NEW YORK – Danny Garcia planned to discuss his mental health struggles during his post-fight interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray on Saturday night.
The 34-year-old Garcia just didn’t expect emotions to overwhelm him when he talked about everything he went through while working his way back to boxing. Garcia got out only a couple sentences before the Philadelphia native started to cry in the immediate aftermath of his 12-round, majority-decision victory over Jose Benavidez Jr. at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
In a room full of his family members and friends at a post-fight press conference, an honest, laughing Garcia recalled that rare emotional moment the boxing public has seen since he turned pro late in 2007.
“I was gonna say it, but I didn’t know I was gonna break down,” Garcia said of his interview with Gray. “Like I just kept crying. I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m a little bitch.’ But that’s what breaks people, like when you don’t talk about it. Because like being an athlete, people tell you, ‘Be strong. Don’t be weak.’ You know what I’m saying? ‘Oh, I don’t feel good. Train harder. Run harder.’ So, people look at you already like you’re strong. So, you just keep it to yourself. And like 20-something years-plus of keeping it to myself, it just kinda like bursted.
“And I just felt like I was tired mentally, and I knew that I needed a rest from the boxing. I knew boxing was triggering it, to be honest. It wasn’t nuttin’ else because I only felt like that when I was fightin’. But now I know how to get around it. I know to turn the switch off. I know how to talk to somebody. I know how to go for a run or just occupy my mind and get past whatever’s making me feel that way, just stay strong until I get past that.”
Garcia (37-3, 21 KOs) didn’t decide to end a layoff that almost reached 20 months until he felt emotionally and mentally composed enough to return to the gym. Before he beat Benavidez (27-2-1, 18 KOs) in his 154-pound debut, Garcia hadn’t boxed since he lost a 12-round unanimous decision to Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs) in a 12-round fight for Spence’s IBF and WBC welterweight titles in December 2020 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It means the world to me, to be honest,” Garcia said. “You know, I was out the ring for, like you said, a year and a half. And like I said [to Gray], I went through a lot of mental stuff. And I just felt like I needed to fight again to be myself again. You know, I’m a fighter. It’s what I love to do. Like one day I was in the mall with my friends and we were going down the escalator.
“So, we’re going down that and I told them, ‘Look, I used to dream about fightin’ in front of millions of people and for millions of dollars. And now I don’t wanna do it no more?’ And I was like, ‘There’s people who wish they can do that.’ And that’s when I realized, I was like, ‘I can’t take my talent for granted. And I’m coming back to the ring, and do what I do best.’ And that’s kinda what like motivated me.”
Garcia worried before his convincing victory if he would be the same formidable fighter he was when he won world titles in the 140-pound and 147-pound divisions. He beat Benavidez comfortably on two scorecards, though, thanks largely to his counterpunching and movement.
Judges Glenn Feldman (116-112) and Tony Paolillo (117-111) scored eight and nine rounds respectively for Garcia. Judge Waleska Roldan scored the fight a draw, 114-114.
Regardless, Garcia was relieved to prove that he is still a championship-caliber boxer.
“It felt great to be back, like to do what I love,” Garcia said. “I was a little nervous. I ain’t gonna lie, I had my days where I’d feel like, ‘Yo, I been out the ring for a little bit. You know, am I still gonna be the same?’ But I knew the way I was sparring and the way I working out in the gym that I was physically ready. I just had to be mentally ready. It felt great just walking out that tunnel, seeing my pictures on the wall in the Barclays Center and all my fans cheering for me. So, it’s definitely motivating.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.