Garcia and Judah Served Raw
The son is quietly confident and focuses on business; the father creates pre-fight drama, which sells tickets, then absorbs any fallout like a cornerman’s sponge…
With its slabs of aging red meat in the front window, Gallagher’s Steak House is a throwback. It’s the kind of place I’d picture Willy Loman eating, his suit frayed, perhaps celebrating some small, empty victory. The death of that salesman came from the American dream gone bad. On this raw Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, dreams and plans of the boxing variety were on display as one of New York’s oldest steak houses served up a different main course: selling a championship fight.
Early next year, Danny Garcia, the undefeated light-welterweight titlist from Philadelphia, will be fighting Zab Judah at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the borough where Judah grew up. The fight itself promises to be exciting because Danny Garcia has emerged as an exciting fighter. In his last bout he nearly decapitated Erik Morales; the Mexican Hall-of-Famer may be old and shop-worn, and literally one fight away from retirement, but no one except the PacMan has knocked him out. Before that, Garcia brutalized Amir Khan, once again exposing the Brit’s chin. Garcia, nicknamed “Swift,” did his business quickly—both fights ended in the fourth round. Cool and calm, a real juxtaposition to his loud, excitable father/trainer, Danny Garcia has become more impressive with each fight. He’s not particularly fast for a 140-pounder. He’s not particularly fleet-of-foot. But he never gets ruffled, never wastes energy, knows how to size-up his opponents and capitalize on their flaws, and, when the opportunity arises, he can close the deal with a single punch.
Where Garcia is workman-like steady, Zab Judah is celebrity flash, or at least he used to be. Like a good actor, he’s got the Hollywood version of thug-life down. He dresses the part. He talks the talk. And while he doesn’t always walk the walk, when he does walk, he struts. Judah has always been naturally gifted and dangerously quick. But I always felt he had the mindset of a bully and not a genuine tough guy. When his opponents are below him, he’s super aggressive. But when he senses danger, he backs away and often backs down—Judah’s heart has been questioned as many times as his knees have touched canvas. Nearing the end of his career, Zab Judah has become a litmus test for fighters on their way up; Danny Garcia is skyrocketing. Garcia/Judah may be worthy of main-event status, but I’ll be surprised if this is a competitive fight.
So why did the press show up in full force to the upstairs room of Gallagher’s? Beyond the lure of free grilled meat (which never arrived), they expected a press conference that would move past the trite clichés about better men winning and past the canned self-summations from fighters proclaiming, “I’m in the best shape of my life.” (If this were true, we’d have to travel no farther than the nearest boxing gym to discover the fountain of youth.) For all his faults in the ring, Zab Judah outside the ring is an entertaining man; he’s smart, charming, and, with no punches coming at him, he pulls few punches when talking about himself, his opponents, and the state of boxing. At the other end of the table, Angel Garcia promised to be, well, Angel Garcia. While Judah filters his words through bravado, Garcia doesn’t believe in filters. He’ll say anything and everything as Danny looks on; Danny’s eyes are often so serene he looks on the verge of sleep. This symbiotic relationship seems to work for the Garcias: the son is quietly confident and focuses on business; the father creates pre-fight drama, which sells tickets, then absorbs any fallout like a cornerman’s sponge.
Saturday afternoon’s press conference began politely enough. The fighters entered. The Corona girls smiled. The reporters sat at eight-tops with a basket of rolls as the centerpiece while Bernard Hopkins stood at the podium and touted the fight, touted Brooklyn, and, shilling for Oscar and company, touted Golden Boy’s reputation for making fights that matter.
“Danny Garcia is from Philadelphia. He’s here to represent himself, his family, and the City of Brotherly Love. I don’ believe there’s going to be an empty seat in the arena. They love Zab Judah in Brooklyn like they loved Mike Tyson. This fight’s going to be the talk at every barbershop in all five boroughs. This will be a test for Danny. For any doubters out there, he’s taking on someone who’s a living legend, who has a slick style, experience and a new-found faith and attitude.”
What’s a press conference without hyperbole? Zab Judah has been reinventing himself for some time now and as for legendary status, well, he’s no Mike Tyson.
Richard Schaefer, Golden Boy’s CEO, spoke next. As he described the “easy and quick” negotiations, I scanned the front table. Garcia Senior was scowling. Garcia Junior was the picture of calm, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. Zab Judah hid more behind sunglasses and cap.
The press-conference prelims ended. Now it was the fighters’ turn. Zab Judah, in his role as challenger, went first. Brief and to the point, he sounded humble as he praised the lord, praised the Garcias and thanked everyone for coming. “Team Judah is ready. It’s a blessing to have an arena built in Brooklyn where I used to run the streets and do who knows what. There’s a reason I have Brooklyn tattooed on my back. I’ve seen it all.” Polite words from a man who can talk smack with the best of them.
Schaefer then introduced Angel Garcia, acknowledging Mr. Garcia’s volatility. “You never know what happens when he talks.”
