- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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After junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson looked sharp in a unanimous decision victory against mandatory challenger Dierry Jean in January, he told the assembled media that he wanted to fight unified division champion Danny Garcia next.
It was music to the ears of boxing fans because it figured to be a relatively easy fight to make, not one that would get bogged down by the promotional and network conflicts that have prevented so many fights in recent years. After all, Garcia and Peterson are both part of adviser Al Haymon's vast stable, they are both being promoted by Golden Boy, and both have been fighting on Showtime.
It seemed that all that had to happen was for Garcia to take care of business against Mauricio Herrera on March 15. Although Garcia had a mighty struggle to eke out a controversial majority decision, he did get the win.
So Garcia-Peterson would be up next, right? Well, not so fast.
Yes, Garcia and Peterson are both fighting on the same card Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT, with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 ET/PT) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, but they are not fighting each other.
Instead, both are in extremely soft fights against massive underdogs given little chance to win, much less to even be competitive.
Garcia (28-0, 16 KOs), of Philadelphia, is not even defending his title belts. Instead, he will fight Rod Salka (19-3, 3 KOs), of Bunola, Pennsylvania -- a blown-up lightweight who doesn't rank in the top 50 of that division -- in a 10-round nontitle bout at a maximum weight of 142 pounds.
How much of a mismatch is the bout viewed as? Initially, Golden Boy and Showtime announced it as a world title fight, but Salka, 31, is such a low-level opponent with such a weak résumé that the two sanctioning bodies that recognize Garcia as champion would not approve Salka as a title challenger. How often have you heard of an alphabet body turning down an opportunity to collect a sanctioning fee?
Peterson (32-2-1, 16 KOs), of Washington, D.C., is defending his version of the title for the third time, but his opponent isn't much better. He will make $400,000 to face 35-year-old New York-based Puerto Rican Edgar Santana (29-4, 20 KOs), whose purse is $75,000, and although he has won three bouts in a row, each opponent was at least 38 and riding losing streaks of three, four and eight fights.
In the opening bout of the tripleheader, Brooklyn's Daniel Jacobs (27-1, 24 KOs), 27, will battle Jarrod Fletcher (18-1, 10 KOs), 30, of Australia, for a vacant secondary middleweight belt.
Garcia, 26, and Peterson, 30, both sound like they are willing to fight each other, but nobody seems to have an explanation as to why they are not doing so Saturday, other than to say it couldn't be made.
"We, obviously, did want to stage a fight that all the media was suggesting, Peterson versus Garcia, but it wasn't a fight that was available. It just wasn't available," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said. "It couldn't be made."
What De La Hoya didn't say is that the likely reason is because Haymon decided he didn't want to make the fight, at least not yet. De La Hoya, as well as Showtime Sports chief Stephen Espinoza, have suggested that it could be the next fight later this year or early in 2015 if Garcia and Peterson each win.
The fighters said they would have welcomed the bout now.
"I let them know I wanted to fight Danny Garcia next because that's what the fans wanted to see," Peterson said, referring to his comments after the win against Jean. "For me, if the fans want to see me fight someone, I'm going to push for that fight, so that's what I did. But it just didn't happen. At the end of the day I'm going to end up fighting a good fighter, Edgar Santana, and hopefully it can happen next time.
"If I can win this fight, that's the fight that I want to happen because it's really the biggest fight you can make at the weight class. It's the fight that the fans want to see at the weight class and I'm willing to do it."
Said Garcia: "You know, I don't pick my opponents. My manager Al Haymon does. And I never go against him. He picked the [Amir] Khan fight, he picked the [Lucas] Matthysse fight, he picked the Zab Judah fight, he picked the Herrera fight. He picked all my fights. I never question him about his decisions. I just accept the fight and my job is to train hard and go in there and give the people at the Barclays Center a great performance and a good fight.
"At the end of the day, [a fight with Peterson is] what I want because I can say what I want, but you know, right now, I've got [Saturday], so I can't look past anybody. The same with Lamont Peterson. He can't look past Edgar Santana. At the end of the day, we've both got to get these victories and at the end of the year or the beginning of next year we could do a unification bout."
That hasn't appeased the legions of critics of the card, which has irked the normally mild-mannered Garcia.
"That's the media's problem," said Garcia, who will earn $700,000 to Salka's $125,000. "At the end of the day, he's got two hands, I've got two hands and we're going to fight. It doesn't matter who he is. It doesn't matter who they put in there. It's going to be an excellent performance, two guys going in there and giving their all and it's going to be a great fight."
Espinoza, who made the decision to buy the card, also has been a vocal defender of the matches.
"People have said and written that they know how these fights are going to end," Espinoza said. "But boxing matches are fought in the ring. We must remember that these young men have been training for hours and weeks and months for this opportunity. They will be performing on the biggest stage for boxing in New York City and perhaps one of the biggest stages for boxing in the entire world.
"It doesn't matter what people say or what people write. There is a lot at stake this Saturday. No one at this stage is taking anything for granted."
Salka and Santana know the positions they are in. But both are happy to have the opportunity and say they will fight their hearts out.
"I feel they committed a big mistake and I'm going to be ready to lay it all on the line," Santana said. "I'm going to be there to fight, no doubt about that. I'm going to prove everybody wrong."
Said Salka, "I'd have laughed with you if you told me six months ago I'd have this fight. But a lot of things happen over time in boxing and that's one of the beautiful things about it. You win some fights and catch a couple breaks and the opportunities open up.
"I never listen to the outside noise. If confidence is a problem for you at this level, you're not going to make it very far. I block all of that out and live in the moment and further my career. I'm going to beat the best 140-pounder in the world Saturday night, no doubt about it."
Maybe there is no doubt in his mind, but there is in almost everyone else's.