Danny Garcia turns 30 a month after his next fight, a Feb. 17 matchup with former lightweight champion Brandon Rios at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Perhaps that milestone will inspire former two-division champion Garcia to assert a fuller voice into a career that too often has been marked by bouts that, frankly, are beneath him.
While Oxnard’s Rios (34-3-1, 25 knockouts) is vowing he’ll avoid a repeat of his drastic 11th-hour weight cuts of the past, he is more than two years removed from announcing his retirement after being dominated by Timothy Bradley Jr., making this a fight Garcia is expected to win.
A spokesman for Premier Boxing Champions tried to spin the Showtime-televised assignment from boss Al Haymon as an excusable task in light of Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) suffering his first loss, a welterweight-title unification, split-decision setback to unbeaten Keith Thurman in March.
Still, there were better men to meet next.
One is former title challenger Shawn Porter, who is in front of Garcia for the next shot at Thurman following the champion’s expected spring date with former welterweight champion Jessie Vargas.
“I’ve never picked any of my opponents — from Amir Khan to Lucas Matthysse to Keith Thurman to Lamont Peterson,” Garcia said. “My job is to fight whoever they put in front of me. [Rios’] name came up. I said, ‘Where and when?’ That’s how my whole career has been. I’ve never ducked no one. If Shawn Porter’s name had come up in the conversation, then it would’ve been Shawn Porter, but it wasn’t. It was Brandon Rios.”
That past opponent list also includes clearly outclassed Rod Salka and Samuel Vargas, though.
But Garcia’s focus is looking forward.
“I’d be a liar to say” the Thurman loss “didn’t bother me,” Garcia said. “I woke up some days thinking, ‘Damn, I got an ‘L’ on my damn record.’ I know I’m the better fighter, but that’s in the past now. It gave me a chip on my shoulder. There’s a new chapter, and it starts in 2018.
“It’s a classic fight: boxer-puncher versus brawler. I feel good, I feel strong.”
Tickets are on sale at axs.com and the card includes a super-middleweight title rematch between unbeaten World Boxing Council champ David Benavidez and Ronald Gavril, who fought to a split decision in September.
Rios, 31, returned to the ring in June for a seventh-round knockout victory in Lancaster and said he’s intent to “show I’m still a top contender. I feel rejuvenated. Like Danny said, my body got a little rest.”
Does the retirement help sharpen the motivation for this, knowing the end could be at hand again?
“I’m not thinking about what could happen after or before,” Rios said. “I’m just focused on being in shape.”