THE BAR WAS carved into a beat-up building on the corner of Eighth and Butler, just a hole-in-the-wall in the crime-ridden North Philadelphia neighborhood of Hunting Park. Cabana, Angel Garcia recalls its being named. Not that it mattered. Customers didn't come for the beer or the cheap booze. They came for stronger stuff. The stuff Angel sold outside. Cocaine had swept into the poorer sections of Philly in the 1980s and taken Angel right along with it. Oh, he'd tried to go straight. At 17, Angel took a job as a fabric spreader at a clothing factory. He brought home $80 a week, just enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. But selling drugs offered so much more. The dealers had new clothes, jewelry, flashy sneakers. So Angel became a dealer with the Blue Tape Warriors, one of the biggest distributors in the area. Suddenly, a few hundred dollars a month became thousands. "I got caught up in dealing," says Angel. "If everyone you know is doing it, and you grew up around it, you think it's a part of life."
Angel Garcia is 50 now, a long way from Hunting Park and a world away from that life. On Sept. 14 he will enter the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, working the corner while his 25-year-old son, Danny, the undefeated junior welterweight champion, defends his title against Lucas Matthysse on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.--Saul (Canelo) Alvarez fight. That moment, the culmination of a dream that the Garcias have shared for so long, would never have arrived had Angel not escaped his rough trade.
Angel's brother-in-law had been gunned down at 22. Another man he knew took 10 bullets in the face. Angel had a pair of guns leveled at the back of his head by two men who robbed him of $8,000 in coke. He tried to protect his family, moving his wife, Maritza, and two sons into a safer neighborhood even as he continued to deal.
His sons. Angel lived for those boys. Erik was the older one, shy, with a soft smile. Danny, two years younger, was quiet too. But there was something different about Danny. As a boy, he would walk around the house throwing punches, slipping imaginary ones. This kid is going to be a fighter, Angel told his friends. A great one. When Danny was seven, Angel took him down to the Harrowgate Boxing Club in North Philly. He showed Danny how to punch. He taught him to train. He dreamed of a day when Danny would become a champion.
In August 1998, Angel was in an apartment in Hunting Park when he heard a commotion outside. Police were everywhere. Angel couldn't believe it. That morning Maritza had begged him to stay home. She'd had a dream he was going to be arrested, and that was about to happen. Angel tried to escape by jumping out a second-floor window, but police saw him crash to the concrete. They cuffed him, collected the marked bills that undercover officers had used to pay him and took him away. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Sitting in his cell, his family broken, evicted and forced to cram into an aunt's small house, Angel vowed to change. His wife couldn't be without a husband; his sons couldn't be without a father. And Danny, the boy who wouldn't box or even work out without his dad, couldn't be without a trainer. "I wish I could find the judge who sentenced me and thank him," says Angel. "He saved my life. He saved my family."
DANNY GARCIA'S GYM—a one-story former office building the Garcias spent more than a year gutting and remodeling before it opened a few months ago—is multifunctional. It's a gym, auto body and detailing shop, a barbershop and a recording studio. What was once an eyesore on Philadelphia's Jasper Street has become every business the Garcias ever wanted. The gym occupies one room, with a ring in the middle surrounded by training equipment. One of Danny's friends, a tattoo artist, painted a mural on the back wall depicting Danny, flanked by a line of (mostly) Puerto Rican champions: Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho, Miguel Cotto, Wilfred Benitez ... and Bernard Hopkins, the man who once stomped on the Puerto Rican flag at a press conference. "Philly guy," Angel says, grinning. "We like Bernard."
Sitting on a couch outside the studio, Danny smiles at the thought of what it took to get here. He was 12 when Angel was released from prison, and the two got to work. As a trainer, Angel ran a tight ship. Meals often were tuna, lettuce and water. Tastykakes were in the house, but Angel counted them, and if Danny sneaked one, he knew he would hear about it later. Sometimes Maritza, worried Danny was too skinny, would smuggle sandwiches and cheesesteaks into his room at night. "He was just so thin," says Maritza. "But I couldn't let Angel know, because I would hear about it too."
When friends came over to play, Angel told Danny he had to run first. No excuses. Girls didn't stand a chance. "Every girl I ever hung out with—every one—would say, 'Why does your dad always look so mean,' " says Danny.
"I took a lot of his childhood," admits Angel. "I threw a lot of his friends out because I knew the only way to get him to this point was to keep him focused."