Danny “Swift” Garcia reigns supreme among the junior welterweights.
With speed, power, stamina and a tremendous shock absorber of a chin, the Puerto Rican stalwart has few peers in the 140-pound weight division.
But there’s always a thorn that can deflate the strongest tires.
Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera (20-3, 7 Kos) can be that problematic nemesis to WBC and WBA titlist Garcia (27-0, 16 Kos) when they meet tomorrow, Saturday, March 15. The Mexican-American from boxing crazy Riverside, Calif. will give Puerto Rican fans a treat. Television viewers via Showtime will also enjoy.
Because he started late in the professional game, every time Herrera steps in the boxing ring the quiet-spoken prizefighter looks to win with his skills, smarts or determination. It doesn’t matter who he faces, he gives every opponent problems.
Herrera, 33, is the modern version of the Viruet brothers, Edwin and Adolfo, Puerto Ricans who gave the great Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran problems every time he met them in the ring during the 1970s.
At the time Duran was unstoppable and nearly unbeatable. Most of his foes were vanquished quickly by knockout. Not against the Viruet brothers. They slipped and countered and befuddled Duran who had to be content with decision wins.
“I’m different from anyone he’s (Garcia) seen before,” says Herrera, adding that he doesn’t have a categorical style developed in the amateurs. His is more home-grown and durable like the cactus weeds that grow in the hills of Riverside.
Everyone that has seen tape of Herrera claims an easy victory by knockout. Instead, they receive a rapid education in adaptability or they suffer a loss. All that stuff that works on other fighters will not work on Herrera.
When Russian juggernaut Ruslan Provodnikov walked into the ring he was ultra-confident. After the first round of his fight with Herrera back in 2011 he was over-confident especially when the Riverside fighter’s eye was swollen to the size of a golf ball. Then the unexpected happened.
“Everybody thinks I’m easy,” said Herrera.
That night Herrera rallied behind his unorthodox offense and defense to batter Provodnikov’s face to match his own. You might have thought they were both using clubs because when the fight was finished as they both looked like Arturo Gatti after one of his wars.
Herrera won that night to hand Provodnikov his first pro loss.
When he fought Mike Alvarado many projected an easy knockout win. Even the television executives were worried that it might end too fast. One of them asked me about Herrera and wondered if he might at least last four rounds. I told them it’s going the distance and would be a tough fight.
That night Alvarado and Herrera battered each other and though one of the judges was incredibly off on the scoring, each round was a hard-fought battle. Alvarado won but he looked as battered as Herrera.
“That guy was tough,” said Alvarado after the fight. “I thought I had him a few times but he came back.”
Philadelphia’s Garcia has all of the advantages when it comes to physical fighting tools. But not when it comes to a fighting heart. That’s where they are both equal.
Garcia, 25, has proven again and again that he has a tremendous will to win. If you hit him hard well you can best expect something worse in return.
Where most everyone predicted Lucas Matthysse would run over Garcia, it didn’t pan out that way. The Puerto Rican boxer-puncher seems to rise to the occasion, especially when he fights world champions or former world champions.
That’s the rub. Herrera is neither. He’s just a boxer who started in the game at age 27. Yes, 27.
When he boxed amateurs his coach then refused to allow him to transition into the professional game.
“My first trainer told me I was too young. Then when I was in my 20s he told me I was too old,” said Herrera. “That’s when I decided to leave.”
Herrera, now 33, realized early on that he couldn’t take his time and fight easy fights. After three pro fights, he was facing bright prospects with good records.
“I had to do it the hard way,” Herrera says. “I earned my way.”
Now he’s earned a fight with the junior welterweight champion of the world.
“It’s not going to be easy for him or for me too. I’m the underdog, always,” Herrera says about his first world title fight that takes place in Puerto Rico. “It’s going to be a tough fight. He’s going to want to win for them. But this is my chance.”