Danny Garcia was introduced to boxing at the age of five.
Back then, in North Philadelphia, he would sit by the TV and study the greats: Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez. He looked up to those fighters and wanted to someday be just like them. But in his mind, the greatest boxer in the world wasn’t any of those three; in fact, he wasn’t even on TV. To a young Danny Garcia, the greatest boxer in the world was the no-name sitting on his couch.
“Danny would ask me, ‘Could you beat Tyson?'” says Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and lifelong trainer. “I’d say, ‘Man, I’d knock him out!'”
Thinking back on the story now, Angel breaks into a laughing fit. “Come to think of it,” he says, “Tyson would go like this to me!” He sticks out his right index finger and gently taps the air. “With one finger,” he says. “Boop!”
“It was a damn lie!” Danny shouts, grinning.
“Tyson woulda killed my dad.”
It’s easy for Danny to see that now. Today, at the age of 30, he is among the top-ranked fighters in the welterweight division, which is widely considered the deepest in boxing. In 2016, Danny earned the WBC welterweight title, but he ceded it the following year to Keith Thurman. It was the first loss of Garcia’s pro career. He regrouped for 11 months afterward and returned with renewed vigor in February, earning a TKO victory over Brandon Rios. At 5’9″, 140 pounds, his record now stands at 34-1, with perhaps his toughest bout yet on deck.
On Saturday, he will fight Shawn Porter at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. If Garcia wins, he’ll reclaim the WBC welterweight belt, which was vacated by Thurman due to inactivity. As ever, Angel alone has trained Danny for the fight.
Porter (28-2-1), on the other hand, has worked with three trainers, according to Angel (though Porter’s father is his primary). “That tells you the kinda people they are,” Angel says. “They’re scared. They already lost the battle.”
The comment is perfectly on brand. Angel is a longtime instigator; at times, he makes himself into a bigger story than Danny. After Garcia’s win against Paulie Malignaggi, Angel said that if he were Malignaggi’s father, he’d tell him to retire.
The remark was on the mild side for Angel, who has a history of also uttering more objectively offensive comments.
Leading into Danny’s 2012 fight with Amir Khan, Angel said that he’d “never met a Pakistani that could fight.” More recently, Angel launched the N-word several times at Thurman, whose father is African-American. Angel was barred from speaking at the next press conference.
In conversation, the Garcia men are polar opposites. Danny has a mellow, disarming presence. When our interview begins, Angel is not yet in the room, and as Danny and I speak one-on-one, he leans forward in his seat, with his elbows on his knees and his head facing down. He seems turned off by the spotlight.
However, once Angel joins us, Danny sits back calmly. He’s happy to engage when asked a direct question, or when revved up by Angel. At one point, Angel goes on a tangent about his own teenage years, which sends Danny, like many agitated and bored sons before him, scrolling mindlessly through Instagram. When Angel starts talking about the old days and the dying notion of respect, Danny laments that he’s going to drag the interview on for three hours.
If given time and space, Danny, too, can be open and talkative, and insightful, but time and space vanish in the presence of Angel.
Danny is asked about his motivations as a fighter. He waxes about victory and perseverance. Simultaneously, Angel lectures about the importance of generational wealth. The two men talk over each other, at each other and over each other again. If you don’t take care of your money before passing it on, Angel says, that money’s gone. Danny says something about his love for the game. Angel says something about how while he doesn’t support U.S. President Donald Trump, he does admire the way he passed his business to his children.
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In these hectic moments, conversing with the Garcias means choosing to hear one of them while ignoring the other. It’s a near-impossible task, but it’s also how they get along as father and son, as trainer and fighter.
“Generational money for [Floyd] Mayweather,” Angel says. “You don’t love that?”
“Of course I love it,” Danny says. “But I’m saying he loves boxing. He loves the art of it.”
“150 million, bro.”
“But I ain’t talking about the money though.”
“He waited for his time,” Angel says.
“It’s not only about the reward.”
“That’s not a reward, that’s money.”
“That’s a reward!” Danny yells, incredulous and amused. “That’s a reward! You always about the reward. But I never think about the reward when I’m training. I don’t think about the money when I’m training.”
“I know,” Angel says. “But 150 million?”
It’s a Wednesday afternoon in North Philadelphia, home of Danny “Swift” Garcia’s headquarters. In what was once a vacant one-story building, Danny has built a gym, and a store for his merchandise, and a barbershop, and a recording studio for his sisters, who perform as the SiAngie Twins. (Their recent single, “Sazon,” has so far cleared 1.1 million views on YouTube.)
The gym is an homage to Danny and to Puerto Rico, where Angel was born before immigrating to America as a boy. Its floors are red; its walls are powder blue with white trim; its ceiling is white. A mural behind the ring portrays Garcia, victorious, standing before the Puerto Rican flag. Old promo posters dot the walls. On most of them, the face of Garcia’s opponent is crossed out with duct tape.
Danny ‘Swift’ Garcia @DannySwift
Staying sharp. Staying focused. #TeamDSG @EckoUnltd https://t.co/uUXIEYluey
Danny grew up nearby, with his mother, Maritza, and Angel in the Juniata section of North Philly. That’s where young Danny would study the all-timers, and where Angel would chirp to anyone within earshot that someday his son would be one of them. While working at a Suzuki dealership, for instance, Angel tried to persuade his boss to sign Danny, then an amateur, to a sponsorship. That was never going to happen, but Angel and the dealership did cut a more modest deal.
On Sundays, Angel, Danny and a few other coaches and young fighters would clean the dealership together for $350. Afterward, they’d take off for some amateur competition, bunking up in a cheap hotel and eating dinner from McDonald’s dollar menu. Danny remembers those trips with his father as the most fun he ever had.
