Despite a career-long layoff that is just shy of 20 months, former two-division champion Danny Garcia is confident entering Saturday's return to the ring when he makes his 154-pound debut against former welterweight title challenger Jose Benavidez Jr.
The 12-round junior middleweight bout headlines Premier Boxing Champions tripleheader (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, a building in which Garcia has headlined eight times before, including the first boxing card the venue hosted in 2012.
The question for the 34-year-old Garcia, who hasn't fought since losing a welterweight title bid against unified champion Errol Spence Jr. in 2020, is whether he can carry his power up to a new division and quickly establish himself among the division's elite like he previously did at 140 and 147 pounds.
"I have more strength, more stamina, I've done more sparring because I'm at this new weight class," Garcia said during Wednesday's media workout. "This is the most rounds I've ever sparred in camp. Everything we do, we did it more this camp.
"I'm excited to be back at Barclays Center. I can't wait. I'm here to show the world that I'm ready for this weight class. I feel strong and I want to go in there and make a real statement."
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Garcia (36-3, 21 KOs) will be facing an interesting test in the 30-year-old Benavidez (27-1-1, 18 KOs), whose questions regarding his current form outweigh the answers we have to construct an opinion as to just how much of a threat the native of Phoenix will be for Garcia.
No one will ever question the toughness of Benavidez, the older brother of two-time super middleweight champion David Benavidez, who both come from a fighting family led by their father and trainer Jose Benavidez Sr.
After a top amateur career, Benavidez saw his professional dreams nearly end in 2016 when a stray bullet from an unknown assailant driving by cut through the femoral artery of his right knee as he walked his dog after midnight near his home in Phoenix. Doctors said Benavidez would never box again and would need upwards of two years of rehab to ever walk on his own.
Not only did Benavidez's toughness speed up that timeline, he returned to the ring just over two years later and fought unbeaten WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford "on one leg" in a fight that saw Crawford, among the pound-for-pound best in the sport, score a 12th-round TKO.
Benavidez then sat out a full three years before coming back last November in a super middleweight bout on the undercard of his brother's headlining homecoming in Phoenix. The elder Benavidez brother looked flat against journeyman Francisco Torres and was extremely fortunate to come away with a majority draw that few thought Benavidez deserved.
"My last fight I was trying to do too much, and because of that, I didn't do anything at all," Benavidez said. "Everything happens for a reason and I feel ready to fight. I know that I can beat the best at 154, it starts with Danny.
"I can box and I can bang. I know that I can do it all in the ring. Everyone is going to see a really strong performance from me on fight night.
Benavidez has long had the skills and a nasty enough in-ring temperament to one day be a world champion, but the jury remains out as to whether there is still time to recapture the momentum lost by the shooting. The challenge of Garcia is expected to be the toughest he has ever faced, with the exception of Crawford.
"It's not about weight, it's about skill," Garcia said. "You don't become a three-time world champion because you're just bigger. It's about skill and technique and that's what we bring to the table.
"[Benavidez] going to see what I bring into the ring on Saturday. I've had the right sparring for this fight and I prepared perfectly. It was really a perfect camp."
Garcia has only ever lost to welterweight elites like Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter and Spence, although all three bouts were close and competitive, with the first two producing somewhat disputed results on the scorecards. The native of Philadelphia has never been stopped as a pro and brings heavy advantages in everything from power and technique to experience against Benavidez.
"I'm coming in with a bang. I take every fight like it's the biggest fight of my life," Benavidez said. "I'm glad that Danny is confident. He's going to find out on Saturday that 154 pounds isn't for him. I fought Terence Crawford on one leg and gave him a fight. I know what I'm capable of and I'm going to fight like that."
Benavidez hasn't been shaken throughout fight week by the harsh words from Garcia's father/trainer Angel, who has questioned his heart and skills. The two even had a shouting match at Thursday's final press conference about how tough of a fight Benavidez can bring to Garcia.
But make no mistake, for Benavidez to score the kind of breakthrough victory that can put his inconsistent career back in motion, he will need to back up his confidence with the kind of performance he has yet to show against an elite foe.
"They can think what they want to think. I know what I'm capable of and I'm going to prove it on Saturday. I'm only focused on my work ethic and I've been training hard for this fight," Benavidez said. "To me, the talk is just a game. I respect everyone. I'm more mature now. I've grown and I only care about what I'm going to do on Saturday."
Fight card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Danny Garcia -700 vs. Jose Benavidez Jr. +500, junior middleweights (12 rounds)
- Ali Eren Demirezen -175 vs. Adam Kownacki +150, heavyweights (10 rounds)
- Gary Antuanne Russell -1400 vs. Rances Barthelemy +800, junior welterweights (10 rounds)
- Date: July 30 | Location: Barclays Center -- Brooklyn, New York
- Start time: 9 p.m. ET
- How to watch/stream: Showtime
Make no mistake that Benavidez, despite holding advantages of nearly three inches in height and reach, has an uphill battle in front of him against the 8-1 favorite Garcia.
Foot speed has long been the lone Achilles heel for Garcia against elite opponents given his need to be stationary in order to get off power shots. That gap may not be as much of a decided difference at the higher weight for Garcia, not to mention that Benavidez's movement has never quite been the same since being shot in the leg.
Benavidez is also not a natural junior middleweight, himself. Package that with the fact that Garcia has never been down as a professional and the odds just get worse for Benavidez. A path to victory will need to include a steady diet of body shots and a fearlessness to take on big danger in the pocket in order to gain Garcia's respect.
Although Garcia, a natural counterpuncher, has been uncomfortable at times being forced to be the aggressor, Benavidez is much more comfortable coming forward. It's an equation that remains a dangerous one as Benavidez will need to apply pressure without leaving himself open to Garcia's counter combinations, which typically see him float a body shot with his right hand in order to bring down his opponent's guard to uncork a looping left hook which follows.
Benavidez was able to linger against Crawford and remain somewhat competitive without being overwhelmed. But that didn't translate into much offensively, however, and Benavidez was still stopped in the final round. That was also four years ago.
If the higher weight allows Garcia a deeper gas tank and the ability to pour on the pressure once he feels Benavidez is hurt, a mid-round stoppage is certainly in play for Garcia to make a strong-yet-expected opening statement in his new division.
Pick: Garcia via TKO8