Boxing returns to Brooklyn: Danny Garcia’s extraordinary quest

David Becker - Getty Images

Danny Garcia's next fight isn't any title defense with your average hype, bells and whistles. A rematch with veteran Erik Morales, who he defeated to swipe the WBC title in March, is the co-main event of Brooklyn's first championship fight in 80 years on Saturday.

On a hot July night in Las Vegas, WBC light-welterweight champion Danny "Swift" Garcia was getting pounded by WBA king Amir Khan during his attempt to unify the titles. Garcia's father, Angel, was fed up, so he let Danny have it, challenging him to weather the onslaught before all hope was lost and his, um, swift rise to the top derailed.

"He was just trying to keep me focused," Garcia said during a conference call earlier this month. "We knew Khan was going to come out fast, he's a fast starter. That's why they kept talking about how they were going to jump on me early and knock me out. But I knew once I adapted and I started leading my shots, we wanted to see could he take them. And the first clean punch I hit him with, he went down."

Khan entered the fight a 1-7 favorite against the Philadelphia-bred Garcia. But once that clean punch, a counter left hook, landed flush with 35 seconds to go in Round 3, Garcia had his breakthrough and Khan crashed to the canvas. Garcia finished the job in the fourth by knocking Khan down twice more before referee Kenny Balyess had seen enough and awarded Garcia a TKO win. A unified champion, Garcia moved his undefeated record to 24-0 with 15 knockouts and forced the boxing world to take notice of formidable opposition representing the City of Brotherly Love and his Puerto Rican heritage.

"I think people are taking me more seriously now," Garcia said. "It took some time for everyone to realize how serious I am. Then my last few fights showed them that I think and fight like a champion, which is what I am now.

"It is great to have a fight on the East Coast. It is my comfort zone knowing that I will be able to fight in front of my fans, people from Philly and New York and especially all of the Puerto Ricans that are huge boxing fans and know my background and that I am fighting for them too."

Garcia's next fight isn't any title defense with your average hype, bells and whistles. A rematch with veteran Erik Morales, who he defeated to swipe the WBC title in March, is the co-main event of Brooklyn's first championship fight in 80 years on Saturday. When Garcia walks the aisle of the brand new Barclays Center packed with an energized and starved Brooklyn sports fan base, his name will already be a part of history. The easy part is soaking in the attention. A tad harder is defeating Morales (52-8, 36 KOs) again, this time in the role as not the hunter, but the hunted.

"I can handle my success so far," Garcia said. "I try to see everything around me and pay attention to what is going on. That helps me stay in the moment and appreciate what is right there in front of me. I want to enjoy all of it.

"Erik Morales is a legend and in the first fight, I probably gave him more respect than I should have. This time I am the champion and he is the challenger."

Like against Khan, Garcia started slowly back in March, a nose injury threatening to end his title quest, before exploding late. Garcia floored Morales in the 11th round and earned a unanimous 118-111, 117-110 and 116-112. If Garcia has his way, Morales won't be so lucky the second time around.

"Last time I stood in front of him too long and let him think," Garcia said. "I can't let him think. I want to go in there and destroy him. That was my first big fight at such a high level and I learned a lot from it. Morales definitely gave me a harder fight than Khan and also gave me a chance to fight for a title. If anyone deserved a rematch, it's Erik Morales for giving me the first chance. That is boxing respect."

Because Garcia overcame the shot to the nose and various cuts to unleash his fury in the championship rounds, his days as young unknown ended. But while he believes the Khan fight garnered him respect, there's still a small chip on his shoulder that stems from being a life-long underdog.

"Those two fights, I was a young kid, nobody knew who I was, so it was only right for people to think what they were thinking," said Garcia on the previous two victories that led him to the Barclays Center on Saturday night. "But that only made me hungrier to prove everybody wrong and win the fights. I was an underdog my whole career. It just makes me hungrier to prove people wrong and just to keep winning."

Garcia has done more than win. He defeated two top-flight opponents along with the odds and adversity. That chip may never leave him, but if he beats Morales again - especially if he dices him in the early rounds - he'll be prepped to take on the world's elite. With that will come a new sets of doubts, but as recent history has proven, that suits Garcia just fine.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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