Gorman: Salka set to script own storyline
Rod Salka knows his story sounds like a script for the silver screen, namely its most famous boxing movie.
An unranked fighter getting his big shot against the world champion in a major arena?
“People want to say it's like ‘Rocky,' ” Salka said, “but that's like saying I didn't earn it, that I was just a lucky pick.”
The 31-year-old Salka of Bunola, near Elizabeth Township, knows he earned this — even if he is being billed as an overwhelming underdog.
Salka (19-3, three knockouts) will fight reigning WBA, WBC and Ring magazine junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia (28-0, 16 KOs) on Saturday night in the main event of a Golden Boy Promotions card at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
Although Garcia's world titles aren't on the line, this is the biggest bout involving a Pittsburgh-area boxer since Paul Spadafora fought Pito Cardona for the vacant IBF lightweight belt in 1999.
Garcia has beaten a who's who of 140-pounders in succession — Erik Morales (twice), Amir Khan, Zab Judah and Lucas Matthysse — and is in line to fight pound-for-pound No. 1 Floyd Mayweather.
Salka, by contrast, headlined a card at tiny Greentree Sportsplex in October, then lost a controversial majority decision to Ricardo Alvarez in December at San Antonio's Alamodome.
“I'd have laughed with you if you told me six months ago I'd have this fight,” Salka said. “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.”
Salka's first break came when Spadafora, who was in line to fight Garcia, suffered his first loss in a majority decision to Johan Perez at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in November.
Salka followed the Alvarez fight — the consensus is he was robbed — with an impressive, unanimous-decision victory over previously undefeated Alexei Collardo on an Iron Mike Promotions card April 18 in Monroeville.
Mike Tyson was so smitten with “Lightning” Rod that he tried to sign him to fight Rankin's Monty Meza-Clay to headline a card Friday night at Consol Energy Center.
Instead, Salka accepted the offer to fight Garcia. Spadafora will work his corner.
“He knows me inside and out,” Salka said of Spadafora. “It's like having me standing on the outside, getting a different viewpoint.”
Garcia, coming off a lackluster performance against Mauricio Herrera, expects nothing less than Salka's best.
“Salka is going to give it his all,” Garcia said. “It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to fight one of the young stars in boxing. He has nothing to lose.”
Actually, it's not the first bout between Garcia and Salka. They met in the 2006 Golden Gloves state finals at Heinz Field, with Philadelphia's Garcia winning on the cards of three Philly judges while Salka scored with the two Pittsburgh-area judges.
Where Garcia shot to stardom and had his second pro fight at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Salka promoted six of his own fights at venues like the Court Time Sports Center in Elizabeth. Some made money, others broke even.
“My goal was never to be fighting big fights at a Pittsburgh casino,” Salka said. “I bypassed the Pittsburgh scene and sacrificed local notoriety to try to make it bigger.”
Meanwhile, Salka served active duty in the Air National Guard and waited tables at Quaker Steak & Lube to make ends meet.
Now in the Golden Boy stable, he's ready for his first six-figure payday. Salka received extra cash to fight Garcia at a catch-weight of 142 pounds instead of for the title.
“I've been working really hard, and my whole boxing career I've worked to put myself in position to fight for a championship or a title,” Salka said. “In this country, thank God, if you're willing to work hard and bust your butt, then the opportunities will present themselves. Opportunities always look a lot like hard work, in my opinion.”
If Salka sticks to the script of his overwhelming underdog story against Garcia, his opinion will be the only one that truly matters.