Team DSG: Beyond the Boxing Ring

THE DANNY GARCIA STORY BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT LUIS CORTES III – “Success is one thing, impact is another,” is a quote attributed to former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. These words spoken by the greatest inside linebacker in NFL history give a clearer insight to the story between current WBC welterweight champion Danny Garcia and the community where he was born and raised: North Philadelphia.

While North Philadelphia is home to several urban neighborhoods with different demographic makeups, it is the predominantly Latino Kensington section where Team DSG (Danny “Swift” Garcia) originates from.  It’s where their humble beginnings as a family have shaped both the man and the champion that Danny Garcia has become.  As one looks closer at this tale one begins to take notice that this story runs deep for all of the players involved. – a tight- knit family, team, and community.  Team DSG has become proof that success and a positive impact are indeed possible if you hail from Kensington.

Garcia fights Keith Thurman on CBS this Saturday. It’s customary that during the continuous promotion for a fight of this magnitude that fans are treated to an in-depth look at the back story of the combatants — what shapes them as men, which in turn tells us why they fight in the fashion that they do.  In the case of Garcia, his family’s struggles have been the focus:  Having a father (Angel Garcia) that lived a “gangster” lifestyle that included narcotics distribution that resulted in his incarceration. Trying to survive with his mother and siblings in a rough community while his father served his time.  Garcia’s reconnection with his father, upon his father’s release from prison.  Starting his boxing training at the tender age of ten and realizing early through the guidance of his father and trainer that this sport is serious business.  To understand at an early age that in order to be successful and fulfill his dreams, dedication to the craft ruled supreme over every other aspect of life.

Which brings this tale to the role played by the aforementioned neighborhood, Kensington, a neighborhood that was omnipresent in the lives of the Garcia family.  During the 90’s, when Garcia was a child, Kensington was best known for being home to many drug addicts and dealers.  Crack cocaine hit this working class neighborhood hard.  As a result, all of the social ills that come with the drug culture plagued the streets.  Unfortunately that is something that still is the case within the confines of the Kensington neighborhood.  Currently it is the heroin epidemic that has its tight grip on many members of the community.

Success is defined as being able to accomplish an aim or goal.  In the case of many that call Kensington home, success is being able to avoid the awful pitfalls to which many succumb.  So for Garcia making it through his adolescence alive is success in itself.  Garcia took what many may think is a small example of success and parlayed it with staying focused on his goal of becoming a professional prizefighter.  He was able to do this by having several interests aside from the boxing gym.  While the pugilistic art form has always been his primary focus, he spent many hours as the local barber for his friends and family.  A love for music and playing around with Hip Hop music was also strong and consumed his time as an escape from both boxing and the neighborhood.  Garcia continued this formula throughout a successful amateur career that reached its crescent when he was named an alternate on the 2008 US Olympic boxing team.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise when Team DSG purchased a building on a plot of land right outside of Kensington in the Juniata Park section of the city. What followed was the creation of a home base or corporate headquarters for all things Danny Garcia.  Upon visiting the complex recently, I got the feeling that Garcia fully understands that while he is a two division champion and in the prime of his career at just 28 years of age, his time inside the ring will not go on forever.  He has positioned himself for life after boxing as a brand that is dubbed DSG.

The DSG complex is home to a beautiful barbershop, a private recording studio for his friends and twin sisters (who are singers), a detailing and minor repair body shop, a full time apparel store (set to open soon) and, of course, his own boxing gym.  Another form of success and impact is that with all of these business ventures it means one thing for the community:  jobs.  His barber shop has nine full time barbers.”Danny has set the bar so high, he has my respect and everyone’s in here.” states Haz, the manager of his barber shop.  “The gym is open to the public daily, when he is not training for a fight.”  This means that many of the youth from the same neighborhood that he once called home can find their solace from the streets at the DSG gym — much in the same way that Garcia did at the Harrowgate boxing gym years ago.

