on the rise. Rallying a nation—or in this case, a Commonwealth—behind him can only further his cause.
“Even though I'm from Philly, that's not my heritage. It's important for me to reach out to my fans because I think Puerto Rican boxing needs this right now,” Garcia believes. “I think that Puerto Rico is going to accept me as its own after I win on March 15.
“Philadelphia might be my birthplace, but Puerto Rico is my blood.”
Pa’que tu lo sepas.
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