Garcia defends title, PR heritage

Puerto Rico, the island of enchantment, has produced dozens of world boxing champions, including some of the sport's all-time greats, such as Felix Trinidad, Carlos Ortiz, Wilfred Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez and Miguel Cotto.

But when Mikey Garcia knocked out Rocky Martinez in the eighth round in November and took his junior lightweight world title, Puerto Rico was left without a native-born titleholder, something almost unimaginable for a place with such great boxing tradition.

But hold up, hold up, said Philadelphia's Danny Garcia, the undefeated unified junior welterweight champion of the world.

"I am a Puerto Rican. I could have been born on the moon, but I'm still Puerto Rican," Garcia said. "I was a Trinidad fan as a little kid. I've seen all his fights. I've seen Miguel for his whole career. I've seen a lot of the great fighters, so I've always been a fan of the Puerto Rican fighters and I'm happy to be one myself."

After Martinez's loss, Garcia took to Twitter to point out that Puerto Rico still had a champion. Garcia may not have been born in Puerto Rico but both of his parents were, he still has family there and his Puerto Rican heritage is important to him.

"I don't think it's fair that you can say I'm not a Puerto Rican fighter because I wasn't born in Puerto Rico, when my blood is Puerto Rican," Garcia said. "So I had to let the fans know, 'Hey, I'm a Puerto Rican fighter and that's just the way it is,' and that's why we got this fight in Puerto Rico, to solidify me as a Puerto Rican champion."

Indeed, Garcia had been asking Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer to set up one of his fights in Puerto Rico for quite some time.

"The experience of fighting in Puerto Rico was actually something Danny had personally spoken to me for the past couple of years or so," Schaefer said. "During fights he comes to me and he's telling me, 'I've got to fight in Puerto Rico. You've got to do a fight in Puerto Rico.' And so when you look at the guys he fought in the last couple of years, it wasn't just really natural to take a fight like that to Puerto Rico, but we felt this was the perfect opportunity to fulfill one of Danny's dreams, which was to fight in Puerto Rico. And, I hope it's the first of many."

The dream will be fulfilled when Garcia defends his title for the fifth time when he faces big underdog Mauricio Herrera on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 p.m. ET/PT) at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

"I love it here in Puerto Rico," said Garcia, who first visited two years ago. "I love the weather and the beautiful people. Everything about the culture is like where I grew up in Philadelphia. It's just like Puerto Rico but it's just the city life. But it's the same thing. We eat the same food. We listen to the same music. Everything is the same but it's just a little part of North Philadelphia.

"Everything is the same except for the snow."

In the co-feature, heavyweights Deontay Wilder (30-0, 30 KOs) of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Malik Scott (36-1-1, 13 KOs) of Philadelphia collide in an elimination bout that will earn the winner a mandatory shot in his next fight against the winner of the May 10 vacant world title bout between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola.

There are also two scheduled 10-round bouts on the Showtime Extreme portion of the card. Former world titleholders Juan Manuel Lopez (33-3, 30 KOs) of Puerto Rico and Daniel Ponce De Leon (45-5, 35 KOs) of Mexico meet in a junior lightweight rematch of Lopez's junior featherweight title-winning first-round knockout in 2008 and middleweight Daniel Jacobs (26-1, 23 KOs) of Brooklyn, N.Y., will face Milton Nunez (26-9-1, 24 KOs) of Colombia.

"It's a great honor for me to bring my son, the world champion, in front of our own people where I was born and grew up. I am back at home with my son performing," said Angel Garcia, Danny's father and trainer.

Said Danny Garcia, "It's very exciting, because this is where my family's from, this is where my roots are and it's something I always asked Richard. And I think this is very special to me because this is one of my dreams that I always dreamed of, and to go over there and fight in front of all the Puerto Rican fans that are going to be there is amazing.

"I've never fought in an arena where every single fan was mine, and it's going to be very special to me and I'm going to deliver."

The 25-year-old Garcia (27-0, 16 KOs) has been delivering, fight after fight. He won a vacant belt in 2012 by easily outpointing Mexican star Erik Morales, who had been stripped of the belt the day before the fight for not making weight. Then Garcia knocked out Amir Khan in the fourth round of an upset to unify titles, scored a devastating fourth-round knockout of Morales in the rematch and outpointed former titleholder Zab Judah in a tough fight last April.

As good as Garcia's opposition had been, he earned universal acceptance as the true 140-pound champ in September when, as the underdog again, he took on the feared puncher Lucas Matthysse, dropped him, badly swelled his eye and won a clear unanimous decision.

After such a rigorous schedule, Schaefer thought it was the right time to take him to Puerto Rico and give him what is supposed to be something of a breather against Herrera (20-3, 7 KOs), 33, of Riverside, Calif., a second-tier contender who owns a 2011 decision win against Ruslan Provodnikov (who later won a junior welterweight belt) and a decision loss to former titlist Mike Alvarado in a hellacious 2012 fight of the year contender.

"I've waited a long time for a fight like this, and while I know Garcia is the favorite, I won't be underestimated," Herrera said. "I love the underdog role and I'm going to shock the world.

"I trained well, very well. I don't take this fight lightly. Fighting Danny is not something to take lightly, but I've fought guys tougher than him for peanuts. My biggest purse before this fight was $30,000. I've worked in construction and other handy jobs. This is my opportunity. This is my chance and I'm not about to let it pass me by."

Willie Silva, Herrera's trainer, tried to stir the pot a bit, downplaying Garcia's Puerto Rican roots.

"Danny Garcia's parents claim he is Puerto Rican, but he is not a Puerto Rican. He's from Philadelphia. He doesn't even speak Spanish," Silva said. "We came to Puerto Rico, ready to fight. Mauricio is ready and watch -- come Saturday night, Mauricio is going to shock more than one. We are leaving Puerto Rico with Danny's belts."

Angel Garcia took exception to Silva's view.

"Danny is 100 percent Puerto Rican. I don't care what they say. He is my blood," he said. "I am Puerto Rican. He's Puerto Rican. On [Saturday], he will still be the undefeated champ of the world, I will promise you that."

And Danny added, "My Spanish is coming along. I understand everything. I've been working on becoming more confident when speaking.

"Even though I'm from Philly, that's not my heritage. It's important for me to reach out to my fans because I think Puerto Rican boxing needs this right now. I think that Puerto Rico is going to accept me as its own after I win on [Saturday]. Philadelphia might be my birthplace, but Puerto Rico is my blood."