Philly Boxer Danny Garcia’s Next Fight Could Make Him a Superstar

Unless his loudmouth father turns the world against him.

On Saturday, North Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia (above, left) defended his world light welterweight titles against Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse in the co-main event of the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view card in Las Vegas.

The 25-year-old from Juniata Park was not expected to win. Thirty-two of Matthysse’s 34 victories had come by knockout, including the previous six in a row against current or former titleholders, making him one of the most feared fighters on the planet. He was said to have knocked down every opponent he faced. The oddsmakers at the MGM Grand sports book had installed Garcia, championship be damned, as a 5-to-2 underdog.

But when the bell rang, the immovable object managed to outbox the unstoppable force. Garcia fought with pace, precision and control, absorbing Matthysse’s best shots early, closing his left eye by the seventh round and dumping him to the canvas with a heat-seeking left hook in the 11th. The outcome was a narrow but well-deserved unanimous decision, running Garcia’s record to 27-0 as a pro.

It was the fight of the night and the rare clamored-for bout that managed to exceed the hype. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, in front of a sold-out crowd and the sport’s biggest television audience in years. Garcia, who earned a career-high $1.5 million purse, positioned himself nicely for a May showdown with Mayweather, the world’s highest-earning athlete and boxing’s pound-for-pound king. “If you can make it out of Philadelphia, you can make it anywhere,” he said afterward.

Garcia is underestimated because he is unexplainable. He is spectacular in no one area, but hits hard, moves well and can take a punch. He is hard-working, gritty and resilient. He is everything you want in a Philadelphia fighter.

Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and trainer, is a far less desirable ambassador.

There will never be a shortage of profane men in boxing, but the elder Garcia has elevated indecency to performance art. This is not without its benefits. Consider that Angel’s eight-minute, obscenity-laden rant at Friday’s pre-fight press conference where he vowed to cut his own head off if Matthysse won made it onto SportsCenter and brought the bout the kind of mainstream pub that’s all too rare for undercard fights.

(The madness starts in the below video at around the 41-minute mark.)

But there are drawbacks, too. On Saturday, Garcia was an American fighting an Argentine in Las Vegas, yet it was clear the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was behind Matthysse. Angel’s antics have a way of unnecessarily turning his son, a naturally likable character, into a villain.

Many have posited the behavior of the 50-year-old reformed coke dealer is intended to take pressure off his easygoing son while getting his opponents to “fight angry.” He certainly isn’t allergic to the attention. It’s obvious their relationship works, far better than boxing’s countless dysfunctional father-son pairings (see: Shane and Jack Mosley; Roy Jones Jr. and Sr., et al.).

But there’s an ugliness that underpins Angel’s rants and it’s not doing his son any favors as he approaches the brink of mainstream stardom.

Danny’s first title defense was a June 2012 knockout of Amir Khan, a Muslim fighter of British-Pakistani heritage. During the build-up, Angel’s unapologetic lack of filter was alarming. “I ain’t never met a Pakistani that can fight,” he cried (more than once), clarifying he was no racist, before elaborating. “I know Khan’s god already. And his god is a punishing god. My god is a loving god.”

But that was just the start. There were his profanity-peppered remarks ahead of the rematch with Erik Morales in the fall. He instigated a near-brawl at a press conference to announce his April title defense against Zab Judah at the Barclays Center. Later, he dropped an N-bomb when Judah crashed a Garcia in-store appearance at a Brooklyn Modell’s.

Not a good look.

A long-held scorched-earth approach to political correctness has always been part of boxing’s charm: an unpredictability that helps make it the red-light district of professional sports. But Garcia’s classless, tasteless behavior crosses the boundaries of salesmanship into something far uglier. When he gets the golden ticket to fight Mayweather—and the eight-figure payday and global exposure that comes with it— he will need to tone down his act.

Danny Garcia showed Saturday that he’s ready for prime time. Let’s just hope his dad catches up before it’s too late.

Bryan Armen Graham has written for Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic and The Village Voice. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanAGraham.