There are several ways of determining when a particular fighter is hot, and when he’s not. One of those ways is whether the fighter in question is calling someone else out, or someone is calling him out.
If you’re the one petitioning to be granted a shot at someone better-known and more of a box-office draw, you’re probably not as toasty as you’d prefer to be. But if other highly regarded fighters are pleading for you to give them a chance to mix it up for glory and riches, you’re certifiably sizzling. In boxing, the targeted few are almost always hotter commodities than the glut of hunters seeking to turn them into trophy conquests.
By that admittedly imprecise rule of thumb, now-former super lightweight champion Danny “Swift” Garcia, whose career hardly has been refrigerated, has at least cooled to something akin to room temperature. The 27-year-old Philadelphian of Puerto Rican descent is 30-0, with 17 victories inside the distance, but even when he was widely considered the best 140-pound fighter on the planet, Garcia never awed opponents and the public to the same degree as, say, a Gennady Golovkin or a Sergey Kovalev. Good on many fronts but not commandingly spectacular in any one area, he always has been cloaked in a cape of perceived vulnerability.
Now, after three bouts in which he failed to build upon the momentum created by his watershed unanimous decision over Argentine power-puncher Lucas Matthysse on Sept. 14, 2013, Garcia is hoping a move up to welterweight and an impressive performance against veteran two-division former champ Paulie Malignaggi (33-6, 7 KOs) will reestablish him as a fighter who not that long ago seemed to be on the periphery of legitimate stardom.
Garcia-Malignaggi is the scheduled 12-round main event of Saturday night’s “Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN,” at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the co-feature of which has WBA middleweight champ Daniel Jacobs (29-1, 26 KOs) defending against former WBC super welter titlist Sergio Mora (28-3-2, 9 KOs).
It is somewhat telling that Garcia, who sees himself as a pay-per-view attraction, is making his 147-pound debut on basic cable against the 34-year-old Malignaggi, who hasn’t fought since he was knocked out in four rounds by then-IBF welterweight ruler Shawn Porter on April 19 of last year. Although the clever, soft-punching Malignaggi hasn’t stowed away his own dreams as an active fighter, it would not have surprised anyone had he the winner of the 2013 Boxing Writers Association of America’s Sam Taub Award for excellence in broadcast journalism (as a color analyst for Showtime) decided to concentrate full-time on his duties at ringside instead of those inside the ropes.
Also telling is the fact that Garcia, one of the nearly 200 fighters under contract to the mysterious and powerful Al Haymon, seemingly has been designated as something less than one of Haymon’s top priorities. Even if Garcia pummels Malignaggi into submission – not an easy thing to do, given Paulie’s history as a punishment-evasive technician – it isn’t likely to be the kind of exclamation-point triumph that his wins, as an underdog, over Matthysse and Amir Khan (fourth-round TKO on July 14, 2012) were.
No wonder Garcia is publicly wishing to move to the front of the line for high-visibility bouts against Floyd Mayweather Jr. (48-0, 26 KOs) and Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) before those aging but still highly bankable stars decide to hang up their gloves.
“As far as those guys, I don’t know,” Garcia said of his apparently slim chances of snagging a coveted date against May or Pac. “They say this (Sept. 2 against the ever-popular opponent to be named) is Mayweather’s last fight, and Pacquiao’s made a lot of money so I really can’t say what he plans to do. (The Filipino also is promoted by Bob Arum, who has filed a $100 million lawsuit against Haymon.) But welterweight is a stacked division, and I feel my style matches up good with any of those guys. I’m ready to take on anybody.”
Perhaps most significant, Garcia has won an internal battle that has done in more than a few fighters who made the mistake of lingering too long at a no-longer-feasible weight.
“To be honest, I felt like my 140 days were over after I beat Matthysse,” Garcia said at his gym in the gritty Juniata Park section of Philadelphia. “After that fight, it felt like that was all I had left. It really affected me when I had to make weight after that. I was just training to take the pounds off. I wasn’t training to get better.
“Making me fight at 140 was forcing me to fight only one way, and that was to just come forward. My body wasn’t feeling strong enough to be more athletic or to do anything else. Really, I should have moved up to 147 two years ago. But the time is now and I’m feeling strong again, like I did when I fought Matthysse and Khan. After (Matthysse), I didn’t feel strong anymore. I didn’t have a lot of snap on my punches.”