And talk he did.
“Excuse my voice,” Angel Garcia said hoarsely. “Danny’s blessed. I’m blessed because of Danny. I do the training. He does the fighting.” The niceties were over, Mr. Garcia’s voice strengthened and his words went south. “Every time Zab Judah fights anyone, he’s lost. It’s about Philly right now. We’re not leaving our belt in Brooklyn. Zab is a four-round fighter. He knows that. Not to put Paris (Zab beat Vernon Paris eight months ago) on the spot, but we used Paris in sparring. Danny put him down in four. Zab took nine rounds to put Paris down. I respect any man that walks into the ring, but the only respect I’m giving you is you put on the gloves.”
Zab had heard enough. “Your son got to fight me, not you,” he yelled.
Zab’s people had heard enough. “Your son never fought no one,” they yelled.
Then it was a rush of movement, bodies going forward, Zab Judah’s body pushing against Angel Garcia’s body, Bernard Hopkins holding Zab, Danny Garcia holding Dad, men charging from the back of the room to the front, knocking down chairs, looking to join the fray. Another press-conference brawl.
It took ten full minutes to clear this one. While bodies were separated, the instigator screamed, “ Ain’t nobody scared of nobody,” to which Judah replied, “I ain’t going to be disrespected. I’m not Morales. I’m not Khan. I’m a whole different person.”
I was close to the action, the press of bodies against my back. One body belonged to Dan Rafael who looked at a fellow reporter and said, “Is there any reason to stay?” I didn’t stick in my two cents, but there were several reasons. First, now that he was no longer being polite, Judah would have something to say. Second, I was curious if Danny Garcia would once again counter his father’s turbulence with Zen-like calm. And third, this was a press conference. The whole point of inviting the press to a pre-fight gathering is to generate interest, create drama, ensure asses fill seats. Angel Garcia doesn’t have a degree in marketing, but his strategy works. ad blood sells tickets better than respectful banter.
Danny Garcia hadn’t yet had his official turn at the microphone. When some semblance of order was restored (the Corona girls had long since been whisked away and the press, though politely asked, refused to return to their seats), Danny finally stepped up to the podium. He stayed within himself, but he was clearly revving. “I’m going to knock you out,” he warned Judah. “I’m flat-footed, but I’m gonna lay you flat.” Judah yelled back, “You ain’t fought nobody.” In place of concluding statements, F bombs exploded.
As is the order of boxing press conferences, once the official remarks are done, reporters talk with the fighters individually. Danny Garcia sat at a table at the front of the restaurant. Zab Judah stood at the back.
I approached Danny Garcia first. Up close, he’s a young-looking twenty-four-year-old with a strong back and solid arms. His eyes are healthy clear, his mouth on the verge of a smile. Garcia may be quiet, but if asked a question, he has plenty to say.
On his Dad: “To me, my Dad didn’t say anything wrong. My Dad just said the truth. The truth hurts. I’m never embarrassed by him. I love my Dad.”
On the fight: “I guess I’m trying to take over Brooklyn. I knew right away when they said Zab Judah that we’d take the fight. I’m a city kid. He’s a city kid. It’s going to be a riot. If he comes to me, he’ll get KO’d early. He knows I’m younger and stronger. This fight’s not going the distance. He ain’t going twelve rounds. I backed it up twenty-five times. We’re just gonna keep doing it.”
I asked Danny where he got his calm. “I’m from Philly,” he said and smiled. “It’s like a jungle where I lived. You have to keep your head straight, you have to look around. I always keep composed. Getting mad is out of my character. The dog that barks don’t bite.”
At the other end of Gallagher’s, Zab Judah was holding court while his own father looked on. “I don’t think it’s right,” Zab said, visibly pissed about Angel Garcia’s rant. “Danny Garcia can stand up there and talk. But when another man stands up there, I’m not going to take it. I saw these guys yesterday. Everyone was cool. Now the media’s here and it’s a fight. I’m going to punish him. I’m going to teach him. I’m going to whip his ass and send him home down 95. I’m going to show Danny his father’s no good for him.”
Zab’s anger was justified, but he was wrong about Danny’s father. Angel Garcia made this press conference ugly, but he also made it memorable, which was his intention all along. Pre-fight melees are sometimes choreographed, but this one wasn’t. And if this is a harbinger of the fight to come, February 9th at the Barclays Center will be an entertaining night for as long as it lasts.
I walked downstairs to exit. In Gallagher’s main dining room, paying customers were enjoying their steaks, unaware of the hype going on above. It’s a small world, boxing. But it’s more interesting than most small worlds. Press conferences like these may not add to boxing’s reputation, they are vulgar and violent and pointless to some, but if you ask me what I’d rather listen to—the homogenized nothings delivered in team locker rooms by players of respectable sports or the raw ravings of boxing’s characters—well, you can guess my answer.