While a DJ spun the driving bass beats of top 40 music in La Gran Plaza de Fort Worth, boxing fever began to spread across North Texas.
Both fighters in Saturday’s world featherweight championship at American Airlines Center, Mikey Garcia and Juan Manuel Lopez, treated fans to an almost two-hour meet and greet, signing autographs and taking pictures for everyone who asked.
The fight’s promoters estimated a turnout of 500 fans to the event, in which most supported the Garcia, the reigning champion from Mexico, over Lopez of Puerto Rico.
“I’m supporting the Mexican fighters like Mikey Garcia,” said Mario Cantero, a 21-year-old Dallas resident. “He’s a good fighter. And, you know, Mexico vs. Puerto Rico — you can’t miss that.”
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The event was Garcia’s first time in Fort Worth, having previously only traveled as far west as Grand Prairie in the Metroplex. The 25-year-old, Moreno Valley, Calif., resident said he was very excited about the turnout for the autograph session.
“It was a good turnout and had a lot of fans turning out congratulating me and wishing me luck,” Garcia said. “We’ve been in the area before and it shows that there’s boxing fans around here.
“I was here for almost three hours and it turned out a lot better than I expected.”
If rebuilding the sport of boxing in the Metroplex is one of the goals of Saturday’s fight, the fans agreed Garcia and Lopez were two great picks to achieve that goal as they refused no autograph, picture or conversation.
“[Garcia is] a real humble guy. I like it,” said 24-year-old Grand Prairie resident Vince Moreno.
More than a boxing fan, 16-year-old Nester Frayre of Fort Worth, an amateur boxer himself, was more than excited to meet one of his heroes Wednesday. Frayre competed in the 154-pound Senior Novice category of the Regional Golden Gloves Tournament in Fort Worth in February.
“I think boxing is coming back in this area. We needed this,” he said.
The Fort Worth event was one of several promotions in advance of Saturday’s fight. A final press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday and the official weigh-in 1:15 p.m. Friday. Both events are at the AAC and are open to the public.
Tickets for Saturday’s bouts range from $25 to $200 and can be purchased at the AAC box office or online at Ticketmaster.com.
Should response continue throughout the week as it did Wednesday, Garcia said he believes the Metroplex can become a premier destination for big-ticket fights.
“It seems like the fans are responding very well,” Garcia said. “They want to bring big boxing events here again and it seems like they are doing a good job. And events like this help, giving the fans a chance to see the boxers firsthand.”