Sometimes, the very act of traveling was the thrill. “We went places we never dreamed of going,” Angel says. “We’d go to Kansas, and we’d be excited just to go to Kansas!”
For Danny, traveling was so fun that he hardly worried about the fights themselves. Winning was great, but losing meant the competition was over and he could enjoy the luxuries of hotel life.
“I’d never been out of Philadelphia,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to lose and s–t!”
At a tournament in Kansas City, Garcia suffered an early loss to a fighter with a fraction of his experience. The loss didn’t seem to bother Danny, who was soon busy eating hot dogs and lounging by the swimming pool. When he returned to the hotel room, though, Angel let him know what he thought about his performance and attitude.
“He put an iron to my face and said, ‘If [you] ever lose again, I’ll burn your face off,'” Danny says. “I said, ‘Oh s–t!'”
Far from seeing this as a traumatic event, the Garcias break into laughter as they fight to tell the story first.
“When he went in the room,” Angel says, “I went in first, and when he came in, I grabbed him, threw his ass up on the wall, and I said, ‘You little motherf–ker! I’ll kill you!'”
“Real loud,” Angel adds. “‘I worked from nine to nine! You wanna run around eating f–king hot dogs, motherf–ker?!”
“That was a make-or-break moment for me,” Danny says.
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“Woke his ass up,” Angel says.
“After that tournament, I won everything,” Danny says. “Became No. 1 and s–t.”
“It was all worth it!” Angel says.
It’s tough to know what to make of such a story. The Garcias’ delight relieves any tension in the moment, but when taken alongside Angel’s racist outburst at the Thurman presser, the hotel incident makes plain that Angel can blow past the line of simply being unorthodox or overbearing or controversial.
After that press conference, ESPN senior boxing writer Dan Rafael wrote, “It was the most despicable thing I have seen in nearly two decades of covering boxing, and his outburst ruined a chance for the sport to be put in a good light.” Rafael called for Angel to be suspended.
In defending himself, Angel, 55, points to his rough upbringing in Philadelphia in the 1970s. “I lived through racism,” he says. “I got treated racist in this country. I was part of that s–t. You gonna call me racist?”
Danny doesn’t directly address what happened at the Thurman press conference, but says of Angel: “Sometimes he’ll say something, but it’ll mean something else. If you don’t know him, you’ll take it the wrong way. He’s just an odd individual.”
I ask Danny about their dynamic, about how Angel tends to soak up a majority of the attention paid to the Garcia tandem. Angel likes to call himself Danny’s mascot, his voice; he knows what he’s doing. Does Danny appreciate that? Is it all a choreographed dance? Is Angel just making himself a target so that Danny can focus on his craft?
“It’s not even that,” Danny says, “He just always said I was the best, you feel me? A lot of people don’t have people to tell them, ‘You’re the best, and nobody can beat you.’ You gotta have a lot of confidence to tell your fighter that. And you have to make a fighter believe he’s the best to be the best.”
In short, Danny is willing to look past his father’s behavior, critics be damned.
When Danny was eight, Angel was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. While Angel was locked up, Danny, who’d already started training with his dad, didn’t want to fight. Then, in 2006, when Danny was a promising youngster, Angel was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer. While Angel was sidelined, Danny stayed in shape at the gym, where he was constantly approached with contract offers from rival trainers.
“In my mind,” Danny says, “I ain’t signing with these motherf–kers.”
“They had me dead,” Angel says.
“Yeah, they was counting him out.”
Danny refused to do the same. No matter what the other trainers promised, they could never match the chemistry that Danny and Angel had established. And, besides, says Angel, the Garcias are loyal. “I give you two things,” he says. “My word and my f–kin’ balls.”
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After about a year away, Angel returned, putting Danny’s career back on track. Beginning in 2007, Danny plowed through the light welterweight division. In 2015, he entered the welterweight ranks. In his first fight, he toppled a former world champ in Malignaggi. Then it was Robert Guerrero, then Samuel Vargas. He arrived to the Thurman fight a perfect 33-0.
There, both fighters were undefeated welterweight champs, with Thurman holding the WBA title. The match went the distance and was decided on a split decision. As the scores were announced over the loudspeaker, Danny thought he’d won the fight; he smiled and raised a fist in triumph. Only it was Thurman who’d won. “That was a Steve Harvey moment,” Danny says. He can laugh about it now, looking back, seeing the bigger picture.
“I hate to say this, but sometimes you need a wake-up call,” Danny says. Some of his passion for boxing had faded during his years-long winning streak. “I feel like I’m the best fighter in the world, and I thought I’d never say that, but sometimes you need to wake the f–k up, bro. Somebody wants your spot, you understand?”
Angel wanted a rematch with Thurman right away, but Danny took time to reflect on his career. He returned in February the following year to defeat Brandon Rios. It was simply a tuneup; Garcia had been the heavy favorite in that match, and nobody was all too impressed by the victory. His first real test since the Thurman loss will come this weekend, against Porter.
The stakes are high. If Garcia wins, he’ll hop back on the fast track as WBC welterweight champ. If he loses, uncertainty will follow: Is he a premier welterweight fighter, or has his moment passed?
Las Vegas believes in Garcia; most books have him as a slight favorite, per OddsShark. For his part, Danny is ready to go, hungry once again.
“For the first time in a long time, I feel like something don’t belong, like I have to get what’s mine,” Danny says. “That’s mine, that belongs to me. That’s how I feel. That’s what makes me motivated for this fight. Not the money, nothing—just putting that belt over my shoulder again. That s–t feels good.”