By Rudy Mondragon
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a rich boxing history. It is home to some of the rawest fighters the boxing scene has ever seen. From the hard punching Bennie Briscoe to hall of famers like Joey Giardello and Philly’s forever Heavyweight Champion, Joe Frazier. The list of old timers and modern day fighters from Philly can make for hours of bar conversations. One can’t forget Julio Cesar Chavez’s toughest fight during his undefeated hot streak was against North Philly’s Meldrick “The Kid” Taylor. And as all boxing heads know, the current fighter and future hall of famer who put Oscar De La Hoya down with that nasty body punch is North Philly’s own, Bernard “The Executioner and Alien” Hopkins.
In a recent trip to Philadelphia, my vision was to take in this rich history. With stops to the Blue Horizon, the Rocky Statue and Steps, the Joey Giardello Statue, Italian Market, and Pat’s Cheesestakes, I was on a mission to experience Philly boxing culture. A necessary step in doing this was visiting Danny “Swift” Garcia’s gym. With the help of John Disanto, founder of phillyboxinghistory.com and my new friend, I was given the needed information to make my way north.
The area was industrial and had the vibe of a blue collar, hard working-class neighborhood. The gym was located in a decent sized lot with a few humble signs, making it difficult for me to spot at first. I parked and worked my way towards the gym, in hopes that the Champ and his father, Angel Garcia, would be at the gym.
At first glance, the building did not appear to house a gym. There was a body shop, a car wash station, and a barbershop. My initial instinct was to head into the barbershop and talk boxing with the community. I was reminded of the scene from “Coming to America” and that reflection confirmed that I go in there to get an idea as to whether Danny and his team would be making an appearance.
I walked into the barbershop and it felt like home. It reminded me of the neighborhood barbershops I would visit when I was growing up in South Gate, California. The major difference here was the connection to Danny Garcia and the boxing world. I sat down with Steve, a young brother who has close ties to Danny. He hooked me up with a clean tapper and shared how Danny Garcia opened up the barbershop as a side hustle to create jobs for his immediate community. Rather than having a passive entourage as most boxing celebrities do, Danny’s barbershop provides the barbers a way to sustain themselves and maintain close relationships with the champion.
I shared with Steve that I made the trip all the way from Seattle, Washington and was excited to meet Angel and Danny. Steve’s response to that was, “there goes Angel right there!” I looked up and there was Angel, the high energy and hardcore trash talking father and trainer to his son, Danny Garcia. Respectfully and humbly, I greeted the man and he walked over. He asked me if I was being taken care of and if I was having a good experience. To that I said “absolutely, Steve is hooking me up and I am looking forward to checking your son if at all possible.” Angel said it most definitely was and told me to enjoy the rest of my cut. The best way to remember that moment was with a picture, which Steve and Angel agreed to.
The next stop was the gym itself, which was located all the way in the back of the building. Close to the entrance was Danny’s personal parking spot. It was car less at the moment of arrival, signaling to me that Danny had not yet arrived. This bought me some time to check the inside of the gym and gain an appreciation for the aesthetic nature of the place.
Entering the backside of the building was transformational. After having checked the barbershop, the body shop, and car wash, the back of the building took on a new life. The gym communicated love, respect, and appreciation for Philly boxing history as well as Puerto Rican boxing legends. The first art piece as I walked in was a juxtaposed frame of Danny Garcia and the late Hector “Macho” Camacho. For boxing heads, knowing about Macho is important. He is the man who stepped into the ring against some of the biggest names in boxing: Felix Trinidad, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Vinny Paz and others. Hanging over head were old boxing gloves, similar to the neighborhood where you would see old sneakers hanging by the laces. Those gloves, I am sure, have a story and symbolize something deep. Most striking about the gym however was Danny’s WBC Jr Welterweight championship belt on display for all to see. It communicates to the people that Danny won that belt with his team and the support of his fans. Those lucky enough to come visit the gym can see this symbol of greatness first hand and up close.
By the time I had finished taking it all in, Danny had arrived and was warming up and wrapping up for a five round sparring session. He was scheduled to get into the ring with young and hungry super featherweight contender, Omar Douglas (12-0, 9 KOs). Prior to the start of the sparring session, Angel Garcia approached me and asked if I wanted to meet his son. My response was most definitely, but only if it was cool with the champ. After all, this is his work place, his office, the place where he sharpens his blade and works on his craft. Angel said it was no problem and I was allowed beyond the “DO NOT PASS” gate.
Danny was in work mode. Quiet, focused, serious, reserved, composed, and ready to enter the ring to spar against Omar Douglas, a man who was being paid to fight Danny in preparation for his August 9, 2014 showdown against Rod Salka. Danny’s vibe was appreciative that I came to visit and he showed love for a fan. I appreciated Danny as he appeared to do a great job balancing the many roles he was playing at that moment. At that moment, Danny was a family man as he was training with his father and in the presence of his sisters. He was a fighter, about to step in the ring and spar. He was a public figure, greeting his fans and posing for pictures. He was a mentor, as many youth were working out in the gym looking up to the champion. A balancing act that not many can do, let alone do it well. That is why Danny is the professional in this game.
Danny Garcia is in a good place. The property he and his father own is alive and well with potential growth. The size of the gym and the resources in there have been enough to prepare the young champion to defend his title five times now. The beauty of the situation Danny is in, much like the physical property, is that there is much room for growth. Danny is still hungry and working his way up to a new weight division. This could bring him a future showdown with boxing’s king, Floyd Mayweather. Danny has great mentorship as Bernard Hopkins chooses to train at Danny’s gym. This means Bernard is available and accessible to talk with, providing Danny with an opportunity to absorb all the boxing wisdom Bernard has to offer.
Before I close this out, it is worth mentioning that Danny and his father are also trying to build a record label. Boxing gym, barbershop, car wash, body shop, and recording studio all in one building! Angel said that the music industry has been a challenge for the two of them as they are trying to figure out the politics and nature of the music game. Nonetheless Angel said that they will figure it out and find a way to be successful. Like boxing, there is no easy hustle. One always has to work at it and if you get knocked down, know that it is part of the game, the true test is if one can get up and keep fighting.