LAS VEGAS -- The nearly 17,000 fans who packed the MGM Garden Arena roared with approval as Danny Garcia slowly made his way back to the locker room. A black barricade separated him from his new fans. A cameraman filmed his every move.
He came to Las Vegas as a heavy underdog but left as a full-blown superstar after retaining his unified light-welterweight titles with a unanimous decision over Lucas Matthysse. The 25-year-old from Juniata Park, Pa., had once again defied the odds. And he did it in on his sport's biggest stage -- fighting on the featured undercard bout of a Floyd Mayweather Jr. pay-per-view.
Once past the black curtain, away from the fans and the cameras, Garcia waited. His father and trainer, Angel, and his older brother and cornerman, Erik, were not far behind.
Angel Garcia, so confident in his son's ability to buck the odds, had declared he would cut his own head off if Danny lost.
There would be no beheading in Vegas.
"We got 'em," he told the champion as they embraced. "They didn't give us a shot. This guy's supposed to be a killer, and we made him look like he wasn't."
Up next for Garcia (27-0, 16 knockouts) is a potential date with the world's highest-grossing athlete, Mayweather (45-0, 26 KOs). The pound-for-pound king, 36, won by majority decision in Saturday's main event and said he will fight again in May.
Will Garcia be his opponent? "I don't know what the future holds right now," Mayweather said. "I'm not a psychic."
Mayweather earned a record $41.5 million and has a chance to get up to $100 million after pay-per-view and closed-circuit receipts are tallied.
Garcia earned a career-high $1.5 million against Matthysse and will likely receive at least double that if he meets Mayweather. And Garcia's star will glisten if he gets the chance.
"If that were to happen, I would call it the Holy War," Angel Garcia said. "It would be the Holy War because you would have two gifted fighters, spiritual fighters that God put on this planet to fight."
A father's love
On his right hand -- between his thumb and index finger -- Angel Garcia found a way to show his devotion. Just a few weeks before flying to Vegas, Garcia had his son's initials tattooed in black ink.
"I got it because I am proud of him," said Garcia. "I'm proud of everything he's done for himself."
The plain black ink, a bit blurred after Garcia scratched it in his sleep, matched the faded "A on his left hand and the pair of animal eyes on his neck. Those tattoos are from the late 1980s and early '90s, when Angel Garcia made a life as a drug dealer in North Philadelphia. He was arrested in 1998, spent two years in prison, and talked to his sons each day by telephone. Garcia promised his boys he would take them to the gym when he was released.
He credits the sentence with saving his life.
He moved his family to Juniata Park and took his sons to the Harrowgate Boxing Club. With the help of his father, Danny Garcia quickly became an amateur champion. The father said he always knew his youngest son would be a fighter. Danny was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and would tap his father's hands in the living room as they watched boxing on a console television.
Everything that's happening now, Angel Garcia said, already happened in a dream he had 25 years ago.
He is the only trainer his son has ever known. In 2006, Garcia stopped boxing after his father was diagnosed with throat cancer. Family members visited the house and asked Angel Garcia's wife, Maritza, how the funeral preparations were coming along.
Angel Garcia has been cancer free for five years, and together the Garcias have made a formidable team. Angel talks the talk while his son walks the walk.
On Thursday, Angel Garcia went on a nine-minute rant at a news conference. On Tuesday, he made an obscene gesture at the crowd. He was the villain, and all his son could do was sit and smile. Angel Garcia says he can't control his emotions in the days leading up to his son's fights and also believes his behavior alleviates pressure on the champion.
The Garcias flew into Las Vegas' McCarron International Airport on Monday evening and spent most of the week inside their MGM Grand hotel room. Garcia left only to train at a nearby boxing gym or to fulfill his promotional obligations, including Thursday's final news conference.
He knew if he ventured onto the casino floor or the Vegas Strip, he would be quickly recognized. Instead he watched his brother and friends play video games on the flat-screen television. Garcia could only sit there. He gave up video gaming long ago.
"This atmosphere is crazy," Garcia said. "And you need the support of your family and friends. You have to have people around you that know what makes you happy and know what makes you mad. I have the right people around me."
Garcia had a dozen people in his entourage, including new additions: two burly security guards with ear pieces. Karl Dargan, a Philadelphia boxer who is training in Las Vegas, said Garcia's friends were not the kind who just show up for the fights.
"Everyone here has slept at his house, ate at his house, they're all his close friends," said Matt Jimenez, who works Garcia's corner and helps out with almost everything else. "It's like he brought home with him."
A classic fight
Garcia lost the first three rounds to Matthysse, often finding himself moving backward and into the ropes. But he later stood his ground and absorbed the Argentine's punishing blows.
And in the seventh round, Garcia found his mark. He targeted his opponent with a jab, and soon Matthysse's right eye was swollen shut. The challenger's corner tried to reopen it with small cuts, but the swelling failed to subside.
The champion had his way with his signature left hook and Matthysse (34-3, 32 KOs) could not see it coming. And when the challenger overprotected his eye, Garcia connected with his right.
In the 11th round, Garcia sent Matthysse to the mat with a flurry of hooks. Garcia controlled the rest of the fight and jumped onto the ropes with arms raised after the final bell.
"I'm just a fighter that comes to fight with a big heart," he said. "I come to give the fans what they want."
After meeting with his father and brother behind the curtain, the three found Garcia's mother and his twin sisters, Angelise and Sianney. The brothers and their father made their way upstairs to the postfight news conference, where Danny Garcia was peppered with questions about Mayweather.
The Garcias were then escorted out a side entrance. The champion was exhausted; a long week had taken its toll. And the young fighter from Juniata Park knew his life would never be the same.
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