NEW YORK -- It was a simple autograph signing, the kind of generic event that's part of every major fight week. Danny Garcia arrived at a Modell's in Brooklyn on Tuesday expecting to sign a few posters, pose for a few pictures and answer a few questions from the smattering of reporters who bothered to show up. What he got was something different. Zab Judah, who Garcia will defend his WBA and WBC junior welterweight titles against at the Barclays Center on Saturday (9 p.m., Showtime), rolled in with a posse, determined to crash the show.
Immediately Angel Garcia, Danny's father, his trainer, the man who, by his own admission, robbed his son of large parts of his childhood to mold him into a champion, jumped to the front of the pack, eyeing Judah with disdain. Months earlier, at a press conference to announce the fight, Angel's trash talk sparked a wild brawl, setting the tone for a contentious build-up to the fight. Now, with Judah's entourage pressing towards his son's table, Garcia unleashed a furious verbal assault.
"You don't scare me," bellowed Angel. "Security is here, so what? You want to kill me, kill me. Who gives a s---. I'm from f------ Philly. F--- you!"
Standing alongside his father, Danny could only smile. This was nothing he hadn't seen before. The first time Angel Garcia had popped off at a press event was 2011, when a tough-talking Kendall Holt got under his skin. Since then, Danny Garcia's career has been about two truths: Dad talks, and he wins.
Sitting in the back of a white van on Thursday, Angel Garcia suddenly struggles to summon any words. Tears well up in his eyes, raw emotion hidden behind a pair of designer sunglasses. His voice cracks, and then it just stops. Press conferences ignite the defiance in Angel. "I'm protecting my son," Angel said. Remembering the early years of Danny's life send the sadness pouring out. In the mid-1990's, Angel was deep into dealing drugs. Then, in 1998, he was scooped up in a sting operation in Philadelphia and sentenced to two years in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
"I was doing the wrong things," Angel said. "I was a hard worker but I got caught up in the streets trying to support my family. It was the worst thing I ever did."
Angel went away but it was Danny, then eight, and his brother, Erik, who suffered. A year earlier, Danny had started boxing. He took to it quickly, and Angel encouraged him. All his life Angel wanted to be a boxer. But severe asthma, Angel said, quickly derailed his chances. With Danny, Angel could groom his son to be the fighter he always wanted to be.
But with his father locked up, Danny quit. He still wanted to box, but couldn't go to the gym without his Dad. When the two talked on the phone, Danny reminded Angel that he had to get out soon because "he was holding him back."
"Those were the hardest years of my life," Danny said. "I don't really like to talk about it."
Said Angel, "What I did was wrong, but at the same time it gave me my life back. When we spoke on the phone, I told him, 'When I get out, I'm going to focus on you. We're getting right back in the gym.'"
Angel knew his son was a fighter. Danny was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He barely survived. When he got into the gym, Danny proved to be a special talent. He racked up a 107-13 record in the amateurs, winning the under-19 national championships in 2005 and the U.S. National Championships in '06.
But in 2006, tragedy struck again: Angel was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. For nearly two years he ate through a feeding tube. At one point, doctors told him he had six months to live. Danny was stunned. How many times did I take his cigarettes and toss them out the car window, Danny thought to himself. How many times did I tell him to stop?
With Angel sick, Danny's interest in boxing waned. He still trained every day, still put in the work to get in shape. But he couldn't get in the ring. For eight months, Danny didn't fight. When other trainers approached him about taking over his corner, Danny turned them away.
"I saw how everyone was acting when he got sick," Danny said. "People were fighting to try to train me. They saw a pot of gold, and they wanted to fight for it. But they seem too hungry. So I said if my father ain't training me, I ain't going to fight."
For Angel, not training Danny hurt worse than the cancer. Sure, the relationship between the two wasn't always easy. Angel set out to develop Danny early. He put him on a strict diet ("Mostly tuna fish, lettuce and water," Danny said) and made sure he did his work. Once, Danny came home with a friend. His father asked him if he did his road work. When Danny said no, Angel put him on a treadmill. "It wasn't perfect," Danny said. We're two different people with two different personalities. But once i learned how he thought and once he learned how I thought, we figured it out. We know how to handle each other."
Working with cancer though proved to be too much. Angel tried, at first. But after two weeks of chemotherapy, he reluctantly concluded that he just didn't have the energy to do it.
"I don't wish [throat cancer] on anybody," Angel said. "The radiation just tears you up."
Then, a miracle happened: Angel began to get better. The cancer went into remission. For a while, Angel feared he would need to have his vocal cords removed. "That wasn't going to happen," Angel said. "I told my family, I wasn't getting anything removed." But he didn't have to. His body beat back the cancer, and in 2007 he was well enough to resume working in Danny's corner.
That year, Danny turned pro. With good movement and a crushing right hand, Garcia was moved along quickly. In his first big test, against Holt in 2011, he won a split decision. Five months later he stepped into the ring with Mexican legend Erik Morales. Morales was the favorite. Garcia thumped him in a lopsided decision.
"I always knew he was special," Angel said. "I knew he was going to be gifted. I knew he was going to be a great fighter."
At the final press conference to promote the Garcia-Judah fight -- a press conference the fighters attended individually, to avoid any conflict -- Angel Garcia walked to the podium and delivered remarkably tame remarks. "I want to apologize to Modell's about yesterday," Angel said. "That was unnecessary. Sometimes you have arrogant people in the world and they do arrogant things. On Saturday, Zab is still going to be the loser that he is."
As Angel spoke, Danny's smile returned. Some fighters would be annoyed by a father or a trainer absorbing so much of the spotlight. Some fighters would prefer the focus be entirely on them. Danny, though, likes the dynamic just the way it is.
"I don't care what people think, what people say," Danny said. "I know what I can do, I know who I am. I just stay in my own lane."
Said Garcia's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, "They are like the Penn and Teller of boxing. I don't know if it's a good thing but for now it's working. They have a good chemistry going. It's a really good team.
Against Judah (42-7), the Garcias will try to erase one of the few lingering criticisms: That Danny is just a big puncher. After losing to Garcia (25-0) last summer, Amir Khan lamented that he tried too hard to knock him out, exposing himself to a big shot. Similarly, Judah believes that he is the superior boxer.
"They can think that all they want," Angel said, his voice rising. "We know they are scared. We'll fight anyone. We'll fight the best. There's no one we will turn down. This kid is the champion of the world. Anyone talking on Saturday, we will shut all of them up."