Back from mental health break, Danny Garcia back to his 'old self' and hungry for another world title

More than a third of Danny Garcia’s 39 professional bouts have been against men who at some point in their career held a world championship (in one case, an interim world title). He’s gone 12-3 in those fights with four knockouts, evidence that this is a guy who wasn’t appreciated enough during his prime.

Garcia never got the truly huge fight against either Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, but his résumé is a road map of the best 140- and 147-pounders of the last decade.

He was one of the Premier Boxing Champion’s “Big Four” welterweights along with Errol Spence Jr., Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman. He lost all three of those bouts, the only losses in an otherwise brilliant career, though the fights with Thurman and Porter were both agonizingly close and highly entertaining.

Garcia hasn’t fought since the only one-sided defeat of his career when he dropped a unanimous decision to Spence in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 5, 2020.

“I just needed a little time off,” Garcia told Yahoo Sports. “Mentally, I was kind of burned out. I was pretty worn out mentally and it didn’t make sense to fight in that mind frame. But I’ve gotten the hunger back. That was a rough year for me with the pandemic and everything else going on. So I needed a break but I feel like I’m back to my old self now.”

He’s moved up to 154 pounds and will face Jose Benavidez Jr. on Saturday at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Showtime.

It’s on paper a curious decision, because he has admittedly walked around at 154 pounds and the fighters in the division are significantly bigger. Undisputed champion Jermell Charlo is, at 6 feet, four inches taller and has a five-inch reach advantage. He’s going to give up height and reach to most opponents at 154 and on fight night, he’ll likely weigh less in the ring than the majority of them.

That’s the kind of mountain he has to climb to get to where he wants to be, back to the championship level.

But he insists he’s not back just for another payday or two, but to win a world title. The first step is getting past Benavidez, and he said he feels much stronger heading into Saturday’s fight than he did at similar points prior to his last three bouts.

“I’m eating the right things, I’m doing more with the weights and I feel I have more stamina and can hold the weight better,” he said. “I feel this is a more natural weight for me and I have the strength to compete here.”

Two-division world champion Danny Garcia says he's ready for the challenge the super welterweight division will bring. (Photos by Amanda Westcott/Showtime)
Two-division world champion Danny Garcia says he's ready for the challenge the super welterweight division will bring. (Photos by Amanda Westcott/Showtime)

Garcia was probably at his best as a pro in 2012 and 2013 when he was fighting mostly at super lightweight. In those two years, he was 5-0 with two KOs and defeated Erik Morales twice, Amir Khan, Zab Judah and Lucas Matthysse.

Garcia was a good fighter for most of the next decade but wasn’t the dominant fighter with the sharp punches he was in those five fights. So it’s a huge challenge a decade later to recapture that greatness at the biggest weight class of his life.

One of the things that has throughout his career separated him from the pack is his willingness to fight the best. It takes a special attitude to walk into the ring with the elite of the elite, and Garcia’s always had it. It’s what he plans to bring to the fights now that he’s a super welterweight.

“You have to know in your heart that you have the skills and that you’ve put in the work,” Garcia said. “If you’re going to fight these guys, you can’t have any doubts and you eliminate doubts by the work you put in in the gym.

“I’ve been pushing really hard in this camp. The time off helped me because I missed the gym, I missed everything about it. Now, I’m back where I feel like I belong and I am motivated to show everyone what I’ve done.”

Benavidez is 27-1-1 and will only be in his second fight above welterweight when he meets Garcia on Saturday. He doesn’t have nearly the résumé that Garcia has but Garcia isn’t going to be fooled.

Benavidez gave Terence Crawford problems early in their fight before Crawford stopped him and Garcia expects an elite and hungry opponent.

“He’s a very skilled guy and he comes to fight,” Garcia said. “I feel like I have more experience and I’ve fought at a higher level and for longer but I respect him and I’ve trained so hard for that reason. He’ll push me but I’m confident in the work I’ve done that I’m going to put on a good show.”