Despite his lofty status as a world champion, Danny Garcia has yet to achieve the acclaim that comes with a belt.
The 24-year-old boxer from Philadelphia isn’t a pay-per-view attraction and pulling down seven-figure purses.
But that might change if Garcia, the WBC junior welterweight champ, defeats Amir Khan and takes his recently restored WBA belt when they meet Saturday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“It definitely would bring me to a higher level,” said Garcia, who won a 12-round decision over Erik Morales on March 24 to claim the vacant WBC title. “It would put me in a new category: superstar category.
“Back home in Philly, I’m treated like the world champ. But everywhere else, nobody really sees me as the champ, even though I have the belt.”
Garcia (23-0, 14 knockouts) said he has no problem putting his title on the line against Khan (26-2, 18 KOs) in the HBO-televised 12-round bout.
“This is a tough division with a lot of talent,” Garcia said. “When they presented me with this opportunity, I was excited. You’ve got to fight the best to be the best, and I’m a champion, and a champion’s got to fight other champions.”
Khan got the fight with Garcia after his May 19 rematch with Lamont Peterson was canceled when Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone, a banned substance.
On Wednesday, the WBA reinstated Khan as its champion after Peterson took the belt in a controversial 12-round split-decision win Dec. 10 in Peterson’s hometown of Washington, D.C.
For Garcia, Saturday’s fight will be the polar opposite of his last ring appearance, when he faced the 35-year-old Morales, who was at the end of his career rather than at his peak.
“I’m fighting a young guy like me with speed and power,” Garcia said of Khan, 25. “We’re both going to throw a lot of punches, and that’s what makes for a great fight.”
Garcia is a 5-1 underdog, and he’s being paid far less to defend his belt ($520,000 to Khan’s $950,000). But he knows a win will allow him to make up the difference – and then some.
“I’m definitely ready to take that next step,” Garcia said. “I thought I showed a lot of heart in the Morales fight when he cut my eyebrow in the 11th round, and my nose was swollen. I stood there and traded with a Mexican warrior, and the fans loved it. That’s what they want to see in boxing.
“They want to see blood sweat and tears, and when I was bleeding, I kept my composure and showed I was a champion.”
Garcia said he hasn’t changed anything in training in preparation for his first title defense.
“We’re doing the same thing, just harder and smarter,” said Garcia, who is trained by his father, Angel. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Angel Garcia has helped deflect some attention from his son with some of his comments about Khan, a Muslim who is of Pakistani heritage but lives in Bolton, England. Among some of the elder Garcia’s more disparaging comments was that Khan has no chin and he “has never seen a Pakistani who can fight.”
The comments have incensed Khan’s camp. At Thursday’s final news conference, Khan’s trainer, Freddie Roach, said: “Danny, I wish you luck. Your father, I’m not so sure about.”
But Garcia said he’s not worried about what his father says.
“My dad’s talked (expletive) 23 times, and 23 times I’ve backed it up,” he said. “And Saturday, I’ll back it up for the 24th time.”
Garcia said his training in Philly and the fact he has defeated some tough fighters in his past three fights – Morales, Kendall Holt and Nate Campbell – has him ready for Khan.
“In Philadelphia, we don’t have sparring. We have gym wars,” he said. “A gym war is where you don’t back down and you fight to the death.
“If you can survive that, you can survive anything.”
■ NOTES – Today’s weigh-in at Mandalay Bay begins at 3 p.m. and is open to the public. … The live undercard Saturday, which features six bouts, begins at 3:30 p.m.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.