Would a win over Keith Thurman finally get Danny Garcia the respect he deserves?

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

Danny Garcia gets way too little appreciation for a guy who has accomplished as much as he has by 28 years old, and it probably won’t change even if he defeats Keith Thurman on Saturday when they meet in a WBA-WBC unification bout at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Garcia-Thurman is one of the best fights that can be made in boxing, and is only the second time in history that two fighters with perfect records fought for the welterweight title, and only the third time that two with zero losses did it.

Garcia is 33-0 with 19 KOs and has already beaten a rostrum of the best fighters in the world at 140 pounds, including Kendall Holt (split-decision win in 2011), Amir Khan and Erik Morales (fourth-round KOs in 2012), Zab Judah, Lucas Matthysse and Mauricio Herrera (unanimous decisions in 2013), Lamont Peterson (majority decision in 2015), Paulie Malignaggi (ninth-round KO in 2015) and Robert Guerrero (unanimous decision in 2016).

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He’s had a couple of light touches in there, most notably Rod Salka in 2014 and Samuel Vargas last year, but Garcia has fought more than his share of quality fighters.

Perhaps he’s overshadowed because of his outspoken father/trainer, Angel, who is as loud and overbearing as Danny is soft-spoken and gentlemanly. Angel Garcia is a trash talker and in January, his trash talk crossed a line when he hurled racial epithets at Thurman.

Whatever it is, though, Garcia isn’t respected enough not only for his talent, but for what he has accomplished.

It’s easy to pick out a Salka or a Vargas on his record and scoff, but those types of fights appear on the records of every fighter, including the greats. The legendary Bernard Hopkins, a Philadelphian like Garcia, fought Morrade Hakkar in 2003 in a bout notable only because Hakkar appeared as if he were doing laps running around the ring that night.

It’s the nature of boxing. Criticism is warranted when a fighter regularly skips big-name opponents, but the sport is too physically demanding and there aren’t enough truly elite opponents to fight the baddest guy on the block every time out.

But whatever it is that has led to the lack of appreciation of Garcia’s career, it’s hard to understand.

“The critics will be the critics,” Garcia said. “They don’t know what I can do.”

But that’s the thing – they should, because he’s regularly proven it in the ring. Even before he won the title and he was a developing fighter on the rise, he faced quality fighters like Mike Arnaoutis, Nate Campbell and Ashley Theophane, among others.

They’re not Leonard, Hearns and Duran, but they were representative challenges at the time Garcia faced them.

Danny Garcia will fight Keith Thurman on Saturday on CBS. (AP)
Danny Garcia will fight Keith Thurman on Saturday on CBS. (AP)

Against Thurman, there is little question about the quality of opposition. Thurman is a powerful puncher and a smart finisher who ranks among the better overall fighters in the world.

Garcia, though, is low-key, as always, and not stressed leading into the biggest fight of his life.

“I’ve been here before,” he said of the big stage that CBS presents. “It’s not new to me. But at the end of the day, I know what I can do and I’m a great champion. I’m a true champion and that’s what I’m going to show on March 4.”

Thurman himself raved about Garcia, even though he’s confident of victory.

This is one of those fights where it gets to splitting hairs to pick between them. To Thurman, he believes his edge is that he’s repeatedly won more decisively, though he doesn’t fail to give Garcia the respect he’s earned.

“Danny has always won; he has always prevailed in his fights,” Thurman said. “But ultimately, looking at the books and everything and looking at the record, I think Danny has been in more close decisions than I have been. The closest fight that I’ve been in was my most recent fight with Shawn Porter, a fighter who knows me very well and somebody who I competed against coming off of injury and a big layoff. So we feel stronger this camp.

“We feel more prepared and ready for this camp, and we believe we’ll be able to make a statement. He just let people be in the fight with him more than I believe people have been in the fight with me. I think I’ve had more dominant decisions over my opponents than Garcia and that gives me confidence in winning this fight.”

If Garcia wins, one would expect he’d finally get his due. Thurman is about a 2-1 favorite and is clearly an elite opponent; he’s 27-0 and has won all but five by finish.

Garcia, though, has a knack for coming up big in big situations – recall the finish of Khan and the late rally versus Judah – and he can’t be discounted.

But unlike his father, he’s not a boastful guy and doesn’t do much to call attention to himself. And he may be destined to be one of those guys whose greatness isn’t recognized until he’s gone.

“I’ve been underrated my whole career,” Garcia said. “Every time I beat somebody, there was an excuse or every time I’m in a tough fight, they’re always saying, ‘Oh, it was controversial,’ whatever, or ‘close fight.’ It is what it is.

“That’s the image the media is trying to give me.”

If it is, it’s wrong. Win or lose, Garcia is an elite champion.

For those who say otherwise, chalk it up to alternative facts.

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