As a monument to the legendary “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier slowly rises, another Philly-born pugilist is emerging from its shadow. With a 24-0 record and 15 knockouts, undefeated light welterweight world champion Danny “Swift” Garcia is tearing through match after match – and the boxing world is taking notice. "I worked for a lot of years and I'm happy people kind of realize it now," Garcia said. "I had to prove myself. I'm only 24 years old, but I'm slowly progressing and I'm still young. I feel like it's coming right along perfect."
Garcia shows all the hallmarks that have historically made the city's boxers great. Grit. Determination. Relentlessness. And, like Frazier, one helluva left hook. “Philly made me," Garcia said. "It's just the way the people are bred, the way people grow up – being tough. I carry that to the ring with me, that street toughness, and when I get tired, I remember where I come from and it gives me that extra boost."
Garcia has been a fighter since day one, struggling to survive from the time he hit the delivery room. "He had the umbilical cord around his neck, so when he came out, he was purple," his father Angel Garcia said. "Everybody got worried and I saw the doctor's reaction and I really though that –" he caught himself. "But then I saw that Danny's a fighter from birth."
Angel, a former boxer himself, nurtured that fighting spirit, training Garcia at the Harrowgate Boxing Club – whose upper floor is now named the Swift Boxing Club – as soon as he reached the legal age of 10 years old. The two now operate as a well-oiled machine, with Garcia Sr. getting under opponents' skin with his notorious pre-match smack talking and his son finishing the job by assassinating each contender in the ring.
"It's because with Danny, they've always underestimated him since he was little," Garcia Sr. said by way of explaining his fierce protectiveness. "I used to take him out to tournaments and I don't know if it was the color of his skin, his green eyes – I don't know what it is, but they always underestimated him and people were never seeing the true abilities that he had."
City Managing Director Rich Negrin said that Garcia's status as an underdog, an unassuming champion, puts him right in line with other Philly greats. "One thing that strikes me when you meet him is how nice he is," Negrin said. "He's warm, very friendly, has a huge smile and when you juxtapose that with how brutally lethal he is inside the ring, it's a really funny thing."
Garcia, whose parents were both born in Puerto Rico, is Philadelphia's first Latino world boxing champion, despite the fact that the city has the second largest Puerto Rican population in the U.S. "We have a rich tradition here of having great fighters, from Bernard Hopkins to Joe Frazier, all way down the line," Negrin said. "It's great to continue that tradition going forward. Quite frankly, I'm a Latino and he's really our first great Latino champion for our burgeoning Latino community here."
Garcia says his heritage and his upbringing combined to make him the fighter he is today. "Puerto Rican fighters are real strong," he said. "The Philadelphia boxing community is big and a lot of Philly fighters are real smart. I think that's the advantage I have over a lot of fighters – I'm strong and smart – and I think that comes from Puerto Rico and from Philly."
Here are some of the highlights of Garcia's five-year professional career:
– Oct. 15, 2011: In his first fight televised on HBO, Garcia dominated former light welterweight world champion Kendall Holt, 30, winning the vacant North American Boxing Organization title and taking the number two spots in the rankings of sanctioning bodies World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation.
– Jan. 28, 2012: Garcia won his first world championship, defeating the legendary Erik "Terrible" Morales, 35, to take the World Boxing Council title.
– July 14, 2012: Garcia beat 1-7 favorite Amir "King" Khan, 25, in a fourth round TKO victory during a title unification bout to win his second world championship, the World Boxing Association title.
– Oct. 15, 2012: Garcia will face off in a rematch against Morales to defend his WBC and WBA titles at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
Introverted and laser-focused, Danny Garcia is often reticent to boast. That's where his dad comes in. Angel Garcia, both trainer and hypeman, credits his outspokenness with his survival of stage IV throat cancer, a battle during which he almost lost his voice for good. Here are some of his controversial comments:
"In Philly, when they talk, we call it monkey s–t, excuse my words, that's what we call it." – telling Kendall Holt that talk is cheap during a pre-fight press conference.
“No one likes him and many people around him are secretly hoping that he gets knocked out. Danny is going to send him back to Pakistan on a flying carpet with a genie in a bottle.” – on Amir Khan during a June press conference announcing the fight.
"I thought Danny gave him too much respect. I thought Danny could've stomped around at any time. He chose not to. This time around, Danny's got to stomp him. ... I think Morales, he's a great champion. He had his days, but there's a new era of boxing." – on Garcia's first bout and upcoming rematch with Erik Morales at the gym yesterday