Garcia estimated he performed at “about 65 or 70 percent” of peak efficiency for his three post-Matthysse fights – a disputed majority decision over Mauricio Herrera in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in which Garcia retained his WBC and WBA titles; a two-round, non-title blowout of an obviously overmatched Rod Salka, and another disputed majority decision, over IBF champion Lamont Peterson, with neither man’s belt was on the line with a contracted catch weight of 143 pounds.
“I did lose some momentum in my last three fights,” conceded Garcia, whose girlfriend is expected to deliver the couple’s first child, a daughter, on Aug. 11. “But I’m a young fighter. I had a layoff of eight months (between the Salka and Peterson bouts), and those long layoffs, and having to keep coming down to 140, hurt me so much. Still, I think I benefited in some ways. If you don’t have tough fights, you’re not going to learn. You can’t get better if you’re just walking through everybody, so how can you know what you got to work on?
“The way I look at it, everything that’s happened in my career is a learning experience. Now I know my weaknesses, what I have to work on in the gym. I’m looking at those last three fights as a blessing in disguise.”
So, too, in his own way is Malignaggi, who sees Garcia as his best opportunity to regain some of his receded relevance. Paulie was to have taken on Danny O’Connor (26-2, 10 KOs) on May 29, but he was cut over the eye in training camp and the bout was canceled. Not long after that, he was approached about the possibility of getting it on with Garcia, an offer he was quick to accept.
“I really didn’t think I was going to come back,” he said. “But I’m a competitor. I’m all about competing against the best. This is an opportunity for me to kind of put myself back in the mix with one really good performance as opposed to slowly getting back over the course of three, four fights.
“I’m 34, not 24. I don’t really have that kind of patience anymore. This fight just fell into my lap. It was unexpected. But, really, it was something I couldn’t say no to.”
Even with the presumed drawbacks – Garcia in a bit of a mini-slump, Malignaggi holding off retirement just a bit longer – the pairing isn’t without its elements of intrigue. Both Garcia and Malignaggi appeared on the first boxing card ever staged at the Barclays Center, on Oct. 20, 2012. Garcia defended his WBC and WBA titles on a fourth-round knockout of future Hall of Famer Erik Morales while Malignaggi retained his WBA welter strap on a split decision over Pablo Cesar Cano. But that’s not all: Each believes the Barclays Center to be friendly home territory, with Garcia making his fifth appearance there and Brooklyn native Malignaggi his fourth.
“New York has a lot of people who can relate to me,” Garcia said. “They’re Puerto Rican, but they were born and raised in New York. They love and respect me because I’m cut from the same cloth.”
Angel Garcia, Danny’s always-loquacious father-trainer, figures crowd support will be split right down the middle.
“Malignaggi has a big, big fan base there,” he said. “There are a lot of Italians in New York, as well as a lot of Puerto Ricans. Everybody’s going to be for somebody in this fight, which is good for the sport, and good for the fans.”
Not that Angel believes the pro-Malignaggi contingent will go home happy. He said his son has trained hard at cutting off Malignaggi’s escape routes, and now that he’s no longer starving himself to pare down to 140, the improvement will be immediately evident.
“We know what Malignaggi’s going to try to do,” the father said. “Everybody wants to run from Danny. They think that’s his weak spot. They think that boxing him is the way to beat him. But guess what? He’s still undefeated.
“I’m not going to underestimate or take nothin’ from Malignaggi. He’s been around a long time. But he’s a runner, and at the end of the fight Danny’s hand is going to be raised again.”
Danny Garcia said it’s “very important” not only to have his hand raised, but to make the kind of definitive statement he didn’t – couldn’t — make in his last three fights.
“There are a lot of fighters who have hot streaks and blow past everybody, but then they lose a little momentum and they can’t seem to get it back,” he said. “My last three fights, I proved I can still win without a lot of momentum. Yeah, Danny Garcia had an off-night here and there, but he still won. That’s what separates a good fighter from a great fighter.
“Now I’m active again, I’m strong again, and I feel like my best performances are ahead of me. You’ll see. It’s going to be a great night.”