I confess: I often make a prediction on who will win each week's "Friday Night Fights" main event based more so on what the boxers say to me, and how they say it, than on their respective styles or strengths.
After talking to both Roberto Garcia (30-3, 21 KOs), a 31-year-old Mexican-born Texas resident, and Antwone Smith (21-3-1, 12 KOs), a 25-year-old living in Miami, I'm leaning toward Garcia at the Pharr Events Center in Pharr, Texas, on Friday night.
Garcia, as much as any of the main-eventers I've chatted with this season, blended fire and confidence when I spoke with him. And here's an X factor: Twenty-four days ago, his first child, a little girl named Gia, was born. Garcia flew from his camp in New Jersey, fingers crossed all the way that wife Adriana wouldn't deliver the bundle until papa made it to the delivery room.
"I saw the birth, and then it was right back to camp," Garcia told me on Wednesday.
I asked him if being a dad changes how he sees himself as a fighter. He said he's now different as an all-around human being.
"More important than changing me as a boxer, it changed me as person," said Garcia, who is best known for losing to Antonio Margarito in the latter's first fight back after PlasterGate. "It does change my responsibilities. It's made me think about everything I do, how I talk to you. Before, I was alone, I'd be with different kinds of people. Now I have a beautiful wife and baby, and I want to be with them more than anyone."
A busy fighter who likes to come forward and bang, and who has a left hook that Smith has to watch out for, Garcia said fans can expect an action fight Friday. He won't look for the knockout, saying that stoppage-hunting has gotten him into trouble in the past. But his confidence was lifted by the 10-round unanimous decision loss to Margarito in May 2010, as it proved to him that he can hang with the big boys.
Now, none of this is to say Smith came off like a reluctant warrior, or gave off vibes that he wasn't ready to rumble. In fact, he told me he considers this as a "must-win" fight. He lost a decision in his signature bout, against Kermit Cintron on Aug. 12, but he insists he should've been given a draw, at worst. In November, Smith got back on a winning track, winning an eight-round unanimous decision against Yoryi Estrella in Miami. He said he learned from the Cintron fight, gaining valuable experience.
Smith has admitted before that he has been dismayed by the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude of the media and fans, and their (our) tendency to build up a fighter and then just as gleefully tear him down, but he didn't revisit that topic with me on the phone.
No, he hasn't seen any video of Garcia ("a fight is a fight"), and he ended with a message for those who don't care for his habit of grunting like Monica Seles when he throws. That's probably a habit he picked up from being in the gym so many years with master grunter Glen Johnson, he said, and if you don't like it, "you can watch the fight on mute."
Neither man is a mad bomber, so I expect a distance scrap. Smith will likely have more snap in his launches than you saw against Cintron, but I expect Garcia's physical strength to be a considerable edge, and see him taking a unanimous decision.