With professional boxing's myriad sanctioning bodies making world titles as plentiful as department store Santa Clauses, fighting for a state championship belt would hardly seem consequential.
But don't try telling that to Jake Smith of Arbutus and Fabian Garcia of Rockville, who will compete for the Maryland light-heavyweight crown at Martin's West tonight.
"A state title means the same thing as a world title to me," said Smith, a Fells Point bar manager. "I'm 28 today [yesterday], and if I can put that championship belt around my waist tomorrow, it will be the best birthday present I've ever had."
But Garcia, 31, is a strong favorite based on his two wins over Smith -- a third-round win in 1989 and a sixth-round knockout a year later.
"Winning this state belt would give me some recognition," said Garcia (7-5-1). "Hardly anyone knows me now. I've always been the 'opponent' -- the guy they felt would be an easy match."
But Garcia, a native of Jamaica who moved to Maryland in 1981, insists he will not be overconfident fighting Smith a third time.
"Jake Smith probably has more heart than me, but he is not as good a fighter," he said. "But I won't be complacent. I've trained especially hard for this fight. I want to knock him out quickly."
Garcia, who works as a youth counselor and private detective to help support his wife and two daughters, said he only recently began taking boxing seriously.
"For me, fighting was just something to do, like a hobby," he said. "I never had a lot of confidence in myself. Three years ago, TC went into my fight with Jason Waller feeling sure I'd lose."
Waller staggered him in the first round and had Garcia considering career alternatives.
"It felt like I'd been hit by a hammer," he recalled. "I was about ready to quit, but I hung in there and knocked him out in the second round."
That victory made Garcia believe in himself, and he is now regarded as a fighter rival managers avoid.
But Smith (10-3) views Garcia as a hurdle he must eliminate.
"He's my steppingstone," Smith said. "I've got to get past Fabian to be a successful fighter."
With Robert Crawford replacing Josh Hall as his trainer, Smith said he has improved his jab and movement, two essentials in minimizing Garcia's power advantage.
"We haven't fought in three years," Smith said. "We're new fighters now, but I've got to be that much better this time."
NOTES: The 10-round co-feature matches promising New York cruiserweight Jade Scott (16-1), ranked No. 7 by the International Boxing Federation, against Maurice Wilson (9-5) of Hillcrest Heights. . . . A seven-bout undercard begins at 7.30 p.m. . . . Promoter Stuart Satosky is expecting a sellout crowd of 2,000. About 40 reserved tickets remain on sale.