Danny Garcia’s impact on the sport of boxing goes beyond his accomplishments inside the ring.  Already a two division champion, a victory on Saturday against Keith Thurman will make him the recognized lineal champion at welterweight.  As the first Latino champion in the rich history of boxing in Philadelphia, Garcia is on pace to becoming the best Puerto Rican fighter from mainland United States in history.

If you take a look at the list of all the Puerto Rican title holders, ten names pop off the list in a special way, while four are in a class of their own.  Seven of these ten fighters, while born in Puerto Rico, moved to the mainland at an early age and called boxing gyms in the United States home, mostly in New York City.  These boxers include Jose Torres, Carlos Ortiz, Eric Morel, Kermit Cintron and, of course, Hector Camacho.

Wilfred Benitez was born in New York and learned to box in gyms throughout the city.  However as a professional he spent a huge portion of his time on the island.  Currently Benitez has the distinction of being the best Puerto Rican fighter from mainland Unites States.  Luis Collazo, also from New York and Jason Sosa from Camden, New Jersey are also on the list with Danny Garcia.  It is a small list, but one that should continue to grow.

“For me, Danny is already the best Puerto Rican fighter from mainland U.S.A in history, no matter whatever happens in his career from here on out” quips Haz.  Matthew Urrutia, who runs a local bar just minutes away from the DSG complex, loves what he sees happening.  “Since his fight against Khan, every time Danny fights we get big crowds.  It’s crazy cause these crowds have positive vibes.  Everyone is together pulling for him to get the win, cause he represents Puerto Ricans from Philadelphia.”  Urrutia brought up a solid point when he stated the following. “Is Oscar De La Hoya less Mexican cause he was from L.A?  No, he isn’t.”  What is happening on the east coast regarding mainland Puerto Rican fighters is similar to what has happened out west with Mexican-American fighters from states like California, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.  New York, now Pennsylvania and New Jersey, are on the list of states with Puerto Rican champions from the mainland.

You get the sense that even a state like Florida, the home of Keith Thurman, is going to be added to that list in no time.  Puerto Ricans are set to overtake Cuban-Americans as the largest Latino demographic in Florida in the near future.  “To say that there are currently no real Puerto Rican champions because there isn’t one from the island is just disrespectful.”  says Urrutia.  “Here is the rub.  I’m not even a big fight fan, but I like Roman Gonzalez cause my father is from Nicaragua.  I support Danny though, cause he is from Philly and most of my customers are Rican.”

Impact can be a fickle thing.  For all the things one can do to positively affect people and a certain place,  all of that can be neglected by people outside of your community if the only thing people hear about regarding you or the members of your team is a negative that occurs from a mistake. This seems to be the case with what occurred at the well documented Garcia-Thurman pre-fight press conference in January.  (The situation has already been discussed at length, so I won’t hash over the details.)

To his credit, Angel Garcia has gone on record stating that he shouldn’t have said what he did.  But if you’re from an area like Kensington in a city like Philadelphia where, as mentioned before, success is something as fragile as staying alive, then when you feel as though you are being disrespected by someone, you strike back.  Many times it’s an issue of survival.  However what Angel said can’t be excused despite the forum in which it was used.

Moving forward, Danny Garcia is on the cusp of super stardom — something he and his team have to be aware of as they continue with the remaining portion of Danny’s career.  With a vacancy on the short list of stars that carry the sport into the future, a  victory on Saturday night can go a long way for Team DSG to fill that void.  “My wish is that he wins and hopefully fights Cotto.  If Chavez and Canelo can fight to see who is the best Mexican, why can’t Cotto and Garcia fight to see who the best Rican is? Plus, it will mean big business for me,” says Urrutia.

Whatever the future holds for Danny “Swift” Garcia,, this much is certain: He is a true success to have made it out of the conditions that he faced as a child growing up in a place like Kensington.  His impact on the community can’t be denied and his impact on the sport he loves may be just getting started. Maybe these simple few words from Haz sum it up the best: “Danny’s type of success story doesn’t happen every day, especially when you’re from where he is.”

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