THE BAR WAS carved into a beat-up building on the corner of Eighth and Butler, just a hole-in-the-wall in the crime-ridden North Philadelphia neighborhood of Hunting Park. Cabana, Angel Garcia recalls its being named. Not that it mattered. Customers didn't come for the beer or the cheap booze. They came for stronger stuff. The stuff Angel sold outside. Cocaine had swept into the poorer sections of Philly in the 1980s and taken Angel right along with it. Oh, he'd tried to go straight. At 17, Angel took a job as a fabric spreader at a clothing factory. He brought home $80 a week, just enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. But selling drugs offered so much more. The dealers had new clothes, jewelry, flashy sneakers. So Angel became a dealer with the Blue Tape Warriors, one of the biggest distributors in the area. Suddenly, a few hundred dollars a month became thousands. "I got caught up in dealing," says Angel. "If everyone you know is doing it, and you grew up around it, you think it's a part of life."
This is an article from the Sept. 9, 2013 issue
Angel Garcia is 50 now, a long way from Hunting Park and a world away from that life. On Sept. 14 he will enter the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, working the corner while his 25-year-old son, Danny, the undefeated junior welterweight champion, defends his title against Lucas Matthysse on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.--Saul (Canelo) Alvarez fight. That moment, the culmination of a dream that the Garcias have shared for so long, would never have arrived had Angel not escaped his rough trade.
Angel's brother-in-law had been gunned down at 22. Another man he knew took 10 bullets in the face. Angel had a pair of guns leveled at the back of his head by two men who robbed him of $8,000 in coke. He tried to protect his family, moving his wife, Maritza, and two sons into a safer neighborhood even as he continued to deal.
His sons. Angel lived for those boys. Erik was the older one, shy, with a soft smile. Danny, two years younger, was quiet too. But there was something different about Danny. As a boy, he would walk around the house throwing punches, slipping imaginary ones. This kid is going to be a fighter, Angel told his friends. A great one. When Danny was seven, Angel took him down to the Harrowgate Boxing Club in North Philly. He showed Danny how to punch. He taught him to train. He dreamed of a day when Danny would become a champion.
In August 1998, Angel was in an apartment in Hunting Park when he heard a commotion outside. Police were everywhere. Angel couldn't believe it. That morning Maritza had begged him to stay home. She'd had a dream he was going to be arrested, and that was about to happen. Angel tried to escape by jumping out a second-floor window, but police saw him crash to the concrete. They cuffed him, collected the marked bills that undercover officers had used to pay him and took him away. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Sitting in his cell, his family broken, evicted and forced to cram into an aunt's small house, Angel vowed to change. His wife couldn't be without a husband; his sons couldn't be without a father. And Danny, the boy who wouldn't box or even work out without his dad, couldn't be without a trainer. "I wish I could find the judge who sentenced me and thank him," says Angel. "He saved my life. He saved my family."
DANNY GARCIA'S GYM—a one-story former office building the Garcias spent more than a year gutting and remodeling before it opened a few months ago—is multifunctional. It's a gym, auto body and detailing shop, a barbershop and a recording studio. What was once an eyesore on Philadelphia's Jasper Street has become every business the Garcias ever wanted. The gym occupies one room, with a ring in the middle surrounded by training equipment. One of Danny's friends, a tattoo artist, painted a mural on the back wall depicting Danny, flanked by a line of (mostly) Puerto Rican champions: Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho, Miguel Cotto, Wilfred Benitez ... and Bernard Hopkins, the man who once stomped on the Puerto Rican flag at a press conference. "Philly guy," Angel says, grinning. "We like Bernard."
Sitting on a couch outside the studio, Danny smiles at the thought of what it took to get here. He was 12 when Angel was released from prison, and the two got to work. As a trainer, Angel ran a tight ship. Meals often were tuna, lettuce and water. Tastykakes were in the house, but Angel counted them, and if Danny sneaked one, he knew he would hear about it later. Sometimes Maritza, worried Danny was too skinny, would smuggle sandwiches and cheesesteaks into his room at night. "He was just so thin," says Maritza. "But I couldn't let Angel know, because I would hear about it too."
When friends came over to play, Angel told Danny he had to run first. No excuses. Girls didn't stand a chance. "Every girl I ever hung out with—every one—would say, 'Why does your dad always look so mean,' " says Danny.
"I took a lot of his childhood," admits Angel. "I threw a lot of his friends out because I knew the only way to get him to this point was to keep him focused."
The boxing landscape is littered with failed father-son combinations: Roy Jones Jr. and Roy Sr., Shane and Jack Mosley, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Floyd Sr. "A lot of times fathers do not allow their sons to grow," Jack Mosley said in 2006. "They want to live their lives through their sons." The Garcias's relationship, however, seems solid, in part because of their personalities—as intense as Angel is, Danny is equally laid-back—and in part because Danny is spurred on by his father's faith in him. "I hate when I hear other trainers say if their guy wins," says Danny. "If you win? That's not my dad. When we talk about opponents, he says, 'F--- him, you are going to knock his a-- out.' "
Angel's faith in Danny was validated quickly. In 2005, Danny won the under-19 national amateur championship and an international title at an event in Finland. In March '06 he won the U.S. national title. Now 5' 8½", with a powerful left hook, Danny racked up a 107--13 record as an amateur, and he was one of the U.S.'s best pro prospects. But in'06, just as Danny was ready to break out, Angel was diagnosed with Stage IV throat cancer. If left untreated, Angel would be dead in six months, doctors said. "I just remember thinking, God, why me?" says Angel. "Was I being punished? Was I being made to pay for my sins?"
For a month Angel underwent chemo and was blasted with radiation, which burned the tumor. ("Like pressing an iron on your neck," he says.) Unable to eat, Angel was fed through a tube in his stomach. He withered to 130 pounds. Family members came to the house to see him and left thinking about his funeral.
He had tried for a few weeks to keep training Danny, but eventually he couldn't summon the energy to hold the pads. With his father bedridden, Danny's interest in boxing waned. He stayed in shape but refused to spar or enter tournaments. When other trainers approached Angel about taking over Danny's career, he told them to get lost. They would come to the gym and ask Danny if he wanted a new coach. He sent them away. "I felt like a pot of gold," says Danny. "People were fighting for me. All I said was that I wasn't going to fight unless my dad was O.K."
Angel was strong enough to get back to the gym in 2007, and two years later his cancer went into remission. "What kept me alive was this family," says Angel. "I couldn't leave them. I wouldn't."
WANT TO GET Angel Garcia angry? Criticize Danny Garcia. Tell him Danny can't win. That's what Kendall Holt did. In 2011, Holt, a former world champion, was matched against Danny. At a press conference, Holt sneered at a roomful of reporters and said that Danny's promoter, Golden Boy, had made a mistake making the fight. Angel seethed. At the next press event, Angel blew up, cursing at Holt and screaming at him on the dais. Danny loved it. "He's just being himself," says Danny. "He yells like that all the time. Why do I care if he does it at a press conference?"
In 2008, Danny, then 5--0, was scheduled to fight on the Oscar De La Hoya--Steve Forbes card. A few hours before the bout Angel was told that Danny's opponent had dropped out. Danny could still fight, but the new opponent would be Julio Gamboa, a southpaw (which Danny hadn't trained for) with 42 pro bouts. De La Hoya's trainer, Nacho Beristain, recommended that Angel decline the fight. But Angel accepted, and Danny demolished Gamboa in six rounds. "I told Danny that if he couldn't beat a guy like this, he couldn't be a world champion," says Angel. "And Danny didn't blink. He went out there and beat the crap out of him."
As Danny's fame has grown, Angel's antics have revved up. His press conferences are must-see TV. Last year, before Danny's fight with Amir Khan, Angel called Khan "overrated" and danced on the stage, mocking Khan's fighting style. A few months later, before Danny's rematch against Erik Morales, Angel got into a shouting match with Morales's father. In April, Angel sparked a fight at a Brooklyn sporting goods store with Zab Judah. Each time Angel would pop off, Danny would smile and clap—and go out and win. "It drives me crazy when people doubt Danny," says Angel. "He's undefeated. He's the world champion. What's he got to do to get respect?"
Ask Angel about Matthysse and his eyes widen. While Danny holds the titles, the buzz for the upcoming fight is all about Matthysse, the Argentine knockout artist (34--2 with 32 KOs) who has left a path of flattened bodies in his wake. Matthysse is the star, Matthysse is the next big thing, Matthysse is ... Angel? "He ain't nothing," says Angel. "He's supposed to be some killer? He's beaten a whole bunch of knuckleheads in South America. He thinks he is going to come in and throw that looping right hand that he has knocked all those bums out with? He's fighting the champ. You want to take that buckle, you better come with more than that."
As he listens to his father rant, Danny cracks a smile. If history holds, we know what will happen next.
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